Archives for the month of: January, 2014

I’ve been retired five months now and in that time five people I know in production and manufacturing have been laid off or asked to retire early. How long can this go on?

The whole structure of the industry is changing, and fewer and fewer “publishing professionals” are going to be needed. If you are a production editor, a production manager, a manufacturing controller, or some such thing, please get some additional skills. Books will of course be being made in the future, but more and more of “your job” is being short-circuited, freelanced, or pushed onto our suppliers. Future jobs in publishing companies will tend to be heavily digital (even at the print end of things). Maybe do a course on e-book formatting and layout, or HTML.

Hugh Howey, a very successful self-published author, recently claimed that self publishing was now one of the big six publishers. Certainly self publishing has become huge, and lots of opportunities exist there — self-published authors may do their own copyediting, layout, and design, but the more successful they get the more inclined they are to turn to a freelance. Getting some of this work is very different from your current experience: in a publisher’s production department the work comes at you — all the time, faster and faster. In the word of freelancing, you have to go and look for it. Many companies are out there offering publishing services — just Google publishing services. You could contact some of them: they need people I’m sure. If you go the pure freelance route, websites like Elance or oDesk would be places to start.

The Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a table of rates for the job for the sorts of freelance openings which exist in our industry.

A nice idea, shared by Shelf Awareness last March, but it hasn’t hit New York yet I fear.

Underground Library on the R (for Reading) Train

“Three Miami Ad School students have created ‘an innovative concept that allows people to read the first ten pages of popular books while riding the subway,’ DesignTAXI reported, adding that when commuters have finished the sample they’ve downloaded from posters to their cell phones with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, they ‘will be informed of the closest library location from which they can pick up and read the rest of the book.’

Gothamist expressed a dose of Big Apple skepticism, calling the subway libraries ‘an interesting idea that will never, ever happen.’ While conceding the inherent goodness of ‘a proposal for how the NYPL could both keep straphangers entertained underground and simultaneously bring more bodies into its brick-and-mortar libraries,’ several technical hurdles were cited, ‘not the least of which is the fact that phones equipped with NFC technology are still very uncommon in the U.S.’

The alternative? ‘We’ll all just have to make do with the increasing number of subway stations with wi-fi–where users can log into the NYPL or one of the many e-book stores out there (all of which offer book samples already),’ Gothamist wrote.”

Here’s a link to the map of subway stations currently offering wi-fi service. The video has no official links with the New York Public Library. Note also the disclaimer at the start of the video — library use has in fact increased since the creation of the internet.

We’ve all had to deal with irate editors complaining about the cover being narrower than the book block, and we all know the answer is always “moisture”.

Here’s a neat little video from Edwards Brothers Malloy which explains the phenomenon. Unfortunately while we know why it happens it seems we are still trying to figure out how to prevent it.

In the olden days, when heat-set wasn’t a factor, and everything took longer, printed sheets got to lie around for a while, waiting to get onto the folding machine, and then into the gathering line. As a result this problem was rare.

Libraries aim to provide an answer to every customer request — if they don’t actually own a requested item, they have developed a system for borrowing it from another library which does have a copy. When this scheme was devised in the late nineteenth century the book or journal part would be wrapped up in a parcel and mailed to the library making the request. Nowadays it is obviously quicker and cheaper to send a digital file — if one already exists — which after Google scanned the holdings of many academic libraries, is often the case.

ScannerAt the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia last weekend I spoke to a rep showing scanning machines for Digital Library Systems Group, part of Image Access. I was particularly interested in the Bookeye® 4, which is mainly used for interlibrary loans. The machine is made in Germany, and costs in the low $10,0000s I think — quite a lot to you and me perhaps, but I guess manageable in a library’s budget. As you can see from the picture it holds the bound book in an adjustable V-shaped tray while scanning. For larger originals, the tray can be lowered to make a flat surface. An operator needs to turn the page once the scan is made, but for interlibrary loan, where volume is probably not huge, this is probably not a big issue. After the 600 DPI scan is completed it automatically adjusts the image. The round cameras compensate for the differing distance of the fore-edge and the gutter as well as the wave-like curvature of the page, and will detect corners, so that the scan is already pretty straight and squared-up. The book they were using as an example, a 2-color math textbook, had lots of horizontal lines which scanned with a bow in them because of the way the pages on an open book have a wave in them, but this effect is, I believe, pretty well compensated for by the automatic adjustment phase, which hadn’t taken place when I was at the booth. Additional adjustments can be made by the operator, but in most cases it probably isn’t necessary to work at eliminating such effects — after all this is really just today’s version of the old Xerox copy which often arrived with much worse blemishes.

The requesting library “orders” the loan using software such as OCLC’s ILLiad. The orders (pull slips), containing the delivery IP address and format requested, are automatically captured. Orders may be batched, and on completion are automatically sent to the requesting library by the specified method, which include FTP and email at the most basic end.

Wikipedia’s entry on Interlibrary loan is quite informative. It states at the end “Some sources charge a copyright fee, which may be anywhere from $3 to $35 and sometimes higher. Policies vary about whether these fees are passed on to the patron.” Presumably they are passed on to the publisher and then to the author, though I might have thought that making a copy for individual study might have been regarded as fair use under U.S. copyright law. No doubt an industry-wide compromise was hammered out at some point. Obviously there’s a fundamental difference between mailing a copy of a book to another library, and creating a new copy, hard or digital, and the continuing development of sophisticated interlibrary loan must pose a potential threat to the sale of monographs and journals.

Here’s a later story from The Chronicle of Higher Education about a test of the interlibrary loaning of e-books.

In the early days of digital books — a couple of years ago — we used to say that while some books would obviously go digital, there were at least a few categories which would never migrate from print. One, children’s, has already happily flown the nest, though as one children’s book publisher said to me the other day — “The little ones do need a board book to chew on”. (I’m always terrified to observe tiny kids in strollers being pacified by being given the iPhone to play with.) The other category was always art books. And I confess that I found that a fairly convincing argument, though now that I am forced to confront the question, I see that it’s actually a bit illogical. When you think of the compromises inherent in our (highly developed and very successful) methodology of converting the continuous tone experience of a painting to four (or occasionally more) colors of ink, the idea that print is the only way to go if you want museum quality reproductions of works of art begins to look a little shop-worn. As I said in my post about Color recently, you are always two steps away from the original when you go to the printer, and while you may get the printed version to match the original photo, you have to trust that the photo actually matches the original under some lighting conditions. Of course the same problem could apply to a digital reproduction, I have to agree, but you have spent a lot less money striving to overcome the problem that you will have on the print route.

Len Edgerly’s Kindle Chonicles this week features an interview with Daniel Ankele. (The interview begins about 14 minutes into Len’s program.) Ankele Publishing LLC  has an extensive line of digital art books via Kindle Direct Publishing. (A search on Amazon yields 382 hits.) The books sell though Kindle at prices ranging from $1.99 to $9.95, and Ankele says they sell “hundreds and hundreds” every month: enough at any rate to support a family of three. The books are mostly fairly simple — just public domain illustrations with captions — and he describes compilation of one of them taking a full month as being a really long time! They prepare the material at about 250 PPI, which is the limit for Kindle Fire HDX, and iPad, using Microsoft Word, and following the specifications of the Amazon site. Their books on Amazon all seem to have the “Look Inside” feature, which enables you to see a large selection of the images — and these look pretty good to me.

Will this take the place of the coffee table book? Maybe not . . .  but the same impulses may be served by having these illustrations cycle through on your computer monitor, a digital photo frame, or your TV. I suspect that as time goes by some such display method will take the place of that impressive volume lying there.

February 6, 2014: Getty is now offering a selection of back list art books in digital form, many free.

We often tend to think that printing an image at a higher DPI (dots per inch) on a smother sheet will result in a superior definition. This was more true in the olden days when a photograph had to be shot by a camera with a screen in front of it in order to create a piece of film, than it is now when the PPI (pixels per inch) of the digital original will be a determining factor. While “normal” halftones in book work would print at 133 DPI, an art book, on coated paper, would print at at least 150 DPI, and often 300 DPI. However, if your digital original doesn’t have enough pixels to support these higher DPIs, then there’s really no point in increasing the resolution. For online viewing, the resolution available on your monitor or tablet will be the limiting factor.

This post from 99 Designs explains the issues. Follow the link to Wikipedia for more on DPI.

photoHere’s poor Ben toiling away in the falling snow last weekend, on Broad Street, Philadelphia, just north of City Hall.

I still remember my first. Hugh Williamson, MD of The Alden Press in Oxford, took us (Lyn Chatterton, Arthur Foulser, Paul Kshatri and me) to the Coach and Horses in Trumpington. It must have been 1972 or ’73. This was a significant event — lunches were usually offered only to senior managers. Hugh was a very nice man, cultured and widely knowledgable. His book, Methods of Book Design, is a classic, providing a guide to book design from someone who was, as a designer, unusually well-versed in the details of the machines and systems used by book manufacturers. Like my own, tiny Book Manufacturing, the 3rd edition of Hugh’s book was written at the moment of transition from dedicated typesetting systems to the more open-source computer methodology we now know and love, and is un-revisable, as the transition totally changed the principal focus of production and manufacturing people. We used to focus on the output of the various typesetting systems, and have now moved to a more general system-based view of the job. Any revision would demand a complete rewrite, which he never got round to. Hugh could be counted on to lead a witty conversation over the shrimp cocktails and steaks which I expect we had along with a pint (or two) of bitter of course.

The printer’s lunch was/is a selling-tool. At lunch the sales rep would get to know you, and try of convince you that you liked him (later on, it would become him or her, but in the seventies reps were all male). Obviously the quality and efficiency of the particular company was important, but most were perfectly able to achieve a certain level of quality, with a similar schedule and a similar pricing structure, so feeling good about the company, and trusting its people became a vital point of differentiation. The “getting to know you” occasionally went too far — I remember one salesman I had just met spending all lunch telling me about his marital problems and seeking my advice as to whether he should leave his wife or not. I adjudged the intangible costs of dealing with that supplier excessive.

I reached New York after the demise of the three-martini lunch, though I did once fail to return to the office after a long and bibulous lunch with Sidney Wicks. (We managed to leave the restaurant before dinner service began.) But the lunches tended to be fairly extensive events, in good restaurants. I have to confess that the direct benefit to my employer was often hard to discern. To the extent that having a good relationship with your suppliers was useful, there was value, but at bottom my view of lunches is that they are social events — though that never stopped me enjoying them during business hours!

The sort of annual celebratory lunch which a few suppliers now offer, bringing together a wider group of employees from the supplier along with the staff of the publisher, fulfills a different, and more business-relevant function — and we are very grateful for them.

We know a few authors make a lot of money. Many make some money — not quite enough to live on perhaps, but enough to get by with a bit of freelance activity as well. Some do OK, but can’t afford to give up their full-time jobs. And of course the majority make very little from their writing. It would probably surprise the public to know who the earners were — textbook authors often do well, and compilers of boring things that every schoolboy and schoolgirl needs, like the four-figure tables we all owned before the invention of cheap calculators. And of course a few prominent best-seller authors.

I cannot of course speak with authority about the motivation of authors, but we can all speculate. (This link will take you to an article from The Guardian‘s Books Blog reporting on some research into the money motivation of authors.) While nobody would rule out the possibility of that manuscript turning out to be a huge money-maker, I think it’s probably being written for a variety of motives, of which money-making is almost always near the bottom. Having something you want to say/ knowing something you want to share with others would seem likely to me to be the prime motivation. Getting the respect of colleagues/showing off is probably a big factor. Just proving you can do it, is a related cause. Simply being asked to do it, is, I’d bet, a surprisingly common motivator. Doing it so you can get tenure in your university job, seems to be the somewhat cynical view of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Jonathan Bate has a piece in the Times Literary Supplement of 10 January 2014 ringing alarm bells about the HEFCE’s report “Open Access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework”. Bate is warning that forcing humanities scholars to make all their publications available free through Open Access will result in their being unable to write the sort of books most of us would read — the “academic trade” book giving a general overview of a topic in non-specialist terms. In crude terms what the HEFCE is up to is applying the UK government’s policy that research paid for by the people (through taxation) should be made available free of charge via Open Access. The principle is obvious: Academics do research; their salaries are paid by the government out of taxation; the research results in journal articles or books; people shouldn’t have to pay twice for the results. But of course that is far too broad-brush a statement, leaving out all the nuance.

If I am employed as a bank clerk and write poetry, should Lloyd’s Bank own the copyright in the poems? We’d doubtless say no, as banking and poetry have little to do with one another, poems are obviously not going to lead to promotion at work, however good they may be, and we assume that the bank clerk writes his poetry at home in the evening anyway. But what if at 9.45 am, on his way into a meeting, it comes to the clerk in a flash of inspiration how to clear up the knot he’d tied himself into last evening and he scribbles himself a note about it. Or if a remark by one of his colleagues sets him off on a new poem. A junior professor of English may be writing a book on T.S.Eliot in his evenings and vacations, but because he’s a specialist in 20th century poetry, he often has to think about Eliot at work. And besides his university salary covers him for the full twelve months, not just term time, so are vacations really free time? This makes it a little different from the bank clerk, but not totally and unambiguously so.

HEFCE policy “works” better for the sciences than it does for the humanities. The bureaucrats are big on money earned from patents and consulting, and we can all see how scientific research can have big financial implications. Furthermore the pattern of publication in the sciences is, by and large, very different from the humanities. Short reports of research published in academic journals is more the way the sciences advance, while the humanities don’t really go in for experiments which can be reported, and tend not to make breakthroughs which can be capitalized on. “Advances” in the humanities are more gradual things — an insight here, a novel interpretation there, a daring comparison across cultures bringing a fresh perspective. Much harder to measure than the “output” of a scientist. But if a scientist has a great idea while taking a bath, do we have to regard that idea as having been paid for by the government who provide the money to pay his electric bill? It gets messy.

I think we have to step back and ask ourselves why the HEFCE are doing this. They are striving to find a way to control a problem which if not out of hand is at least a much bigger problem that it has ever been in the past. Can we afford to provide a university education to all, or to all who could benefit from it? I think that the second half of the 20th century was perhaps the heyday of free higher education in Britain. Before World War II only people who could afford to were able to go to university. It is obviously “a bad thing” that education, and thus access to the best jobs, should be available only to the rich, so allowing universities to recruit on the basis of ability was obviously socially desirable. By the early sixties, when I was at university, the proportion of students from fee-paying schools was dropping, and grammar school students were being admitted in growing numbers. The government paid our university fees, unless you were wealthy in which case you had to chip in. I paid my college only for my board and lodging (no doubt heavily subsidized too) and my parents got to pay for the books I bought. As we moved on towards the end of the century Britain kept trying to allow more and more pupils to attend university. The old universities were no longer enough, and several new universities were established. In the present century we have taken the old technical colleges and promoted them to be universities too. There’s now a somewhat odd sign at Cambridge Railway Station: “Cambridge: Home of Anglia Ruskin University”. Whatever happened to the University of Cambridge the innocent tourist might wonder. Anglia Ruskin is the old tech at which I did my Russian evening classes when I was working in Cambridge. So now we are striving to educate not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of students — and unsurprisingly we can’t afford it.

To their credit the government has opted not to charge the going rate for university, though fees have been introduced. In America, where one might say the going rate is charged, much maneuvering is done to ensure that poorer students can attend — grants, scholarships and loans. By introducing fees England has started down that road, and this HEFCE initiative represents a parallel attempt to benefit from the governments expenditures on education. They want the research that university teachers must do to be made available “in a form allowing the reader to search for and re-use content (including by download and for text-mining), both manually and using automated tools, provided such re-use is subject to proper attribution under appropriate licensing”.

Bate sees much of academic discourse as having already migrated online. “I recently asked a group of students in my College [Worcester College, Oxford] — from a mixture of disciplines across the humanities, social sciences and sciences — whether they had ever read a journal article in hard copy in a library, as opposed to online or as a download. Not a single one of them raised their hand.” Maybe today’s students are more assiduous than I was, but if the Master of my college had asked me that question about printed journal articles, I wouldn’t have been raising my hand either. The force pushing academics in the direction of Open Access is the “Research Excellence Framework”, the mechanism by which the Funding Council allocates millions of pounds of research funding to universities. You are under pressure to make all your research available in the REF approved format (which means freely available online), and refusal will make you a bad colleague. While at the moment the REF requirement only covers journal articles, by 2025 it will also include monographs, already an endangered species.

While the monograph may well live online in the long run, whatever happens, I suspect Professor Bate is extrapolating too far. Maybe some historians will feel the pressure, and allow that to dissuade them from writing a general book, which if REF compliant, and available free, would obvious not attract a publisher. But others may be willing to disregard the clamoring of their departmental head, and just do it anyway. I reflect on the fact that many academics write novels: would any of them think these ought to be REF compliant? And if not your novel, why then your pot-boiler on World War I? Not all general books by academics are so wonderful that missing out on a few might not be bearable.

Now whether we think the bureaucritization of university teaching is a good or a bad thing, I suspect we can all agree that it’s better than going back to the old days when only rich boys got to university. Becoming a civil servant, and performing by the rules (however silly you think they are) is no doubt superior to giving up your career. Some will disagree — but then there were always lots of reasons not to become a university professor: being prevented from writing a general book is probably pretty low on the list.

I’m ashamed (if only slightly) to say I’ve never “read” an audio book. I used, when in Britain, to listen sometimes to “A Book at Bedtime”, a regular BBC Radio program on which a book is read from start to finish in daily installments, so it’s not that I can’t get a book when I only hear it. Maybe because I’ve spent my adult life turning manuscripts into printed books, I find alternatives hard to take — but then I am perfectly content to read e-books. I think maybe I associate audio books with driving, and as a New Yorker I don’t own a car, so I don’t really ever indulge in solo long-distance driving. Is that a reasonable excuse — do I really need an excuse? A fact is just a fact.

Audio books represent a growing sector of the book business: many people like to hear books being read to them by actors, famous or specialized, and we should be grateful that they are able to do so. Here’s a clip of Matthew from Downton Abbey reading from The Odyssey for Macmillan Audio. He’s also recording The Iliad, both in the Robert Fitzgerald translation, apparently for some educational purpose says Shelf Awareness.

Here’s a recent video about largest audible book publisher, and part of Amazon now, brought to us by mediabistro. The fact that Corey Booker has moved on from mayor to senator dates it slightly, but the video provides an interesting overview and some nice shots of Newark.

Here’s Billy Crystal starting a recording for Macmillan Audio of Still Foolin’ Em, his book about aging.