Archives for the month of: May, 2018

It’s comforting to see scientific research which tells us we’ve been doing the right thing all along. NPR has a story What’s Going on in Your Child’s Brain When You Read Them a Story? which reports on research into the reaction of kids to different types of stories as measured by fMRI. It seems that “just right” lies exactly where Goldilocks has always told publishers it should: text which a parent can read out, accompanied by pictures a child can look at. More digital “enhancements” end up being too much; text alone, too little.

Such is our eagerness for this sort of comforting news that we are willing to discount the awkward fact that the research is actually only based on a sample of 27 kids. Still, it sounds true, doesn’t it?

Link via The Passive Voice.

Photo: Boston Public Library

It’s no coincidence that paper mills are always next to a river or a lake. They need more water than anything else to make paper. The pulp released onto the moving belt in a paper making machine will be diluted to 97% water.

This Sappi diagram, which you can enlarge by clicking on it, claims that paper mills return 90% of the water they use to the rivers. In the olden days, before we got our legal ducks in a row, the effluent was heavily polluted, and living downstream from a paper mill demanded olfactory blindness.

Paper Online has a bit of detail They point out the thought-provoking idea that because the modern paper mill has to purify the water it takes in, the decontaminated outflow may well be improving the quality of water in the river.

The amount of water used in papermaking has been being steadily reduced. For those who want numbers, here’s a 2014 article from Professional Papermaking focussed on the German industry.

Of course the industry’s need for paper doesn’t begin when the wood reaches the mill. Water management is needed in their forestry divisions: trees need water to grow. The following video focuses on that part of the water budget.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

I’ve often claimed that entry into this business is so much more simple (less expensive) now than it was before the arrival of the internet, and am glad to see this report from Los Angeles Magazine about how this is playing out in LA. (Link via The Digital Reader.)

Turning a manuscript into a book is so laughably straightforward nowadays that it makes old guys like me, who spent a lifetime learning how to do exactly that, seem like simpletons. To “publish” an ebook may take about half an hour (the writing should take longer), and setting it up for print-on-demand manufacture will take an additional few minutes. Selling the damn thing is another story. Contrary to everyone’s assumption, the hard bit of publishing is getting rid of the product. Many authors conclude that traditional publishers abilities in this area are worthwhile, but as we all know many, many self-published authors have broken the barrier and have earned huge profits by figuring out how to reach their audience on their own.

I think the thing that guarantees the future of the book publishing industry is the fact that it is so much easier to publish a book than it is to write one. Thus people who’ve managed to publish their own books successfully will always be tempted to repeat the trick without waiting till they’ve written another decent sized manuscript. Get your friends to write the thing. Offer your expertise to all and sundry. Given time, you too may evolve into a More-or-less-Random House.

Quartz has a piece about how we publishing people don’t know very much about our customers because Amazon, which controls a vast segment of the industry, keeps almost all of its information private.

This is all true, but we work in an industry which is maybe three hundred years old, and for most of that time we managed to get by without the sort of data that Amazon collects. When your business is tiny, you may have excellent data on each of your customers: you know them all by sight after all. Insert middlemen (bookshops and even wholesalers) between you and your customers, and suddenly what you know about your readers is much less, amounting to little more than anecdotal evidence picked up by your sales reps.

Now it’s true that we don’t have clear knowledge of the sales numbers of Kindle and indie- and self-published ebooks, but so what? We know the numbers are large; or we keep being told that they are. Should this be anything other than good news? We work in a different — parallel but different — business. Publishers know how many ebooks they sell, just as they know how many hardbacks or paperbacks they sell. Not knowing the preferences of each and every one of these customers as to color of cover, choice of typeface, breakfast cereal, side of the bed on which to get out, makes no difference at all. If we knew more about our customers, would we sell more books? I doubt it, though I suppose we might find an aching void or two in the market for perhaps a volume of reminiscences of cats on keyboards, or exciting angles of sunshine on water. Knowledge is obviously good, but it can be overrated; or at least the consequences of a lack of it can be exaggerated. Publishing is doing just fine groping its way forward in the time-honored way.

OK, I suppose, but let’s hope nobody gets the idea of setting text in these characters. The Artphabet, each character based upon the work of a famous artist, is shown here at the website of CESS, the Madrid-based creator.

Can this really be true? Fast Company alleges that “scholars found that books by women authors are priced 45% less than those of their male counterparts”. It’s made a little stir in the book-industry-commentary universe-let.

“Scholars” is a term which can be deployed to convey apparent authority, but in this case it is genuine; the authors are from CUNY’s Queens College. Fast Company carries a link to the original paper at PLOS. The authors, one female, one male, one a sociologist, one a mathematician, analyzed the books in Books In Print 2002-12 and found that of the solo authors whose gender was identifiable, 26% were women and 45% were men. They didn’t use books by multiple authors and were up to the problem that Robert Galbraith might create as the only gender-identifiable name used by J. K. Rowling. One assumes some other such examples remained concealed. They assess the reasons for the gender/price difference under the headings Allocative Discrimination, Valuative Discrimination, and Within-job Discrimination. It’s all a bit too exhausting to consider more closely.

My take on this is that women, for whatever reasons, are less represented among the authors of expensive types of books — I don’t know which — say college textbooks, scientific monographs, medical texts, directories of the care and maintenance of a nuclear plant. Within types of book, I bet prices show no variance. A physics monograph by a woman will be priced on the same basis as a monograph by a male physicist. A less misleading line of research might have been a study of the reasons why fewer women write books in high-priced categories, doubtless at least in part related to their relative underrepresentation in such fields. I certainly don’t think that any part of the reason is, as the authors conclude, based upon discrimination by publishers. If the authors know of any female physicist who has just written a monograph, please tell them to send the manuscript along to any university press with a science list right away.

Whatever the merits of this research, you certainly shouldn’t rush out hoping to get the latest Danielle Steele at 55% of the price of the latest James Patterson.

Link via Lit Hub Daily.

Oh my God.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Can we please put it all down to performance anxiety? Please. Please.

Link via Book Riot’s Today in Books email.

We love to blame Amazon for everything wrong with our business. Remember how, twenty years ago, we used to love to blame the chain stores, prominent among them Barnes & Noble. We’ve switched the foot on which we wear the boot and now like to hold Amazon responsible for good old reliable B&N’s current ills.

Mike Shatzkin, weighs in at The Shatzkin Files, with a piece exonerating Amazon from the charge of Barnes-and-Noble-icide. B&N’s situation is of course a result of moves they themselves made (and didn’t make) in response to changes in the marketplace. Maybe the Department of Justice did have some role in this when they blocked B&N’s attempt to acquire Ingram, but who can know how that’d have turned out anyway. Back in the last century we all vaguely saw, with very little clarity and certainty, that selling books on-line was something we needed to do something about, or Amazon or something Amazon like would drown us. When you look back on the map of where you’ve come from you can always see those forks in the road where you took one turning rather than another. The assumption should not be made however that, had we taken the road less travelled, everything would be now coming up roses. To any business model, as to every thing, there is a season. When that time’s over, something else comes along. It looks like the something else in book retailing is now going to be an Amazon surrounded by a cloud of small, quick-witted independent bookstores. This is a situation easier to live with than to struggle against. Different isn’t necessarily worse.

The Passive Voice picks up a piece from Business Insider, telling of their visit to B&N’s Union Square store (it’s a big one). Their captioned picture gallery is pretty devastating. Now of course we know you can pick a moment that’ll make your point in a photo, but these images have an ominous familiarity. The long and short of it is surely that hardly anybody now goes into a bookstore intending to buy a specific book. Unless it’s a recent bestseller we can all more or less assume it won’t be there, so why bother? I think an on-line in-stock list by each bricks-and-mortar bookstore (as I suggested in my recent post Robot booksellers?) might help recover some of this trade, but things can’t go on like this.

Joe Wikert knows his stuff. Like so many e-enthusiasts though, he tends to view the world through digital-tinted glasses. He can’t understand why reading an ebook has to remain pretty much the same thing as reading a print book.

He writes in his blog post The digital content scalability problem, “I’ve spent a lot of time evaluating content transformation platforms over the past several years in the hopes that I’ll discover the path forward from today’s world of dumb books on smart devices. I’m disappointed to say we’re at roughly the same stage as we were at more than 10 years ago when the Kindle first hit the scene.”

The whole angle of his thought — that this is a problem which publishers and the vendors they use need to work to overcome — is based on the assumption that everyone wants something (which he doesn’t really seem able to specify) which publishers are just too stubborn, myopic, or cheese-paring to provide. We all know now that ebook sales have stabilized, at least for the time being, at about 25% of the market. The ebook looks like just another format, no more pregnant of meaning than the paperback or the audiobook. Just a format. Whizzbangery is not what’s holding things up. Who wants an ebook of David Copperfield with video clips and voice-over asides? Maybe people just want to read books, Joe.

It’s all a bit like a Christian puzzling over why, by now, not everyone in the world has seen the light and joined his church. To such a believer the faith is self-evidently “a good thing”; so why doesn’t everyone else see that too? “If they’re unable to get there, they might as well abandon ship and get into a different business” Mr Wikert concludes. Yep: secular humanism and just plain reading look fine to most of us.

The news of the opening of unstaffed bookstores in Beijing provoked Robert Gray into a round-up article at Shelf Awareness of 16 March 2018. His piece entitled “Bullet Points & Robot Booksellers — A Collage” may be found at his blog Fresh Eyes Now. Mr Gray includes a link to the story of poor Fabio, a Pepper robot, who was fired after only one week in Margiotta’s, an upmarket foodstore in Edinburgh. Let’s hope this means that we humans can hope that our days as bookstore assistants are not numbered (yet. Or not numbered with too small a number anyway.)

I almost think I’d prefer there to be at least one robot in Amazon’s NYC bricks-and-mortar store. The couple of humans on staff were so tied up with checkout that you’d have to stand on line just to ask if there’s a copy of a particular book in the shop. I just left, and went the next day to Three Lives (who didn’t have it either). I guess for a book shop to keep its inventory showing on-line might be a cost, but I do think that this may be an important thing to do. Sure I can call and ask, but I don’t. Nowadays, when we are all used to being able to order on-line right away, it’s surely dangerous to cede the on-line check-up arena to Amazon. Set up an inventory listing, link it somehow to your cash register (for deletions) and your order entry system (for additions) and bingo, there’s a list of everything you have. Even when I’m in the store I could check this listing rather than “wasting” the time of an assistant, but most importantly I can see at home if it’s worthwhile getting on the subway and visiting you to get it. That’s more or less what these Chinese bookstore robots are doing anyway, isn’t it?