Archives for the month of: March, 2014

How do we give an e-book as a present? There’s no shortage of options. Publishing Perspectives tells us about a British company, ValoBox, which has come up with a neat solution to the problem. The website Gift an eBook is a trial site in partnership with Constable & Robinson. Here’s another idea from Enthrill using gift cards, also from Publishing Perspectives. Livrada, a technology company has another card-based scheme, described by GalleyCat last November. Yet another company offering the service is  E-books.com. Of course Amazon allows gifting on the Kindle, and Apple also lets you send an e-book as a gift. The comment about needing to be in the same country does high-light one problem. You won’t be able to send an e-book gift to your friends across the ocean — the rights will almost certainly be owned by different companies in different countries.

Will any of this satisfy those traditionalists who like to give (and receive) those neatly wrapped brick-like packages at Christmas time?

Gifting e-books may be problematical, but we seem to have mastered theft. This story dates from last June:  “Two men were arrested last week in Japan for allegedly using an illegal iAP Cracker app for smartphones and similar devices to steal more than ¥200,000 (about US$2,068) worth of e-books from Kinoppy, an online bookstore operated by the Kinokuniya chain. The Japan Times reported that Takahito Kano and Shuho Kikuzawa were charged with acquiring 259 e-books “using an application that sends a false message to an online store’s server that a payment has been completed. Both admitted the wrongdoing.” It is the first time police have investigated e-book theft.”

Later: Here’s a story from The Digital Reader, 26 November 2014, about how to give e-books as gifts.

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British Standard ISO 999:1996 defines an index as “a systematic arrangement of entries designed to enable users to locate information in a document”. I find this interesting merely in the fact that there is an international standard definition.

When I was younger I made quite a few indexes. It was handy freelance work that could be done in the evenings. Of course making the index is often subject to schedule constraints, though in those days, when we used to give ourselves a year (or more) to get a book from raw manuscript to printed book, this didn’t often pose a huge problem. Mostly the indexes I made were for academic books, but I did hook up with an agency which involved me in a few trade titles. A trade book on naval battles was surprisingly dull work — probably the book was rather straightforward in structure. The interest of indexing lies largely in the discovering of the right approach to this particular book. Obviously names go into the index, and sometimes you’ll be asked to make separate indexes of names and of subjects. But it’s the subject indexing which contains such interest as there is in the indexing process. A side benefit is of course that you get to read a book while compiling its index, and often the book can be quite interesting.

The index is (almost always) the responsibility of the author of the book, something which will be specified in the contract. If the author doesn’t want to do the job however, the publisher will subcontract the work out to one of their team of freelance indexers, and debit the cost to the author’s royalty account. At Cambridge we used to rely on Mrs Anderson, a local indexing celebrity, who we kept pretty busy. Mrs Anderson wrote Book Indexing one of the “Cambridge Authors’ and Printers’ Guides” (C.U.P 1971) than which there is no better vade mecum for the indexer — though Mrs Anderson does dedicate her booklet to G. V. Carey author of Making an Index (C.U.P. 1951) a book with which I am not familiar. Both of them are, I am confident, more exhaustive than the first hit on a current Google search for “Making an index”, a more recent instruction sheet from Cambridge.

Mrs Anderson describes the function of indexing as “analytic, breaking down the contents of a book into small sub-divisions, and rearranging them alphabetically”. Nowadays there are fruitful short cuts offered by software as basic as Word, but back then you started out with a stack of blank index cards, or slips of paper, and with pencil in hand started reading the book. On page 2 perhaps you come upon a mention of the Paris sewage works. Do you need to index this? It may be the only time in the book it’s mentioned, being ultimately insignificant to the book’s theme. However by page 2 as you’ve got no idea what the probabilities of this are, you have to index it. So you take a card and write “Sewage works, Paris, 2” on it and read on. If you fail to make a card at this point and later find that say chapter six contains a vigorous description of the debate over the establishment of sewage works in France, you’ll have to go back to the start of the book (if you are lucky enough to remember that there was a previous mention of this subject) and start reading again to locate the earlier reference you missed. On the other hand, if the topic never comes up again, you’ll probably decide to discard that index card when you get to the end and “edit” the index. This is of course one reason the author is the ideal indexer — if they don’t know what comes later who does?

As you work your way into the book you will accumulate many cards which you store in alphabetical order in a cardboard shoebox. You may discover you need to expand  some of your cards, so that they contain sub-entries. Probably you’ll start to think about sub-entries when your card contains half a dozen page references. At that point you’ll need to go back over the pages you’ve referenced to see what an appropriate sub-entry or sub-entries might be. You might end up with “sewage works: construction; financing; planning; protests against;” each with its own clutch of page references. Maybe the Paris qualifier will end up redundant, or perhaps you’ll have extra cards all with the same subheadings, one for “Sewage works, Paris”, one for “Sewage works, Amiens” and so on. The point is you can’t know this ahead of time — by making the index, you discover what form the index should ideally take.

When you have completed the indexing, discarded any unnecessary single-entry cards, and created any new sub-entries that look like they might be desirable, you need to type out the index and submit it to the publisher. You probably won’t be called upon to read a proof of the index: there will probably not be time. Surprisingly perhaps there’s room for debate about how to alphabetize — is it “BBC, bagpipes, Bath, beacons” or “bagpipes, Bath, BBC, beacons”? — Depends on whether you are alphabetizing by word or by letter. In England those Scottish prefixes Mac, Mc and M’ are all alphabetized as if they were all spelled Mac, while in America they would be sorted as spelled. In a way it doesn’t matter where you come down on these vexed questions just as long as you are consistent; though one should aim to keep any system consistent with other parts of the book.

Some readers may have noticed that I recently created an index of all posts to this blog (see the bar at the top of the page above the title). This is a fairly crude alphabetical listing of the titles of the posts. I won’t promise to make the index more analytical, but at the same time I won’t rule out the possibility of doing so.

18f16yoi4n8e1jpgThis still goes on, though I don’t remember ever seeing a poster since this Derek Jeter one from early on. Get Caught Reading’s website describes itself as “a nationwide campaign to remind people of all ages how much fun it is to read. Launched in 1999 and supported by the Association of American Publishers, GCR encourages you to order our free posters, read our newsletters, download our free videos, and join the thousands of celebrities, booksellers, teachers and librarians who continue to embrace this campaign across the country.” Probably I’m guilty of not spending enough time in libraries.

Now I discover that the English Premier League is also helping promote reading, and has been for 11 years. The National Literacy Trust’s website has a video of Jan Vertongen jan_reading730(Belgian defender for Tottenham Hotspur – Come on you Spurs!) telling us about his favorite reading. For those of you unfortunate enough to support other football teams (soccer teams to you Americans) there’s listing down the left hand side of the page of other literate hoofers.

 

There can’t be too many people now who don’t acknowledge that our beloved industry is changing. But I think most of them don’t seem to realize that it was ever thus. When I started out in the warehouse at Cambridge University Press in 1965, the experience was (I always thought) like being back in the Victorian book trade. Of course my perspective was immense: one or two months! — so clearly I had no knowledge of the changes which had taken place in the previous twenty years, let alone the first half of the century. What I can attest to is that since that time change has been constant, and appears to be accelerating. Of course the acceleration may just be an artifact of the aging brain: everyone seems to think that that’s what’s going on though. We all tend to assume that the world we see is the world as it has always been.

Stephen Page, chief executive of Faber & Faber, has a think-piece on The Bookseller blog which makes many good points, and I think slides over a few problems too. He identifies the “book trade” as publishers’ natural partner in confronting our changing world. Political correctness of course demands that he say this, but in reality, the world is no longer quite what it was. Maybe the days of the retail bookstore are numbered: I predicted just the other day that we would begin to see publishers opening showrooms/retail outlets in Manhattan in order to have a place where their customers could actually see and feel the product. The model where we overproduce too many titles and cram them into the retail channel, only to accept most back later as returns, is clearly dysfunctional. Page goes on “Few other industries are mad enough to try to perfect hundreds of different new products all at once.” This may be true, though there are others, for example the music business. Of course that’s not a particularly great example nowadays. But the trouble is not that we publishers are foolish enough to try and bring too many products to the market at the same time, and that we’d do better concentrating of half a dozen at a time. No, books are not like airliners: you can’t get people to pay thousands of dollars for one. Sure, we could charge more, or more accurately, if we hadn’t passed up the chance years ago and gifted all our technology-derived cost savings to our customers, books could be more expensive today without any of our customers having noticed the upward drift. But they don’t cost more, and anyway they could never cost enough (nor could we ever sell enough copies) that any large publishing business could be viable on just a few titles per year. [I acknowledge that there are counter examples. For instance, I did once know the guy who was responsible for getting out the Merck Manual every year, and this was (I think) the only book he published. But it sold an immense quantity to a captive audience at a high price. This is not a real option for the likes of F&F.] Publishing fewer titles better, which is a rallying cry one has often heard, is probably the right way to go, but also demands smaller publishing companies, employing fewer people, at lower salaries.

Page writes “Digital publishing and digital printing also enable us to ensure availability and create inventory for far more titles than in the litho world. Global networks of digital printing and formats are enabling us to create much greater access to our copyrights. So print will remain a major part of our world, but in differing ways.” Sort of OK, but any assumption (which many others make) that we can just dip in and out of printing is wrong. Printing is a capital-intensive industry, and any thought that book manufacturers are just going to sit around waiting for the next order from the publisher is way off. If they can’t keep working at full capacity, they will either find other things to print, or shut up shop. Publishing your books as e-books, and occasionally, when it suits you, running off an edition in print, is not an option. Page isn’t actually saying this — his idea that a physical book could whenever needed by knocked out by digital print-on-demand technology is viable — but others assume that they’ll be able to restock their warehouses on an intermittent basis. They won’t — at least not at a price which anyone today would regard as reasonable.

Selling direct to the ultimate customer seems a good option (see my earlier post) but of course it does carry with it the harsh implication that we would thereby be hammering another nail into the coffin of bricks and mortar book selling. We all love bookstores, and will regret their passing, but if it’s a choice between going out of business and being fair to bookstores, not many publishers are ultimately going to hesitate. The weapons available to the retail book trade are unfortunately few. Here’s a warning from Britain, in The Bookseller on 3 March. This rather sane piece from Publishing Perspectives on March 17th makes the case for direct selling quite forcefully. Mike Shatzkin has a lengthy post on why publishers need to engage with their customers which is full of good sense and ideas. Will Penguin Random House offer subscriptions? Joe Esposito at The Scholarly Kitchen highlights the need to define what we mean when we talk about this pricing model. In the course of his article he references a 2011 post on subscription pricing focussing on Penguin Classics.

This Bowker chart, f456362869a269e6ded9275d4355a14bcopied from Jane Friedman’s blog post “5 valuable charts that show how publishing is changing” highlights the trends in retailing. How long does it have to go on before the column is all pale blue?

I do believe publishing will survive as a category, but in vastly different form. Self-publishing will take over parts of the market, but there will still be a business called book publishing and many self publishers will continue to seek to move over the dividing line into that business. Book publishing will consist of hundreds of small, focussed operations, specializing in a particular genre or subject area. It won’t employ people like me who know how to prepare a manuscript for typesetting and can then get it printed and bound, and delivered to the warehouse. It won’t have sales reps selling to bookstores, because there won’t be stores for them to sell to. It won’t even have warehouses. It will have  editorial, rights departments, finance and accounts, and most importantly data gathering and analysis, customer service, and e-marketing.

James Campbell writes in Cambridge Alumni Magazine that the major problem in library design has always been light.

16th century library at Zutphen

16th century library at Zutphen

In a medieval library the books would be chained to a low lectern, aligned near small windows (glass was expensive) and the reader would just sit down in front of the volume he wanted, and then go home when the sun went down, since any open flame was a glaring invitation to fate to burn down the library and all its books. To get a reader’s card at the Bodleian in Oxford, you used to have to swear you would “never kindle a naked flame”. In the middle of the 19th century gas lighting was introduced in libraries, but it became linked with accelerated decay of books. As early as 1879 the British Museum had installed eight arc lamps in the first experiment in electric lighting in libraries — before the invention of the incandescent light bulb the following year.

This New Republic article provides a survey of recent library design. Open aspect and clean lines seem to be favored as a means of attracting the public to check out a book. Going to extremes The San Antonio Express-News reported in January on the opening of Bexar County’s bookless library.

Would More People Use the Public Library if It Had a Water Slide? was the headline for an Atlantic Cities piece by John Metcalfe, in which he used the results of a survey conducted in 2010 by Poland’s National Library to determine the reading habits of the Polish citizenry (56% had not read a book in the past year; 46% had not read anything longer than three pages in the previous month) to ask if it might be ‘the library’s fault for not attracting these individuals, what with its classically stodgy, hermetic-cage-for-learning design.’

Specifically, Metcalfe showcased the theories of Polish architect Hugon Kowalski, who ‘conceived of a new kind of library that he hopes will one day be built in Mosina, a town just south of Poznań. On its first floor, it’s all bibliotheca . . . But then it gets weird: In the middle of the library is a glass column full of water and flailing human bodies. Go up one level and you’re suddenly in the middle of a vast swimming facility, complete with a snaking water slide that takes whooping swimmers on a ride inside and outside of the building.’ Several renderings of the ‘poolbrary’ from Kowalski’s portfolio were also featured.

On the other hand, St Louis Central Library’s redesign just won an AIA Institute Honor Award covered in this DeZeen post. This video shows much of the beautiful building.

Shelf Awareness has just brought notification of Fodor’s “World’s Most Stunning Libraries” site. Click here to visit. And now Publishing Cambridge brings us a link to a Guardian photo gallery (strangely also entitled ‘Stunning Libraries’). Note that below the picture gallery there’s a link to “A sneak preview inside the restored Manchester Central Library”.

IMG_0060Here’s Seattle Public Library which was referred to in the New Republic article above — reminds me a bit of the History Faculty Library in Cambridge which was built mainly of glass in the sixties. Whenever the sun shone it became completely boiling hot and uninhabitable. In those days air conditioning hadn’t reached that side of the Atlantic. Of course neither Cambridge nor Seattle suffers perhaps from excessive sun, imagesbut I’m sure Seattle’s Koolhass and Prince  building is air-conditioned, eating up a nice slice of the library’s annual budget. It’s certainly an improvement on the brutalist version it replaced though

What should a library look like? I can’t help thinking that the old Carnegie-style libraries were “right” — but then I tend to think of libraries as depositories for books, not as information centers, as so many of their customers now do. Maybe accessibility in appearance is an absolute good, though I do think that the walls of book spines favored by the libraries at Cardiff and Kansas City look plain silly.

Here’s a picture of my idea of what a library should look like!

Galashiels Public Library

Galashiels Public Library

I do enjoy the NB column on the back page of The Times Literary Supplement. It’s usually by Jim Campbell, but on 7 March D.H. (David Horspool?) was filling in. This is the first item.

Remember the death of the novel? Of course you do, it was all the rage from about the 1920s to at least the 1980s, from Walter Benjamin to Tom Wolfe. Then everybody noticed that people kept on writing novels, and other people kept on reading them and said clever things like “the death of the novel has been greatly exaggerated” (which, as it happened, was a variation on something a novelist once said). But what’s this? In the Observer Magazine (March 3) Robert McCrum asks, not if the novel is dead, but if the novelist is: “Is this the end of an author’s life?”

The gist of the article is that before the “credit crunch” (which actually, though the writer doesn’t mention it, was merely the herald of something rather larger and more significant, a worldwide recession) and the internet, certain sorts of writers were doing just fine. Now they’re not. Only two authors, Joanna Kavenna and Robert Thomson, are called to the witness box to testify at any length on this state of affairs, and the Observer‘s photographer hasn’t helped things by snapping the former in an extremely inviting kitchen. The latter is at least pictured in the dark, on a nameless London street, but he spoils things a bit by telling us that his cutting back has necessitated giving up an office “on London’s South Bank” and constructing a tiny “garret” in his attic. Office, attic, builders? We should be so lucky. The story that they have to tell turns out to be one of reduced advances, which most likely has something to do with sales, but since the only figure given in the article is “a sum in excess of £100,000” for an advance for two books in the late 1990s, it is difficult to tell. We are told that other writers “off the record . . . freely confide their fears for the future”. Hanif Kureishi (was he happy to be on the record)?) “told me how difficult his life had become”, but as he had been “recently swindled out of his life savings”, that may be the reason for that, rather than an end of literary days.

Of course, people in all walks of life have experienced similar reductions in their incomes, and we wish it weren’t so. McCrum tries to get Kavenna to blame the internet, getting her to “speak passionately about the copyright problem from the perspective of a young writer struggling to protect her livelihood”. Recalling, with horror, the so-called Google Print Initiative (the digitizing of the world’s copyright libraries), she says: “It’s as if you came home and found your house burgled, but when the police turned up they said: “Did you stick a sign outside your front door saying DON’T BURGLE MY HOUSE?”‘”. We have puzzled over this analogy, and admit defeat. First, the Google Print Initiative. This (now the Google Library Project), whatever one thinks of it, is not a project to release copyright works free of charge. We looked up Kavenna’s first book, The Ice Storm, on Google Books. You can’t read it online, but you can buy the e-book, or “get the book in print” (links to WH Smith, Waterstone’s, etc). This doesn’t sound like burglary to us.

So the connection to the loss of a “business model” in other areas of creative production (music, journalism) is tenuous at best. Though McCrum makes little of it, his real observation is that, if most authors’ lives are getting more difficult, that is a return to a state of affairs that preceded a brief publishing boom in the 1980s and 90s. Grub Street has always been waiting, and the internet has very little to do with it.

Shoplifting Books–Stop! Thief! Oh, Never Mind “ by Robert Gray. From Shelf Awareness 14 March, 2014.

Time: 1985 or thereabouts. Place: Shakespeare & Company Booksellers (as I remember it) in Manhattan.” A New York Times “Metropolitan Diary” entry last week opened with that CSI: Bookstore intro, then shared a brief but amusing tale involving a few classic ingredients of the crime thriller: suspect, witness and potential theft, with a devilishly clever comeuppance at the end. 

The witness recalls seeing “an unmistakable tall, reedlike figure with a jutting jaw and blondish hair, wearing a floppy knit hat that could not disguise him.” She recognizes the celebrity and begins stalking him through the aisles until, quite suddenly, she’s astonished to catch him in a criminal act: “He doesn’t seem to notice me as he stops and pulls a book off the shelf. He examines it. Then, he quickly snaps it shut, slips it under his oversize coat and strolls away.”otoole031314

Still in shock, the witness continues to trail her suspect until his “pace, slow at first, begins to quicken as he approaches the cashier through the front exit. Wait! What do I do? Do I rat him out? I am stunned into silence.”

In a dramatic plot twist, the suspect “magically flips the book out from its hiding place onto the counter along with a $20 bill. He then flashes a conspiratorial wink at me and my gaping jaw. Peter O’Toole then exits the stage, leaving this sole audience member both amused and amazed.”

I love that story. It brought to mind any number of incidents from my bookselling days, including the time a new manager at the store where I worked thought he had the goods on an elderly customer who seemed to frequently walk out with unpaid books. The case was quickly solved, however, once clues were assembled and he was informed, Inspector Lestrade-like, that the suspect was actually the co-owner’s mother.

As sometimes happens, the Peter O’Toole story tempted me not only to stroll along my own guilt-lined memory lane, but down the Internet rabbit hole as well, where I found a gem from the June 6, 1968, NYT:

pleasedonot031314“A film about shoplifting that included an episode about a woman slipping a vacuum cleaner under her skirt and walking out of a store evoked horrified laughter yesterday at the American Booksellers Association convention. The audience was told afterward that unexplained shortages in bookstores probably run from 2.4% to 4% of total business handled….

“After the shoplifting film, Hubert Belmont, a Washington book consultant who was a shop manager for 15 years, told the booksellers: ‘Now that we have all decided to close our stores we will still go on with the program. However, we will no longer wonder why some of our friends walk away peculiarly when they are leaving the store with encyclopedias between their legs.’ ”

I should mention (call it a confession, just to keep with the theme) that bookstore shoplifting is a subject that has long intrigued and even haunted me, for a few reasons:

  • I often feel irrationally guilty when I’m browsing in a bookstore I haven’t visited before.
  • I wouldn’t snitch on another customer I saw shoplifting and I feel a little guilty about that, too.
  • When I was a bookseller, I never once caught anyone stealing, even when I was sure they had; even when they set off the security alarm while leaving. I was a master of the slightly delayed leap into action, hoping one of my colleagues would beat me to the door and the confrontation.
  • I knew I would be lousy at the chase-and-apprehend nature of catching shoplifters, so I didn’t try.
  • The standard rule that you could never let suspected shoplifters out of your sight for an instant (lest they dump the goods and increase the dangers of litigation) reinforced my natural inclination to inaction.

Maybe I should have been more vigilant. Certainly I was no Paul Constant, who wrote in The Stranger: “In my eight years working at an independent bookstore, I lost count of how many shoplifters I chased through the streets of Seattle while shouting ‘Drop the book!’ I chased them down crowded pedestrian plazas in the afternoon, I chased them through alleys at night, I even chased one into a train tunnel.”

Jerry Seinfeld was willing to rat out his own Uncle Leo for shoplifting books at Brentano’s: 

Jerry: Leo, I saw you steal.
Leo: Oh, they don’t care. We all do it.
Jerry: Who, criminals?
Leo: Senior citizens. No big deal.

When I was a bookseller, I just couldn’t take the pressure of being an anti-shoplifting enforcer, and now I’m an oblivious bookstore customer, avoiding any temptation to snitch. Oblivious… and maybe just a little guilty. –Robert Gray, contributing editor

The Digital Public Library of America ’s executive director Dan Cohen outlined three goals for the new library when it debuted last April: “to be an easy to-use portal and virtual entry-way to America’s digitized cultural heritage, as well as an online catalogue organizing the collections by time, location, format, and topic; to be a platform for applications developers to build on, adding tools for access and discovery; and finally to serve as a community and innovative institution for advocating free, public access to reading and research in the 21st century.” In this context it’s probably better to focus on the library’s function as information resource and query bank, rather than as the place you’d go to borrow a book. This YouTube video gives an introduction:

On October 30–31, 2013, The New York Review of Books held a conference under the title Power, Privacy & the Internet at Scandinavia House in New York City. It consisted of five hour-long sessions, of which this link will take you to one, featuring Robert Darnton and Anthony Grafton. (If you want to follow the whole conference, click on the link at the right hand side of the SoundCloud page (the one with the title Power Privacy & the Internet.) These are only audio files: the fact that the speakers keep referring to exhibits doesn’t really affect one’s understanding. In the session, “The Internet, the Book, the University and the Library” Professor Darnton starts off with a brief history of libraries and library access before describing progress on the DPLA.

Here now from Publishers Weekly of 10 March 2014 is Michael Kelley’s report on one year’s activity at DPLA. There are a couple of interesting comments about making books available – but that remains an aim rather than a reality. As I say: a place to go to get an answer, rather than to read a book.

It is shocking how we forget — I can never remember when it was I first got a computer on my desk at work. I do remember it was a Mac Classic, which is also the one I first got at home. I still have it in fact, and the last time I fired it up (which must have been about 1999!) it did actually work. It must have been in the late eighties when computers first came to the office I think.

So when was the first e-book published? The Guardian has a story indicating the uncertainty surrounding what would seem a fairly unambiguous event. They mention Host by Peter James on two floppy disks in 1993, and billed then as “the world’s first electronic novel”. It has been placed in the Science Museum as “one of the earliest examples of the form”. I actually own an earlier example: Afternoon: A story (maybe that means it’s not a novel?) by Michael Joyce, which is © 1990, though I didn’t buy it till 1996. But Project Gutenberg had started putting texts on-line by 1971. The Grolier Encyclopedia was available on CD-ROM in 1985, and the Oxford English Dictionary in 1989. And who remembers the Franklin book reader issued in 1989?

I tend to think of libraries as places where you go to borrow a book, but of course that’s only a partial view. It’s probably fair to say that librarians see themselves as information specialists, providing their customers with information about myriad special issues. To the extent we publishing people have thought about the issue of archiving digital content, we have still got the physical book in the front of our minds, with the digital version shadowing in the background. But many of us have already published books which have never been printed. We have not devoted much mental activity to wondering about their survival and accessibility. But the problem, if it is a problem, of future accessibility of such books is small compared to the plethora of other “born digital” material.

OCLC, the library service organization, has a Born Digital program. This link will take you to a discussion of the issues, Demystifying Born Digital. Born digital materials fall into nine categories: Digital photographs; Digital documents; Harvested web content; Digital manuscripts; Electronic records; Static data sets; Dynamic data; Digital art; and Digital media publications. There’s brief description of these at the Defining Born Digital PDF which you can access via the link in the third line. The natural impulse of the librarian is to want corral all of this material, classify and index it, and make it available to the customer. This of course presents a nightmare’s worth of problems – the first of which is charmingly named “bit rot”.

In spite of the miles and miles of shelving required for the job, keeping a hard copy is a “safer” method than digital storage – or so it seems to me. Obviously the library could burn down, but if several libraries have copies of the book, this should not affect the archive-aspect. Digital storage is clearly more compact – but does require a constant refresher routine, so that nothing decays. Of course libraries around the world are already tossing old, under-utilized books because of space pressures, so we really are committed in effect to some form of digital storage even for stuff which wasn’t born that way.

I have often wondered if the real answer to the archivability problem for our books is not just to make a physical copy of each book – in other words set up any e-book for print-on-demand right away, so that at least a few hard copies will exist. This might work fine for books issued by a publishing company, but is probably nonsense when it comes to all the self-published books out there. Still I like the redundancy of it.