Archives for the month of: September, 2014

Here’s an interesting short video, linked via The Passive Voice, showing chemical changes in the brain resulting from hearing a story with a strong dramatic arc.

If you are interested in Paul Zak‘s work, this link will take you to a TED video from 2011 in which he refers to that short.

Are we guilty of allowing our focus on the big guys and their tussles with Amazon to cloud our view of the business? In this piece from Publishing Perspectives of 18 September, Judith Applebaum suggests that there’s huge, unnoticed growth underway in the book publishing industry: lots and lots of new publishers are setting up shop. I do believe that we may be at the end of a consolidation era: when companies consolidate people get laid off; when people get laid off some of them set up little companies competing with the industry giants. These companies start small of course, but some will hope to grow into tomorrow’s giants. Ms Applebaum suggests that we remain ignorant of all this growth because the collectors of data for our industry are unable to see these tiny fish. I was at the Brooklyn Book Festival last weekend, September 21st. There were about 150 publishers represented ranging from a few (20-25) whose names you’d recognize, to a number of individuals offering their self-published books for sale. Between these extremes there were maybe 100 or so small independent presses publishing small numbers of titles annually — many of them familiar from previous years and other trade shows. We are sort of aware that there’s a whole lot of self-publishing going on; we just find it hard to know exactly how much and how successful it is. Seems that this is also true of small presses.

I did do a post entitled “A golden age of publishing?” back in October 2013.

 “I’d like people to consider something about Amazon which is so totally insane that I really couldn’t believe it was true until I had three different emails from them.

Anyone can simply go to Amazon Kindle and say ‘I wrote that book or I have rights to that book, not the person who published it’ and Amazon will immediately remove the book from the store without any sort of proof. Not only that, they will not put the book back up until both parties come to an agreement. So. . . .

So if this new person who claimed the book is his own work does so for malicious reasons, they need never come to an agreement and the book will never be for sale on Amazon. Apparently in such a situation, the best the true author can do is take the other person to court and force him to say they were wrong, which is going to cost money. For an Indie author with an ebook, that’s going to be tough.”

Thus Lazette Gifford on Joyously Prolific (linked via Passive Voice). Makes you feel weak at the knees. You can see why Amazon would have such a policy: but you’d have thought evidence of copyright registration might have sufficed to get the book reinstated.

However I suspect that if you send Amazon an e-mail claiming to have written Catch-22, it might not work. But please don’t try it!


A lot of people probably think that prisoners shouldn’t be getting to read books or take part in a poetry workshop — they’d rather think of them sewing mail bags or breaking rocks. But we ought really to think of incarceration as rehabilitation rather than punishment, oughtn’t we? Here’s a link to a video showing a prison poetry workshop in progress: quite impressive. We’ve got a long tradition of prisoners “improving themselves” by study while in jail, especially perhaps by studying the law. It seems so sensible to aim at rehabilitation that the British government’s decision earlier this year to restrict prisoners’ access to books came as a bit of a surprise. Of course their rule applies only to their receiving books from outside (does the government think that files and knives will be being concealed in the books?) and prison libraries will continue unaffected. The Shelf Awareness report on reactions follows.

Petition Launched to Protest U.K.’s Prisoner Book Ban

Mark Haddon and Philip Pullman are among the authors supporting a petition launched in the U.K. Monday that calls upon justice minister Chris Grayling to “urgently review and amend your new rules which restrict prisoners access to books and family items,” the Guardian reported, adding that numerous writers “have poured scorn on ‘despicable’ new rules from the Ministry of Justice.” The petition already has more than 20,000 signatures.

Haddon called the rules a “malign and pointless extra punishment, which is not only malign and small-minded but desperately counterproductive.” Pullman described the situation as “one of the most disgusting, mean, vindictive acts of a barbaric government…. Words nearly fail me on this…. Any government worth having would countermand this loathsome and revolting decision at once, sack the man responsible, and withdraw the whip from him.”

Booksellers were also making themselves heard regarding the issue. On Facebook, Word on the Water posted: “I worked with ex-prisoners for 20 years, and know that the secret of salvation for many of them was found between the pages of a book — in one case a copy of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists* that a prisoner found hidden in a toilet cistern that taught him, as he put it, that ‘even people like me deserve to be happy.’ He went on to direct a charity that, with remarkable success, helped men turn away from committing domestic violence. Please, if you agree that depriving those in prison of the ability to read is plain wrong, consider signing the petition.”

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick told the Independent the government’s blanket ban on books being sent to prisoners is a mistake and the policy should be changed. “The problem in this case… is trying to micro-manage this from the center, with the center describing very detailed lists of what prisoners can and can’t have,” he said. “I think that’s a mistake. I think that once the policy intention is clear, how that’s implemented should be left much more to the discretion and the common sense of governors, so that they can reflect the needs of their particular prison population.”

Here’s report from The Bookseller of 27 June about a protest rally at Downing Street.

Ministers still refuse to budge, as Galley Cat 21 August reports. More recently Mr Grayling, who appears to be remaining adamant, is reported in The Telegraph as agreeing that prisoners actually get much better library service than the general population in Britain. Of course maybe that should prompt a review of the public library service. But the government has bigger problems on its hands those days what with Syria and Scotland. It sounds like prisoners will just have to keep on reading their 16 books each in the library, and forgo the pleasure of unwrapping the latest bestseller. Amazon even provides a list of “books for inmates” if you feel inclined to send a gift (but not of course if you are in the UK). I suspect that most prisoners would consider other inconveniences of incarceration slightly more significant than the lack of book post.

Later: Swintec has created a typewriter for inmates: clear, so that nothing can be concealed in it!

Yet later: The High Court has declared the ban on books for prisoners to be unlawful. Here’s The Bookseller report of 5 December 2014


* The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell is available for your Kindle free of charge (well at least it is today). It’s a socialist classic from 1914 and at that price you can’t afford not to read it.


Is this a straw in the wind or the thud of reality hitting you in the back of the head?

“UK press manufacturer Timsons has laid off ‘between 30 and 40’ of its staff after restructuring its business to concentrate on the manufacture of digital book presses.” The story is on PrintWeek‘s site and dates from 3 September. Jeff Ward, Managing Director of Timsons is quoted as saying “with the downturn in traditional litho [offset], we had to do something in order to rebalance the business”.

They will still be maintaining the many offset presses already installed around the world but this cannot but be bad news for aficionados of printing via the balance of ink and water.

I really admire George Steiner’s criticism, but I have trouble with it. He is polymathic, and kind of assumes you are too. So you start thinking — in order fully to appreciate this essay of his on a certain writer, I really ought to read The Brothers Karamazov first. But wait, before reading that I obviously have to read The New Testament. And before I read that I’d better learn New Testament Greek. And in order to do that I guess I’ve really ought to learn classic Greek, or I’ll be totally at sea. So you end up having to put Steiner aside in order to continue living a normal life.

Flavorwire has this list of “Classic books based on other classic books” which Shelf Awareness linked to on 16 September. A number of these are blindingly obvious, and others somewhat recherché (for instance, I don’t really think anyone’s going to miss much in Madame Bovary by failing to read Don Quixote first). The Anne Carson one though — there’s a Steinerian challenge.

This piece by Lincoln Mitchell, “The future of the future of books: thoughts on Amazon, e-books, and future of how we read words” makes a lot of sense. It is on Buzzfeed and comes to me via Book Business. All the talk about the p-book being dead is obvious nonsense. If 30% of book sales are e-books, what do we imagine the other 70% are? I was at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday, and someone said “But isn’t digital killing the business”. In reply I waved my arm around the stalls, all heaped with books (printed books) which people were buying.

We have come through testing times, and it’s not amazing that some things have been said that test the limits of sense. If the future of the novel were indissolubly tied up with the future of the e-book, then maybe we should think about how to make novels more interactive so that they might compete against video games or whatever. But it’s not, and nobody has really suggested that it is, though calls for experimentation have of course arisen. No reason why fiction on Twitter shouldn’t be delivered in 140 character lots, but I don’t think we should expect “The Great American Novel” to arrive that way. “Art forms survive by figuring out what makes them unique, not by trying to emulate other mediums” Mitchell says, and I expect he’s right. Let’s hope it’s just a passing panic which makes us clutch at augmented reality or whatever as the salvation of our industry. Just make books more book-like (whatever we might mean by that) and maybe that’ll be the answer.

One niggle about Mitchell’s piece is the way, like so many commentators on the book world, the author’s good sense deserts him when it comes to his comments on the music industry. It’s just not true to say “In seven years after the iPod was released, the CD market was dead.” Greatly reduced indeed, but 30% of the market is far from death. (See the gif I posted recently.) Music labels still make and sell CDs — unsurprisingly facing problems with their largest retailer which are only too familiar to book publishers — and there’s the same self-published phenomenon as we find in books: any self-respecting busker in the subway these days has his/her little stack of CDs which the casual fan can buy. But however tempting it is to draw lessons from the music business, it remains very different from book publishing. People just “consume the product” differently.

As I’ve said before, I do think the big shadow hovering over the future of the book industry is the possibility that lack of volume will hurt the book manufacturing business so severely that it’ll become hard to get your book printed economically. Book printing is a capital-intensive business, and reductions in volume will have effects. (Whether this effect is also to be found in the music business I don’t know — I suspect the effect is less marked — just reflect that you can duplicate a CD on your computer for a very low cost.) Public access to POD does exits, e.g. via those Espresso machines in bookstores and libraries, but the machines are quite expensive, unlike a blank CD. I remain sanguine that the business will settle down at a level which keeps e-books available alongside printed books, perhaps at a volume which means that p-books will mostly be manufactured via print-on-demand.

I am told* that Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” was a couple of pages long before he set about cutting. It’s now 2 lines. In “Poet’s Work”, Lorine Niedecker writes: “No layoff/ from this/condensery.” Even if you are not a Dickinsonian modern poet this advice is good — and often given.

In his book Strictly English, Simon Heffer also recommends cutting redundant words. Tom Freeman, the Stroppy Editor, took his advice seriously and applied it, in a meta-editing tour de force, to the page on which Heffer delivers the advice. (Thanks to George Conk for the link.)


This piece, “25 Ways to tighten your writing” by Betsy Mikel at PR Daily gives sensible advice on tidying your writing (sent to me via a tweet from Therin Knite, a young self-published writer who is constantly tweeting links to advice for writers.)
* by Al Filreis, brilliant MOOC instructor, in ModPo (Modern & Contemporary American Poetry)

Evan Johnston’s cartoons at Toast are intelligent and cool. Take a look. Here’s one on the trials of the freelance cover designer. I’d love to attempt a reply from the other end of the telescope: the frustrations of dealing with a designer: scheduling, adherence to a “good” idea, spelling the author’s name wrong, conflicting software versions, delays and so on. But then I’m no cartoonist. Maybe Evan would oblige.







Macworld announced on 10 September that it will no longer publish its print edition. Gigaom brings us this rueful report by Mark Crump.

Nigel Portwood stirred up the news media when he said he doubted if the next edition of The Oxford English Dictionary would ever be printed.

Hey; all I’m saying is — nobody’s announcing cancellation of their digital edition.