Archives for the month of: January, 2019

The Scottish Book Trust gives you thirteen great book museums to visit. If there’s a Scottish flavor to this list, let that not diminish your enthusiasm for the quest. I don’t really find it too troubling but when you visit the main reading room at the 42nd Street main branch of NYPL you have to push your way through a crowd of tourists who gather inside the entrance to the room to goggle at all those people actually reading books. A museum of reading?

It is quite a handsome room though.

In some ways any library is a kind of book museum, just because they keep lots of old books; and indeed one or two of the 13 in the Scottish Book Trust’s list are indeed libraries. I’ve reported on museum-type displays at the University Library, Cambridge, at Chetham’s Library, at The Rosenbach Library, and at The British Library. So keep going. After The Scottish Book Trust’s list you can start on national libraries.

The insatiable bibliophile traveller will need to refer to Printing museums and Book towns too.

According to Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries (Vol. 1, page 538)*, when The New York Times dropped the period at the end of their masthead they claimed the cost savings in ink would amount to $41.28 per year. This took place in 1968, so according to Inflation Calculator the ink for that diamond-shaped dot would be worth $298.01 now. Of course they are not printing as many copies nowadays, so the annual ink saving would be less, and who knows what price movements there may have been in the ink business. (For a lyrical video on the making of ink please see Ink making.)

The Times provides a nice article on its own printing with some great pictures. And here from Motherboard is an excellent video focussing on the maintenance crew in the NYT‘s Queen’s plant.

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


* Johnson’s immense novel (Jahrestage in Germany where it was published in four volumes) takes the form of a day-by-day account by Gesine Cresspahl, a German employee of a New York bank, addressed to her ten-year-old daughter. Anchoring every day’s narration is a sort of digest of that day’s New York Times, which almost takes on the status of a character in the book. The Cresspahls live in an apartment at the corner of West 97th Street and Riverside Drive (where Johnson and his family lived from 1966 to 1968 while he was employed as a textbook editor at Harcourt Brace & World) and the daily to-and-fro of the neighborhood is cross-woven with memories of East Germany immediately before and after WWII. A mesmerizing performance.

Fact checking departments in book publishing houses are rather small: in fact they are so small they are invisible. I doubt if any book publisher has a fact checking department or person. The accuracy of facts in any book is the responsibility of the author, and their contract with the publisher will make that quite explicit and unambiguous. If you think of a publishing house, as I tend to, as a sort of service company hired by an author in order to bridge the gap between author and reader, then this seems altogether reasonable. All we’re doing is getting the book printed and delivered to bookshops around the country.

Latest to fall foul of this view are Jill Abramson and Simon & Schuster. Vox (via LitHub) tells the story of dismay about the accuracy of many facts in her book Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts: bit of a shirt-trailing title in this context. Their article starts “Book publishing has a fact-checking problem”.

I do recall the subeditors in Cambridge who’d get onto their bike and go over to the University Library to check up on the veracity of this authorial claim or that dramatic statistic. Academic publishing has of course got a different relationship to the “product” than a trade house. Sure we’d like to sell as many copies as possible, but we do feel that we are part of the academic process. Not perhaps an overwhelmingly important part of it, but making the results of academic research and endeavor available to all in neat and tidy form is part of the academic and educative process.

But fact checking in so far as it happens in a publishing office happens as a by-product, not as a formal step. We know this; most authors know this; and things pretty much work out. The trouble comes when an author used to writing for The New Yorker, The New York Times, or some other fact-checked entity is writing a book. I don’t suppose Jill Abramson is any more error-prone than the next person: but as a New York Times writer she is used to having her facts checked. No publisher ever called up an author and asked them to take longer writing: it’s always “Hurry, hurry, hurry. The book’s scheduled for the Spring, and we have to have the manuscript next week or we’ll miss our slot which will kill sales long-term.” So you finish the damn thing and send it — and of course once there it goes through the system likety-split so that ARCs can be distributed to the trade. Maybe Ms Abramson has been going through the ms ever since she released it doing her own fact checking: she obviously picked up that Charlottesville is in Virginia not North Carolina. Now that early printed copies have been shown still to contain lots of errors the publisher has a decision to make. Quite probably the early printed copies in question are a short-run digital printing of a few hundred copies, and were always intended to be disposable. The final run can be made from corrected files: the question comes down to how much time (and money) can we afford to spend on fact checking. Surely a couple of weeks will be seen by S&S to be a reasonable investment. According to Amazon the book is scheduled for publication on 5 February. No doubt reviews will tell us all how it all worked out.

I have dealt with fact checking before. At this link you’ll find a couple more to other pieces.

Halleluja, we’ve just gotten a whole bunch of books falling out of copyright into the public domain. Hasn’t happened for twenty years! The New York Times gives us the “official” news that the one-off delay in public-domain-ification introduced by the Mickey Mouse Copyright Act of 1998 is finally over. By extending the length of copyright protection by twenty years that act stopped books (and any other copyrighted works) entering the public domain since then. Lots of others weigh in on the story: TeleRead among others. Open Culture gives you links to free copies of many books which have just become part of the public domain.

Of course the world will never hear about most of the books which just came into the public domain. They’ll remain just as forgotten as they already had managed to become. But competition will open up: for instance Open Road Media will issue ebooks of several of them, and Penguin Books will publish some, including The Prophet, with an introduction by Rupi Kaur, in competition with the original Knopf edition. Nice to be able to keep the competition in-house. Derivative works (of these newly public domain books) have the lid taken off and will doubtless multiply. One writer suggests a surge of fan fic may result. The Great Gatsby remains protected for another couple of years. So if your ambition has always been too explore the early life of Daisy, get writing so that you’re ready for the starting pistol!

What I keep worrying about is that if the 1998 act was all about Mickey Mouse’s approaching birthday, is it not probable that someone at Disney has noticed that the old guy’s already 90 years old. Disney cannot be unaware that eternal copyright protection for their mouse is a vital legislative requirement.

Copyhype has a story (delivered via The Passive Voice) which tells us about the current workings of our copyright system and prospects for legislation this year. The good news is that the U. S. Copyright Office and the U. S. Patent and Trademarks Office are both operating during the current government shutdown. The ominous news may be how copyright, which is the foundational legal basis for our business, has grown so much that it’s now really all the other businesses touched by copyright who are driving the bus. These other businesses seem all to be growing fast, while book publishing stands pretty much still. The Mickey Mouse Copyright Act brought a focus on movie companies and their rights, and today’s reform impetus looks like being driven by on-line music and video.

Is there any hope that we might be able to get different laws covering the three separate (to my mind) aspects of copyright

  • big investments like movies,
  • on-line items, including music, and
  • books etc. — the written word?

See my post Copyright three ways from a couple of years ago. Isn’t it getting too complicated to combine the different needs of the three strands of intellectual property in one law? Maybe Rep. Nadler can be persuaded.


Our book publishing companies keep getting bigger and bigger. How far can it go? We see consolidation in all industries of course. Break-ups seem rarer — are they just less newsworthy? Will every industry end up represented by a single firm? Could monopoly actually be good for us? I suppose it might be, if only human beings were as straightforward and honest as we liberals always like to believe they really are. Evidence in support of our optimism is however painfully sparse. It matters not, as concentration seems set to continue. Of course every consolidation shakes out a few laid-off individuals who may set up their own little publishing companies; so we keep getting lots of new tiny firms which can grow into take-over targets in a few years, and so the cycle continues.

According to The Millions, Julie Bak tells us in Boom!: Manufacturing Memoir for the Popular Market (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013) that between 1960 and 2001 there were 1,250 mergers in the publishing business. Sounds like a lot even when you divide it down to about 30 a year. I do have a feeling that the pace has slowed down a bit now though, in part no doubt for macro-economic reasons, but of course mergers and acquisitions do still happen in the book business. The siren call of efficiencies through scale has been allowed to overwhelm the self-evident (to this self anyway) fact that publishing is fundamentally a small-scale business. At bottom it’s the offering to individual readers of the writing of an individual author. Now of course if you are a James Patterson your publisher can link you up with lots of readers but each separate book is totally different box of cereal, bar of soap, can of peas from all the others. It’s a container-full of words, true, but the words are different in each item. The processing that’s done in each case is, however, exactly the same whether the publisher in question publishes 10,000, 1,000, 100, 10, or 1 book a year. There’s no efficiency of scale in signing contracts, acquiring books, setting up computer records, editing, copyediting, designing, fixing prices and print runs: Penguin Random House just does each of these functions 15,000 times over every year. The operation of each function is pretty much identical to the same function carried out by the publisher of a single book.

Such efficiencies as there are in book publishing come in the other areas: sales and distribution mainly, and all the back office, accounting functions that can be combined when two companies are merged. Efficiencies in production and manufacturing amount principally to the acquisition of wider shoulders. If you demand favorable treatment from manufacturer A for your $50,000 manufacturing budget, manufacturer A may say “No, why not try B”. But if you’re shopping a spend of $1,000,000, discounts will probably be readily available. Small-is-beautiful-ist that I am, I rather suspect that the existence of these very discounts tends toward boring standardization and occasional overproduction — a few hundred copies here a few thousand there: after all they cost almost nothing! — whereas an individual negotiation will lead to a price satisfactory to both parties.

The main boost from an acquisition may end up being the backlist and books already signed up but not yet published. An editor can only sign up so many books in any year: maybe there’s a slight “efficiency” gain in the fact that a larger company will be able to afford larger advances — but just writing these words forces one to acknowledge their obvious downside.

Are there signs now that Big Five acquisitions are not quite so much focussed on other book publishing companies? Recent targets have included digital creators, digital distributors, marketing companies. I wonder if trade publishing is about to hive off into a sort of mini-movie-company-model where huge investments yield huge returns (with a fair share of huge busts too) — maybe it already has and we just haven’t taken notice yet. Of course it’ll probably prove hard to resist the lure of eating your cake and having it too, and PRH, for instance, may be reluctant to focus solely on the razzmatazz of Becoming, and give up their safe sale of Robert Penn Warren’s books. Brother to Dragons surely cannot sell more than a hundred copies a year, but of course the beauty of backlist books is that there are thousands and thousands of them. But logic has its own logic.

See also Consolidation continues from three years back.

Here is page 346 of the New York Review Books edition of Volume 1 of Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries, a massive work of fiction excellently translated from the German by Damion Searls.

See the little foldy-over bit at the bottom, trapped in the binding. (You can click on the picture to enlarge it.) The grey and black boxes (which are really off the edge of page 345) are the data the printer uses to check the ink density while the job is running, adjusting it as necessary to keep the ink balance uniform throughout the run. You can see the torn edge at the left edge of the box: follow it down and you can see where it continues to the edge of the book. The white area you see below that diagonal line near the bottom is in fact a bit of page 344. The diagonal is a fold. Because a bit of the sheet got folded in, the extraneous color bars didn’t get trimmed off as they normally would be.

Attentive readers of this blog will immediately recognize that given the way the fold dives into the spine, we should expect to see some more action 4, 8, 12 or 16 pages further on. And this indeed we do: here’s a picture of page 359 where the rest of this little folded-in quirk turns up.

The little flap secured in the middle by the binding must have suffered this tear sometime between the impression cylinder and the end of the folding line. The book was printed by Sheridan Press: whether by sheet-fed or web press I don’t know. If it was sheet-fed one might imagine a pressman picking up the top few sheets on a skid to riffle through for evenness of color and catching a finger nail on the next sheet, not noticing that the motion of his hand pulled the flap over, causing it to be folded down tight when the sheets above were dropped back. Once the fold is in there there’s really no reason why anyone would detect it till the reader, me, finds the last couple of words on page 346 obscured. I chose not to tear it back to read the words: manufacturing mini-flaws like this are fascinating. It’s really amazing how rarely something like this goes wrong: when we find an example we need to hold onto it as a reminder of the potential fallibility of all human endeavor.

However this fold over may have happened, it is unlikely to have affected more copies than mine: another reason to cherish such freaks of process.

Erik Kwakkel sends us this picture of a 12th century letter Q, delivered by a happy, if thin, dog. As a Cap Q, it makes me think of dog quoits, predecessor of dog frisbee.

In its 2018 Christmas issue The Economist had an article about patronage.

Among the interesting facts it tells us is the striking news that Laurie Penny, a British writer, has 650 on-line patrons who pay her just over $3,500 a month. Nothing compared to James Patterson‘s income of course, but not too shabby. Two of her funders each pay her $250 a month: she’ll meet them for dinner if in town. And it’s not as if she’s using the money to self-publish her books: they are published by the likes of Bloomsbury and Tor, who presumably pay her royalties too. My mind is boggling.

Here’s a video intro to Patreon, the website which enables this on-line patronage. If you don’t see a video here please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Now I can, of course, see the appeal of receiving patronage. But please, eager patrons in waiting, do not send money: not everyone want to be obligated to a patron, even a relatively anonymous on-line group. I decided not to look for income from ads on this blog for a few reasons. I don’t want to feel that I have to be right when I say something. Not that I want to be wrong, but I want to feel free to say what I want to say. I started out with a sort of modest educational aim in mind: to tell younger people in the book business how things were a few years back, and also to interpret the British book world to Americans, and vice versa, and I’ve expanded into just letting off steam about various book-related topics. Topics of my choosing though. If you have patrons waiting for your words you are rather obligated to write something they’ll be interested in every day. If I miss a week, I miss a week. And receiving money for your writings carries with it an implication they are worth something: which kind of lays a weight of obligation on your shoulders. Plus I don’t need it. And then of course you have to acknowledge the gifts, which can lead to some sticky, sickly writing. “Great and manifold were the blessings, most dread Sovereign, which Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, bestowed upon us the people of England, when first he sent Your Majesty’s Royal Person to rule and reign over us.” Thus the translators of the Bible to their boss, King James I and VI. Not for me, thanks, though of course the benefits to England of having a Scottish ruler are quite manifest.

But Patreon is a fascinating development. There does seem to be a fairly wide-spread desire out there to support the arts. Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing efforts attest to that. Supporting an artist cannot but make you feel good. Painters and sculptors have never really given up on patronage: Forty years ago I knew an abstract expressionist who used to receive patronage from a Swedish pig farmer. I do occasionally kick a PayPal payment in the direction of Wikipedia and The GuardianThe Guardian, according to The Economist, has 340,000 people making monthly donations and a further 375,000 one-off donors supporting their on-line presence. That’s got to be a success.

Is it likely that a patronage-based model will take over from royalty- and fee-based publishing, once again taking us back to a pre-Victorian model of payment of artists? Doubtful I’d say. On-line patronage like this will certainly facilitate self publishing. But for it to take over completely would require the disappearance of royalty-paying publishing; and book publishing seems quite capable of the dodging and weaving needed to survive in a changing marketplace. In so far as publishers are unable to provide a living wage* to their average authors, patronage might seem an ideal supplement. Go get it before it’s all taken.


On 8 January The Digital Reader brings us the news that “The Authors Guild’s 2018 Author Income Survey, the largest survey of writing-related earnings by American authors ever conducted finds incomes falling to historic lows to a median of $6,080 in 2017, down 42 percent from 2009.” Of course the median is just the median. It would of mathematical necessity be lowered by a large addition of authors earning nothing or next to nothing from their self-published writings. Just sayin’!


You’ve probably noticed that sort of antiquing effect of using a V instead of a U in typesetting. It’s sort of analogous to those “Ye Olde Tea-Shoppe” signs.

Here’s a pretty extravagant example from an early Culver City studio sign. The underlined O is another antiquing device harking back to medieval scribal practice. Did early Hollywood feel the need for a tradition-boost? I guess so. It was a new business, seeking legitimacy. MGM used the same V in their old sign too — see Letterspacing 2.

The reason it has this antiquing effect is that it actually is antique. It wasn’t until 1629 (or maybe it was 1619) that capital U became an accepted letter when Lazare Zetzner started using it in his print shop in Strasbourg. Zetner also introduced cap J, but that’s another story. See Job case for confirmatory evidence and evidence of the dogged adherence by the print industry to the way-we’ve-always-done-things philosophy. (Louis Elzévier of Leiden is credited with the introduction of the distinction between lower case i and j and u and v in 1518.) They needed introducing because Latin had had no place in its alphabet for j or u, so neither did the early printers.* Scribes had actually evolved a system of distinguishing between u and v, treating them differently at the start of a word and in the middle. V stayed the form used at the beginning by printers — thus the long-term absence of such a sort in printing houses.


* As they had no u early printers obviously didn’t have a double-u either, w, which they would make up by putting two v-s together — v-s in their role as u-s of course, which is why we, unlike the more logical French, thus name the character.
















The Boston printer of this 1693 book obviously had Ws in his Roman and Italic fonts, but not in his black letter typeface where two elaborate V-s are deployed in the word Witches — showing that readers were still somewhat used to the convention. Actually I suppose they might really be Us, mightn’t they? This showing of the typeface Old English suggests that it may in fact have been the old English V which was added later, with the U shown here jumping from sounding as both V and U to just U.

See also Why n, m not v, w? which has a movie poster featuring VV in place of W.

A joint (not a very good one)

A hinge (from the same book)

These both refer to the same part of a hardback book, the bit between the edge of the boards and the spine, allowing the binding to flex open. Viewed from the outside it is the joint: from the inside it’s the hinge. Go figure.

I don’t know this, but I wonder if this is another of these jargon quirks which originate from the language spoken in different departments of the print works — like signature/section.

The mechanism of the hinge originates as a part of the rounding and backing process, where the edges of the book block are splayed outward under roller pressure to create lips on either side of the spine.

This illustration comes from Hugh Williamson’s Methods of Book Design, Third Edition 1983, Yale University Press. A good book, and a good man. You can see rounding and backing being done manually in the video at the rounding and backing link above.




The shoulder created by rounding and backing will fit into that bit of the case without any board stuck to it: the black bit between the grey boards in the picture below. Without the board it is obviously flexible enough to bend around the jutting edges.

Before anyone starts correcting others, I should perhaps say that just like all technical jargon, hinge/joint usage may vary from plant to plant. I should perhaps also add that book binders, under pressure from publishers, have steadily cut costs by compromising on details. The profile of a trade hardback book today may tend to look more like the center drawing, maybe even the one on the left!