Archives for the month of: March, 2017

We are getting all too used to hearing dire news about libraries, especially perhaps from the UK. Public funding of libraries, which used to be seen as a necessary public duty, now falls victim to austerity measures here there and everywhere. Odd to look back on the 20th century as a beacon of liberalism, but as more and more clouds gather, this may turn out to be a necessary mental adjustment despite all those wars hot and cold. I suspect that part of the “justification” for under-funding library service is provided by an easy, unexamined assumption that in a world of e-books, libraries just aren’t as necessary as they once were. No doubt it’s too late now for legislators to reverse course in recognition of the slow-down in e-book adoption.

Ellen Dolan, the director of the Shrewsbury Public Library in Shewsbury, Massachusetts and her reference librarian Walker Evans hold a couple of the gardening tools the library has been lending out along with its traditional book collection.

Librarians, you’ll be glad to know, are not taking this development lying down. One response seems to be to set off down the road of lending more kinds of stuff — not just boring old books, but a beach chair on which to sit while you read that book. The Wall Street Journal of 18 March describes this phenomenon in an article entitled Need Pruning Shears or a Ukulele?.

I guess this is OK, though is converting your public library into a free Rent-a-Center likely to endear you to public officials looking for yet more reasons to cut budgets without (heaven forfend) increasing local taxes? Manhattan may be a particularly benighted region, but I must say I’ve not noticed such non-book items on offer on recent visits to our library. We still conform more to the picture offered by Slate in April 2014 in The Future of the Library: “walk into a typical American public library and you’ll probably identify about three current core services: storing an underused circulating collection of paper books, ensuring community-wide access to Facebook on desktop computers, and sheltering homeless people.” But maybe beach chairs and gardening tools are not in high demand in our borough.

The idea from Southold of installing a little library branch inside a laundromat seems to have potential. Of course little sub-branches here and there just lead to the problem of limited choice. If you find a book you want to read while your clothes rotate in the dryer, great, if not, not. Maybe the library’s e-book collection provides the answer to this restriction.

Another — glaringly obvious — way to go is to publish some books yourself and sell them in the gift shop which is a necessary feature of any self-respecting library these days. We all know that publishing is a phenomenally profitable enterprise! So let’s get a piece of the pie. Library gift shops already sell pencils and Moleskines, and books they have to buy from publishers, so why not cut out that middleman and make your own books? Now that you can manage to make money on ludicrously low print runs, there would appear to be minimal risk in banging out a classic or two, or even having your librarians write a book tailored to their local juvenile audience. But take care: don’t let your enthusiasm run away with you, and certainly don’t increase your print run in order to be able to publish at an attractive retail price.

Here are stories of three libraries embarking on their own publishing programs. New York Public Library as recounted by The Guardian and by Book Businessthe British Library at Publishing Perspectives; and from the same source Williamson County Public Library. The catalog of the incunabula exhibition at the Cambridge University Library was published by the Library itself.

See also Libraries as publishers from 5 December 2014.

(Via The Digital Reader)

If you find this infographic hard to read you can see it better at Fair Use Week.

Will’s will

I’d never really given any thought to the question of the bequeathing of copyrights. But obviously authors can choose anybody — human body or corporate body — to be the recipient of a post-mortem copyright assignment. And that can cause problems: as this piece from Angela Hoy at WritersWeekly explains, recipients can often be reluctant to receive such gifts. (Link via The Digital Reader.) I guess there’s a big difference in your enthusiasm if you get given a book selling millions a year as against one struggling to offload twenty copies annually — and inheriting the rights to a boring book may carry with them an obligation to keep it available. When you write your will consider the possibility that your long-cherished Bildungsroman may in fact turn out to be a loser rather than a Wilhelm Meister, and cut your legatee some slack so that they don’t have to feel that they are legally bound to “do their best” by your lucubrations. And if you decide to pass on the copyright to your alma mater or some other institution like the local dog’s home, do consult them first.

Piracy is obviously “a bad thing”. Just because some heedless enthusiast once asserted “information wants to be free” doesn’t mean that information producers want the same thing. However nice it is to run around shouting liberal slogans, we do live in a world where the rule of law still hangs on. The invention of the e-book has made piracy rather easier, or certainly affordable.

As the AAP wrote in their monthly newsletter for August 2015:

Technology has changed the ways in which books, journals and other published copyrighted literary works are created, shared and purchased. Copyright law, however, is technology-neutral, meaning that copyright protections are meant to apply equally to eBooks and printed books. AAP’s recent amicus brief supporting the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) authority to address unfair trade practices involving infringing copies of such works, regardless of whether they are imported in hard copy or as eBooks, aims to defend this central principle of copyright.

Our support of the ITC’s trade authority with respect to infringing works in digital formats aligns with our top priorities for modernizing copyright, which include ensuring that publishers and other rights holders have effective tools to combat online infringements. Every year, the U.S. government publishes a Notorious Markets List [2015 is the most recent available reporthighlighting the online (and offline) markets outside the U.S. that post mass-quantities of infringing copies of books, movies, music and other creative works that undercut the royalties paid to authors, filmmakers and musicians.

Now here’s The Creative Penn on how we should embrace the pirate: better read free than unread. This is the same thought that Neil Gaiman was expressing in his 2011 video (which can be found in the link in the first line of this post). Maybe this is the spirit behind The Digital Reader‘s comment on Digimarc’s report on piracy of e-books, which they estimate at $315,000,000 in 2016. Maybe he’s being ironic in dismissing this number as “nothing to worry about”, though he does link to the Creative Penn piece, so I suspect that the remark is addressed to the narrow issue of piracy’s effects on the individual self-published author. Now it may well be that any individual’s share in the heap of pirate-pinched revenue is small, and that encouraging reading by giving away a few free downloads of a novel has the desired effect of increasing readership, but not all publishing is like that. It may well happen that a pirated copy of your novel will indeed lead to further sales as the pirate recommends the work all around. Now of course, not all books are e-books, whatever the enthusiasts might like to think. Print piracy is and remains a large problem. Given the nature of the technology it tends differentially to affect big books like textbooks and reference books. If an Oxford Chinese-English dictionary, say, is pirated in China that is purely and simply a lost sale. It’s not like the pirates go around telling their chums that there’s now this amazing thing called a Chinese-English dictionary, which suddenly releases demand for this hitherto unimaginable production. The best it’ll do is encourage more illegal downloads.

So while it may be just fine for most self publishers to blithely ignore piracy, it’s not something the whole industry can really afford to do. I don’t think 10% (if that’s what it is) is really something any company can afford to ignore. Any publisher would make fairly significant offerings to Gaiman’s gods if that would secure them an annual revenue increase of 10%.

Everyman a publisher nowadays. We don’t only have to look out for authors publishing their own stuff, and libraries and agents too, but bookstores can easily get in on the act, especially those with Espresso Book Machines.


Shelf Awareness brings us the news. “Just before Inauguration Day, January 20, Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., printed a book containing the farewell speeches delivered by President Obama and Michelle Obama just before his term ended, the Boston Globe reported.

Called Barack Obama & Michelle Obama: Farewell Speeches, the 72-page book was printed on Paige M. Gutenborg, the store’s Espresso Book Machine. The material is in the public domain.

Marketing manager Alex Meriwether told the paper that the book was produced by the staff, with the cover designed by the bookstore manager. ‘It’s a fulfilling experience reading it as well as listening to it.'”

I dare say the Obamas are making enough on their pair of Crown books not to have any concern about this publication of public domain material, other than to welcome it. All publicity is good publicity.

Much of bookstore “publishing” consists of printing a book written by one of their customers, so more a matter of self-publishing rather than bookstore publishing. But it needn’t be restricted to that and to books which publishers have authorized for printing locally on the Espresso, as the Boston Globe story shows. For people who can’t bear to read an e-book this may be the avenue to pursue. If there’s a suitable file on-line for any public domain work you can potentially get a bookshop to print out a paperback book for you (for a fee of course). This seems to me an extremely liberating situation. It’s also a return to the early days of the book business where there weren’t businesses called publisher: there were printers and booksellers.

There was a flurry of concern a few years ago about agents elbowing in onto publishers’ turf, and getting their clients books printed without the benefit of a publisher. We all seem to have gotten spine-stiffening injections since then, and now one doesn’t find the same panic among publishers. We have always had societies and clubs publishing, and we have become accustomed to bookshops and libraries doing their own printing and publishing. We are now much more relaxed about the fact that anyone at all can publish a book, so why should literary agents be left out.

In 2013 Porter Anderson had a little series of posts about agent-assisted publishing at Publishing Perspectives. Here they are: The first, the second, the third, the fourth, and the wrap-up.

Amanda Luedeke at MacGregor Literary Agency (link via The Passive Voice) says it is now “ridiculously easy for any schmuck to pound out a terrible novel and send it to the best editors” who don’t have the time to read them all. Saying “send your terrible novel to me, you schmuck” hardly seems like a winning marketing slogan, but alienating a few awful authors might not be too damaging I guess.

Agents have long provided an invaluable service to the publishing industry by prescreening manuscripts. It was always a natural step from there to providing editorial services, ranging from rewrite to copy editing and design. And now that typesetting has become virtually (or potentially) a side effect of copy editing, producing press-ready files is clearly a logical progression. So what’s so sensitive about the next step, getting the books printed? If we want to allow an agent to do this task for us, why not? From a publisher’s point of view the beauty of having agents do stuff is that they tend to be paid by authors.

As Ms Luedeke points out the role of agents in publishing is not as an alternative to the Big Five, it’s as a sort of service to authors. Many of these are going to be self published, and can use all the help they can get.  However one wonders why a self-published author would need the services of an agent to negotiate a contract with their self-publisher self. Just shows the twists and turns going on in the business.

The Robinson–Patman Act, sponsored by Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson (D-AR) and Representative John William Wright Patman (D-TX), is a United States federal law passed in 1936 prohibiting price discrimination and other anticompetitive practices by producers. The law was needed because chain stores had been able to purchase goods at lower prices than other retailers, thus enabling them to discount their retail prices. The new law required the seller offer the same price terms to customers of the same type. Publishers have been bound by this law ever since.

There has been quite a bit of litigation about differential pricing in the book business. Wikipedia tells us: “In 1994, the American Booksellers Association and independent bookstores filed a federal complaint in New York against Houghton Mifflin Company, Penguin USA, St. Martin’s Press and others, alleging that defendants had violated the Robinson–Patman Act by offering ‘more advantageous promotional allowances and price discounts’ to ‘certain large national chains and buying clubs.’ Later, complaints were filed against Random House and Putnam Berkley Group, and these cases also were later settled with the entry of similar consent decrees. Eventually, seven publishers entered consent decrees to stop predatory pricing, and Penguin paid $25 million to independent bookstores when it continued the illegal practices. In 1998, the ABA (which represented 3,500 bookstores) and 26 individual stores filed suit in Northern California against chain stores Barnes & Noble and Borders Group, who had reportedly pressured publishers into offering these price advantages.” Since that time publishers have been careful to avoid this sort of trouble. Things like promotional allowances still muddy the waters and much care has to be devoted to terminology. Our Sales Director used to pace up and down muttering “Robinson–Patman, Robinson–Patman”.

At the end of last year at The Digital Reader, Randy J. Morris discussed the Robinson–Patman Act in connection with Amazon’s bricks-and-mortar stores. I’m not sure, though I’m a legal naïve, that Amazon’s offering variable pricing in their bookshops is any different than their offering that same prices on-line. If the discounts they get from publishers which enable them to offer their on-line discounts to customers are OK by Robinson–Patman, I don’t really see why a physical bookstore would alter the situation. As far as I know nobody’s bringing suit.



I can’t manage to make this larger. Their embed link seems not to mean anything to WordPress. You can read it at its source though: My poetic side.

I hadn’t realized you could repeat as poet laureate: I’d assumed it was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Notable that almost all the names are familiar to today’s poetry readers.


Global Literature in Libraries aims to bring translated works to the attention of libraries and librarians. A good idea perhaps, although librarians already get lots of demands on their attention, and another one may risk alienation through overload. Publishing Perspectives brings us a story about the organization.

Their goals are unimpeachable:
– Book lists and guides tied to major translation awards and library themes
– Programming ideas for various library user groups: children, teens, college students, adults, English Language Learners, etc.
– ALA conference involvement: workshops and sessions, networking through various ALA units and offices to explore the best ways to provide information and services to librarians
– Joint webinars with various ALA offices
– Publisher and journal lists organized by vendors/distributors to help librarians more easily acquire books in translation
– Advocacy on behalf of small publishers to increase their visibility on the review platforms that librarians commonly use for their acquisitions decisions
– General education efforts to help librarians understand more thoroughly the value of translated literature and of contemporary foreign-language literature
– Pan-publisher catalogs crafted specifically for librarian users, as a form of “one-stop” shopping to learn about new works coming out in translation
– Exploration of ways in which non-US publishers of English translations and non-US, non-English-language publishers can more easily promote their works among libraries

Rachel Hildebrandt, whose idea this is, would “like to hear from publishers, librarians, library journals, her fellow translators, educators—anyone who’d like to join this new exploration of what connections might be made between library patrons and translated literature.” The list of publishers in her catalog is small (as they tend to be too) but perhaps from tiny acorns. . . : Cadmus Press, Deep Vellum, Kurodahan Press, Le French Book, Open Letter Books, New Vessel Press, Owl Canyon Press, Phoneme Media, Restless Books, Unnamed Books, and White Pines Press.

It’s not clear just what the business model is. Are they asking publishers to fund the effort by paying for listing? Or do they aim to raise funds via sales to libraries? While it’s nice to have a little catalog like this, it is just too small. A unified list of translated books from all publishers might well provide a useful guide to librarians. Like so many things, though, if they don’t scale up quickly their catalog risks ending up just being another distraction.

I suspect that non-publishing people probably have a rather hazy idea of how publishers calculate the price and profit of their books.

To some extent you know ahead of time what sort of retail price the book should have. If it’s fiction and the manuscript when you first get it, towers two feet off the desk, you know it’s going to be a big book. Maybe you can price it at $35, but your efforts will be to get below that. Were it a physics monograph, you’d be thinking between $150 and $250 with a bit of trepidation. These first impressions are not of course what we use to decide pricing, though it is surprising how often people get wedded to their first impressions and move heaven and earth to force reality to conform. We go through an estimating and costing process, involving calculating net profit. Trade publishers are perhaps more likely to allow their first price “guess” to dictate things — they tend to have a range of standard prices to which everyone in the trade expects them to adhere — rather than, as an academic publisher is more likely to do, allowing the cost of production to determine the price. Given that demand for an academic monograph is pretty inelastic this isn’t as crazy as it might sound.

The elements involved in your costing, the profit and loss calculation, are:

  • retail price
  • print quantity
  • free copies
  • unit cost of production*
  • royalty rate
  • overhead percentage
  • averaged discount to retailers, wholesalers etc.
  • net profit (net profit + overhead = gross profit or gross margin)

Basically your job is to figure out what net profit will result from printing a certain quantity and pricing these books at a certain price. The only fixed elements in the list above are frees (there’s probably a standard company-based assumption here; we used to allow 10%), overhead (declared as an average every year, based on last year’s costs divided by sales), discount (though you could always decide that a difficult book to price might slip into a different discount category), and royalty. Royalties come in two varieties; they are either paid on the retail price, or on the net receipts (i.e. price less discount). Which it is will be a fact covered by the contract with the author, as will the percentage rate.

So you solve these equations:

  1. Gross receipts (per copy) = (P x ((100 – D) ÷ 100)) where P = retail price and D = discount.
  2. Overhead = Gross receipts x H%, where H = Overhead percentage.
  3. Royalty = (R% x P, or perhaps R% x Gross receipts if it’s a net royalty) where R = royalty rate.
  4. Net profit will equal Gross receipts minus Royalty, minus Overhead, minus Unit cost.
  5. Divide that by Gross receipts to get the net profit as a percentage. Then if that doesn’t work, i.e. if your net profit is too small, you do it again with a different retail price. This will mean there are changes in Gross receipts, Overhead, and Royalty. If you change the print number this will change the unit cost: but beware, to get into the habit of increasing the quantity in order to “justify” your desired price flirts with ultimate bankruptcy.

One of my bosses used to make me do these calculations in my head — having come out of the accounting side of the business he found that sort of thing easy. I never found it exactly easy, but I could eventually manage the calculations in a reasonable time. I’d always do them on paper if I wasn’t facing him though.

See also Economics of the book


* The unit cost is made up of two parts:

  1. fixed costs
  2. variable costs.

The fixed costs are those that you incur whether you print one copy or one million. These include typesetting, copyediting, design, permissions fees for interior and cover art. Press makeready can be included here (it is invariable) but is often just left as part of the printing cost, which makes up the variable cost along with paper, binding, jacketing, cartoning, and, if it is included in unit cost rather than overhead as it usually is, the cost of shipping to the warehouse. The variable costs increase roughly in step with increases in quantity and the effect of the fixed costs becomes smaller as the quantity increases, as they are divided over a larger number of books. So the more copies you print, the lower the unit cost: wherein resides the temptation to overprint.