Archives for the month of: November, 2018

David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen sends a link to this YouTube video.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser. You might prefer to watch this without the sound.

The Scholarly Kitchen post provides a link to a previous cover animation video.

A little commercial for Uppercase, a Canadian craft magazine.

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The jacket is a nice touch, fold it four ways for a different look every time. “Beautiful, inspiring, informative” it may well be, but having that four-ways jacket forces you into printing a belly band, which increases your cost, as does the jacket itself, since there’s perfectly adequate paperback cover under it all. Actually, you could, couldn’t you, print the title four times on the front of your four jackets? Still, of course, as a craftsperson your motivation is liable to be different from that of a greedy publisher.

Thanks to Ilene Kalish for the link.

Amazon, as we all know, has opted to place its second headquarters in two places: Long Island City in New York City and Crystal City adjacent to Washington, DC. Nobody (except presumably Amazon people) yet knows what’ll go here and what there. Apparently DC is richer in computer programmers, while NYC is the center of book publishing and media, retailing, advertising, and finance.

Shelf Awareness carries a report on reactions in the book community, which reads in part “In strongly worded letters to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, ABA CEO Oren Teicher wrote that ‘it is unconscionable that state tax dollars paid by [New Yorkers & Virginians] would be redirected to subsidize one of the world’s largest — and most profitable — companies, which, among other things, has a history of doing whatever it can to drive competitors out of business and to avoid paying its fair share of taxes.’

Teicher added: ‘It is simply bad public policy to direct public money away from infrastructure, first responders, and public schools — which benefit all [New Yorkers & Virginians] — and, instead, to direct that money to a single international mega-corporation with a market capitalization that dwarfs virtually every other company. . . Local businesses are the backbone of our state’s fiscal health. The news of such massive public subsidies to one of the world’s largest and most profitable corporations is contrary to the long-term interests of all [New Yorkers & Virginians].'”

Fair enough I guess: that’s Oren Teicher’s job. However I can’t really see why Amazon’s having HQ 2.1 in the city really carries any more of a threat to local booksellers that their being based in Seattle did. If they want to build a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, Amazon will build a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Does anyone really think that by putting staff into the Citicorp Jackson Avenue building, Amazon will suddenly realize that this is just where they should have had a bookstore all along. Of course as they move more and more high-paying jobs into the area they will inevitably improve the outlook for local retail businesses, but I assume they have pretty sophisticated analysis of where they might place new stores, and don’t just watch their employees flooding out of the building to buy their lunch.

There’s lots of knee jerking going on over this issue. NYC has managed to prevent Walmart’s setting up stores in the city, so some ask, what’s the difference between Walmart and Amazon. Well, rather obviously, the difference is that Amazon is bringing headquarters staff jobs, not retail stores which would directly negatively impact local shops. (Of course, one can argue that Amazon does indeed represent a threat to local retailers anyway; but that on-line retail threat would exist whether their headquarters were in Walla Walla or Long Island City.)

I have heard it claimed that the tax subsidy in New York City amounts to about 7¢ on every $1 of salary paid. The mayor says that the city will be getting $13.5 billion in tax revenue over the 25 year life span of the deal. Obviously such estimates are based on assumptions about staffing and salary levels. There will apparently be 25,000 new jobs over 10 years, with “most being paid $150,000”. The job total may rise to 40,000 over 15 years. I can’t really see how this is a bad deal for the city. Sure, it could have been 6¢ or less — but surely the city’s tax take from income taxes earned from good paying jobs which didn’t exist yesterday is worth a lot more than that. And there will be tax benefits from the extra consumption of new employees. Even before this deal $2 billion had already been committed in infrastructure in the already growing area of LIC. Amazon is donating part of their site for a school. Of course Jeff Bezos doesn’t really need any subsidy, but all of the subsidies offered to Amazon are subsidies available to any company. In other words, according to the mayor, NYC refused to fashion any tailor-made incentives for Amazon. One can deplore the common practice of states and cities providing subsidies to bring jobs to their communities, but, if everyone’s doing it, refusing to take part obviously guarantees failure. City boosters who claim that even if NYC had refused to talk to them Amazon would have come here anyway are just whistling Dixie. If the purists had prevailed in their insistence that no subsidies should have been offered to a company run by the world’s richest man, the end result would no doubt have been that 100% of HQ2 ended up going to Crystal City or somewhere else. Seems like a reasonable sprat to catch a rather large mackerel.


This is the full text of an email received on the SHARP listserv in response to a request for members’ favorite statements by printers about printing.

My favourite has to be this take on ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ by the John Wilkes-esque proprietor/publisher/printer of India’s first newspaper, James Augustus Hicky of the Bengal Gazette.  The original spelling has been preserved.

The Printer’s Soliloqui – A Parody of Hamlet’s Soliloqui
To print – or not to print – that is the question.  Whether it is nobler for a man to suffer the threats and anger of the S-p—e C—n—l or to defy them and the B—d of 
C—m—e, and by opposing tease them!  But to stop to print – no more – and by that stept to end all quabbles, and the thousand cursed plagues a printer’s heir to – ti’s a consumation by cowards to be wished.  To cease to print my Gazette is perchance to starve – startling thoughts for in that idle state what cares may come when I have printed off my last Gazette, must give us pause – There’s the respect that makes the Bengall Gazette so long lived.  For who wou’d bear the insults of the time, the C—n—les frown, and D—es contumely – the pangs of weekly toil sorting types – laws array, the damn’d Post Office, and the spurns a patient printer of the unworthy takes, when he himself might his quietus make by breaking up his press, – who wou’d bow, and cringe, and fawne obsequeous at a Great Man’s Breakfast, but that the dread of this same cursed starving, that land of famine from whose fell gripe no victim e’er returns – puzzels the will, and makes the printer bear his present ills, and induces him to continue to print his Original Bengal Gazette than fly to projects that he knows not yet. – Thus famine doth make cowards of us all, and thus the boldest son of resolution … is sicklied o’er by such pale starving thoughts, and Bengal Gazettes of great wit and spirit without roast beef and claret, die away and lose their circulation.
From Hicky’s Bengal Gazette 16th-23rd December 1780.
The words only partially spelt out are Hicky’s “enemies”: the Supreme Council, the Board of Commerce, the Council again, and Mr. Simeon Droz who in November 1780 lodged a complaint against Hicky with the Governor-General Warren Hastings (‘The Great Man’).  The Post Office was ‘damned’ in Hicky’s eyes because in November 1780 it refused to circulate his weekly. Famine was very much on Hicky’s mind because in November 1780 a rival weekly The India Gazette began publication, threatening his livelihood.
Graham Shaw
Senior Research Fellow, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London


“To print — or not to print” sounds reminiscent of current debates about ebooks as against print books. Evangelists for ebooks who grasp at every straw in any wind, now see the prospect for paper price increases as the death knell of the printed book. I assume that just as happens every time we come up against cost increases — something we haven’t really experienced for years — book prices will ratchet up to compensate. So? Such is life: prices go up. As publishers control the pricing of their ebooks too, their prices will go up by a similar amount. Publishers would be nuts to ignore ebook pricing in any general price review. Very few are the people who think that God really wanted the Ten Commandments to be disseminated in digital form and that the world has been holding its breath for eons awaiting the total transformation of reading into digital reading. Of course another price increase for ebooks (which the evangelists know to be absolutely free to produce) will just encourage them to scream louder and longer. Scream on.

Richard Charkin is, I suspect and hope, being a little faux naif in retailing at Publishing Perspectives the story of his establishing his own publishing company, Mensch Publishing. “Could anyone tell me how many publishing companies are founded every year worldwide?” he asks, and immediately replies: “I don’t know and couldn’t find out, but I’ll lay money it runs into the tens or hundreds of thousands. The reason is that we think the cost of entry is not unreasonably high—or so I thought.”

He then takes us through ten or so steps, which together he says have cost him £20,000. He has high hopes for his one book (which publisher doesn’t?) and if they come anywhere near being realized should make a bit of a dent in his debt.

The title of his piece is “How (Not) to Start a Publishing Company”, and this may be the real source of my troubled reaction. Of course I’ve never done it, but I don’t really see how better you could start a publishing company — other than starting off with more than a single title which would have helped amortize some of that £20,000 (but would of course also have added more title-based costs).

As a prize category this is obviously very difficult to judge. If nobody’s read the thing how are judges to know about it?  One can of course imagine an unpublished novel which has been read only by its author, but once it’s published — impossible to tell. It is unfortunately all too easy to believe in the existence of many an academic book which has been read by nobody in the publisher’s office and has then sat for years untouched on a library shelf. Heck, we even have publishers who specialize in this type of publication.

The Paris Review publishes a discussion by Meghan O’Gieblyn of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling by Marguerite Young. This 1,198 page novel does appear to be hard to read. Like the bus in which the narrator is traveling it seems to go around in eternal circles, illustrating the point that there is no point. The New York Times‘ obituary for Ms Young in 1995 described the novel as “one of the most widely unread books ever acclaimed.” The fact that the book was reissued by Dalkey Archive Press in 1993, would in itself seem to be a refutation of any claims for least-read status.

But how would one go about recognising books which were less read than one might imagine? I suppose a start might be to look at books confidently predicted to be bestsellers but which failed to sell more than a few copies. (The methodology for such a research project does not immediately come to mind though.) In so far as the claims of imminent bestsellerdom were based on anything other than hype this category can be seen as the happy hunting ground of those publishers who thrive on reissuing classics which may have missed their market the first time around, or which may have now become unjustly ignored.

Amazon can provide some help here. They know if you don’t finish reading your Kindle ebook, and Gizmodo brings us a story about some research into this evidence by Dr Jordan Ellenberg. Unfortunately Dr Ellenberg’s full list at the Wall Street Journal is protected by a paywall, but Gizmodo‘s short list includes a couple of surprises. Business Insider, commenting on the same list claims that Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History Of Time is generally regarded as the least-read book ever.” This has to be nonsense. Any books that sells more than 10 million copies, can’t possibly qualify as the least-read book ever, even if lots of people never really buckled down to it after having bought it to show how clued in they were. A few of those millions must have read it. Given so many sales it might well qualify as the most partially read book ever, though I suspect that the bible would eclipse Professor Hawking’s rating here. The phone book too, if we still had them; any Encyclopedia; Godfrey & Siddons: Four-Figure Tables; any dictionary; and so on and so on. In fact I’d hazard a guess that nobody has ever read through Godfrey & Siddons: Four-Figure Tables. I suppose there must have been a proofreader involved back in 1937 though.

In the olden days the library borrowing record card might have given some guide for the least-read researcher. They show how often a book was taken out; which of course doesn’t have to mean that the borrower actually read the book. These date-stamped cards are now long gone. Maybe library computers now carry this information.

Let us not, in this context neglect Neglected Books.

Designer Sarah J. Coleman provides, via Spine Magazine, this accelerated video showing the drawing of the cover for Dreadful Young Ladies and other Stories by Kelly Barnhill.

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Photo: Irish Times

The sun is shining
The wind moves
Naked trees
You dance

Maybe this isn’t the greatest poem you ever read, but it’s probably not the worst. As the work of a computer, acting on inspiration supplied by this photograph, it becomes a horse of a different color. Not too shabby I think we have to allow.

Book Patrol brings this to our attention, citing Microsoft Research Blog as its source.

I have speculated on machine writing before, here and here. I’m not sure there’s anything much to fear in this. In fact we are forced take on trust the reality of most of the authors we read: we don’t sit face to face with them after all. And if, say, Hemingway surprisingly turned out to have been a cunningly-designed robot would that make any difference to our enjoyment of his books?

This category has been attracting attention this year. My post of a couple of months ago suggested that it was nothing more than the appearance of a trend: brainy people have always been interested in brainy books. Now we hear from The Bookseller that Cambridge University Press is moving formally to take advantage of this fashion — and I thought they’d always been doing this sort of publishing! (Link via Book Business.)

Maybe it’s just The Bookseller‘s headline, but does calling CUP’s initiative a “destination list” mean anything at all? Is it a destination for authors or for readers? Maybe just for dollars.

What’s going on here? On the one hand we hear that brainy books are all the rage; on the other hand we are being told that it’s getting harder and harder for intelligent popularizations to thrive. It was just a year ago that we got the news of the Public Scholars scheme subsidizing this very type of publishing. Can’t have worked that fast, can it? I suspect the fact is that the intelligent book was never in the sort of jeopardy that the National Endowment for the Humanities was persuaded that it was. Nice to have their money of course, but they’re not making the difference between death and survival, but between prospering and prospering more. The death of the mid-list is a trope whose sell-by date has surely passed. If big trade publishers can’t make money by doing books which can only sell around 5,000 copies, there are, and always have been, lots of smaller publishers, notably university presses, who’d jump at such a sale, and are rather good at achieving it.

We must note that the main losers in the abandonment of this sort of book by trade publishers are the authors. Trade publishers do business on a model of paying large advances against royalties. They are stopping doing mid list books (which could more honestly perhaps be described as books which do not earn out their advances) not because of any disdain for intelligent non-fiction, but because they have at long last figured out that unearned advances are not a smart business strategy.

Should book publishers be expected to invest in authorship, to support authors? To my purist mind publishers exist in order to provide the link between author and audience. They “buy” an author’s product and package if for sale. But over the years there have been many books published under a relationships much more like employment than the normal royalty deal. If you think that publishers ought to finance the creative process rather than just acquiring rights to it after the product exists, then you may have to admit that paying an advance against royalties which ends up being greater than the royalties earned through sales, is probably a pretty inefficient way of achieving such support. There may be authors who would like to be taken onto the payroll, but of course employees are expected to deliver work product in return for their salaries. An author panicking because they’ve only written a single historical biography in this calendar year doesn’t seem to me to be an author who’s set up to deliver a work of genius. Of course there are writers who’d sign on for this. Nice work if you can get it, and it’d come with health benefits.

Montaigne asserted “I may be a man of fairly wide reading, but I retain nothing. . . I would very much love to grasp things with a complete understanding, but I cannot bring myself to pay the high cost of doing so. . . From books all I seek is to give myself pleasure by an honorable pastime; or if I do study, I seek only that branch of learning which deals with knowing myself and which teaches me how to live and die well.” He sought “to become more wise, not more learned or more eloquent.” It’s a relief to note that he too didn’t retain as much as one might like from the books he read. When I was a student I was assured that the aim of education was not to knock facts into my head: it was to teach me how to look up information when needed. At the time this meant navigating books. Now maybe it’s degenerated to Googling.

Montaigne’s remarks come from Joseph Epstein’s essay at FirstThings in which he tells us that he reads for style, not information, or even wisdom, though he may hope to pick up a little of those too. He’s indisputably a bookman. Along the way he tells of his work as literary executor of Edward Shils, who had 16,000 books in his Chicago apartment plus another 6,000 or so in a house in Cambridge, England. His will called for the books to go to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but they had to decline because they hadn’t the space for so many books, nor could afford the approximately $100,000 needed to ship and catalog them. Epstein says he sold most of the books to a private dealer for $166,000. I occasionally wonder what will happen to the books which threaten to push us out of this apartment, after I’m no longer around to gaze upon them. It sounds like my fallback of the library may well be a non-starter. Here comes the Strand?

One’s time is always limited, not only as one gets older — it just seems more immediate then — and selecting books to read is a bit of a lottery. After all you can’t really tell if a book is worth reading until after you have read it. Schopenhauer has typically stern advice, advice which certainly helps: “The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.” So basically, avoid the bestseller lists.

As a sort of counter-balance please see Rosie Leizrowice’s piece How to choose books you’ll actually read at The Ascent. She’s got no time for Schopenhauerian rigor. BookRiot reveals to us that Britney Spears also lives a bookish life, having been launched on this pilgrimage by Harry Potter.

A bookish life must be what I’ve lived. There are people who work in book publishing without letting “the book” become overwhelmingly important to them. I was never sure why such people chose to work in the same place as I did: they could probably have made better money elsewhere. It was usually a fairly low-pressure life, it’s true, though when there’s a panic there’s a big panic. It’s not like the food business, say: nobody risks their life as a result of reading a book — the nearest one comes to danger is the risk of a bookcase falling on top of you. I gravitated to the production and manufacturing end of things because panic was more likely there, and I rather enjoyed overcoming panics. But always first and foremost to me was the book and its content. If you are dealing with 20 or 30 books a week, there have to be many of them that you can’t find time to read. I can honestly say, though, that there were very few that I wouldn’t have liked to be able to read. One of the best feelings in publishing (for me) is opening that carton of sample copies sent straight from the end of the binding line. Here at long last it is, that object you’ve been wrestling with all along the line. Proofs late? Budget shot? Too many AAs? Index not done? Error in artwork? Jacket doesn’t fit? Paper late? Now all is forgiven: here it is. Nobody’s seen it before. Just let me read it!