Archives for the month of: June, 2019


It looks like rain and so I step inside.
Another bookshop: rows of shelves and stacks,
At least a dozen rooms where I can hide
Among the faded Penguin paperbacks.
I breathe the musty air and then begin
To rummage round. Before too long I’ve spied
Something in which to feign an interest:
Dog-eared and foxed, with pages folded in,
Some local writer. I am unimpressed,

But what I light on next is even worse:
The Vegan Cookbook, Yorkshire from the Air,
Teach Yourself Danish, Esperanto Verse,
Though I suppose the things that I find there
Are only what I ought to have expected.
I choose a book and, rooting through my purse
I make my way back to the door again
And, having paid for what I’ve just selected,
I step back out into the icy rain.

I wonder why I’m drawn to shops like these,
Heaving with dusty, battered hand-me-downs,
The ramshackle discarded libraries
In quiet back streets of provincial towns
Where I can while away the hours and read.
I wonder, too, why I feel so at ease
Amidst pulp fiction sold at knock-down prices.
And shops like this still satisfy a need
When we all carry digital devices.

I held a slick new tablet once, to see
What it was like – a bookstore in the “cloud” –
Thousands of books downloadable for free,
A function that could read the text out loud.
One swipe across the screen removed the text –
Plastic and metal have no history –
No scribbled notes, no underlined key phrase,
No sense of past – a perfect palimpsest –
No dedications; everything erased.

No; give me attics, landings where floors creak
Weighed down by lovely leather folios,
The scent of slowly mouldering antique,
And cloth-bound volumes, green and brown and rose,
If only in the hope that what’s long dead,
Can have a proper form through which to speak
Or the illusion that between the pages
I still might hear what long ago was said
And feel myself connected with the ages.

~ Charles Jenkins

Picked up from The Passive Voice. Presumably © Charles Jenkins

Europeans are more down-to-earth here: Germans call it fett, fat; the French say gras, also fat. The Italians have neretto (black) or grassetto, and Spaniards go for letra negra or just negrilla. The Oxford English Dictionary gives c.1871 as its earliest quotation for bold in the sense of boldface type. (The use of boldfaced as describing an impudent person goes back to 1692, not really all that much earlier.) What did we call boldface type before that? No trace.

The fact is that prior to the nineteenth century we didn’t call bold type anything because it simply didn’t exist. Paul Luna in Anniversary Essays on Johnson’s Dictionary edited by Jack Lynch and Anne McDermott (CUP, 2005) informs us “The use of bold type for headwords in English dictionaries seems not to have come about until the 1870s, some thirty years after the introduction of the first boldface types, called Clarendon, by a London type-foundry [Robert Thorne’s Fann Street Foundry]. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, black-letter had provided a color contrast analogous to the use of boldface with roman.” Originally bold types were cast in larger sizes since they were really intended for advertising and posters.

But why did we English speakers opt for a word meaning courageous rather than the more obvious fat, heavy or black?  Well, recall that as time passes the meaning of simple words can migrate. In earlier times bold also meant big, plump, well-filled. One example quoted by the OED from 1787 is “Being a bolder and better grain, weighed heavier”. Thorne’s original faces do seem to have been referred to as fat at the time. Maybe Victorian prudery took over and demanded a less physical term.

Nowadays we have semi-bold and bold, extra bold, heavy, grotesque, and yes, fat. There’s no reason why you can’t call that typeface you just designed whatever you want, and there are no hard and fast boundaries between these terms, but I list them roughly in ascending order of fatness. Fonts in use has a nice survey of fat faces, with lots of graphic examples.

This picture has circulated in the SHARP listserv. It comes from the index to Williams Obstetrics, 16th edition 1980, edited by Jack Pritchard and Paul MacDonald.

Texts on women’s health issues by males obviously run the risk of male chauvinism. The first edition of Williams: Obstetrics came out in 1903 before we even had a name for this problem: The Oxford English Dictionary‘s earliest example of male chauvinism dates from 1935. Publishers today are alert to the potential for trouble and will try to eliminate any sign of condescension right away. In 1980 clearly the indexer was annoyed by the book’s tone. Fascinatingly however, this index entry was actually a carry-over from the 15th edition published in 1976, where there’s this entry:

Nobody reads this sort of thing do they? Not even in the publisher’s office. The index was in fact made by Ms Signe Pritchard, wife of one of the editors of the 15th edition, as revealed by Howardisms in a pretty comprehensive examination of this case. She clearly didn’t mention this subversion to her spouse who dedicated the book to her. The 16th edition was published by Appleton-Century-Crofts and retained the same index as the 15th, updating the page numbers. We’re up to the 25th edition now, and the publisher is McGraw-Hill who have no doubt long ago sorted the index. Actually the chauvinism entry disappeared with the 17th edition.

For another case of subversive sabotage see Manufacturing defects for an account of an errant penis.

You occasionally see the author’s moral right being asserted on the imprints page of a book in English. This is something which happens more with British books than with their US editions. For example I’m sitting looking at both the UK paperback and the US paperback of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending (don’t ask!) — the UK version tells us on the copyright page, that “Julian Barnes has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work”. The US edition, described as the international edition, doesn’t mess about with any of that stuff. I have another book from a Penguin imprint which just says “The moral right of the authors has been asserted”, which isn’t giving much away. No doubt that Act says you’ve got to say something, without exactly specifying what. Oxford University Press, in a book originating in Britain, Jeremy Mynott’s Birds in the Ancient World, goes a tiny bit further by saying “The moral rights of the author have been asserted”. The reasons for differences in approach are buried in the different developmental histories of legal systems based upon common law as opposed to civil law. This legal concern with moral issues, which originated in 16th century France, was no doubt a factor in the decision of some Leave voters: they didn’t like Brussels telling them to do anything, even if it was the right thing.

When the USA signed up for the Berne Convention in 1989 it took on the obligation to protect an author’s moral rights. U.S. Copyright law tends to regard such matters as adequately protected by other laws, though some states have indeed introduced different sorts of moral right laws. According to the Register of Copyrights (the Director of the U.S. Copyright Office) “the term ‘moral rights’ generally refers to certain non-economic rights that are considered personal to an author. Central to the idea of moral rights is the idea that a creative work, such as a song or book, actually expresses the personality of the author”.

The most basic moral rights are the right to be identified as the author (the right of attribution), and the right to prevent prejudicial distortion of the copyrighted work (the right of integrity). Additional moral rights include

  • the right of withdrawal, or droit de repentir, which allows authors to retract works from public circulation that they feel no longer represent them or their views;
  • the right of divulgation, through which an author can control the public disclosure of their work, and which supports the economic right of first publication;
  • the right of the author to have access to the original copy of a work in order to “exercise his author’s rights”;
  • the right to prevent others from associating one’s work with an undesirable “product, service, cause or institution”;
  • the right to pseudonymity or anonymity; and
  • the right of an author to compel the completion of a commissioned work of art.

The Passive Voice, powered by a lawyer, has given us a pretty thorough piece on Moral Rights. As he comments, if you read this piece you will know more about moral rights than 99.99% of the authors in the United States.

It is probably not going too far to suggest that this appeal to a moral right by the French and their neighbors is just the sort of thing we crass Anglo-Saxons like to leave to the workings of the market, or to property rights. More narrowly we could say it is the sort of thing that happens in civil law regimes rather than common law systems. We continue to muddle through.

See also Le droit d’auteur.

“Here lies one whose name was writ in water” was the entire epitaph a rather discouraged John Keats directed should be inscribed on his tombstone which can be found in Rome at the Cemitero Acattolico. As this article from The Paris Review outlines, all the editorial comment above those two lines was added by Keats’ friends. The bitterness was theirs: Keats was quietly resigned to death and assumed he was being taken before he could properly work out his poetic mission. The anonymity he wished for is achieved. The date of death is off by one day; he died on the 23rd.

Now The National Trust announces the construction of a reflecting pool at Runnymede which has picked up and run with the writ in water idea. The structure was designed by Mark Wallinger in collaboration with Studio Octopi. Mr Wallinger presents it here:

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

The inscription reflected in the pool, a quotation from the Magna Carta, signed of course at Runnymede, reads “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.” Those of us who grew up with letterpress printing may be almost as capable of reading the inscription upside down and back-to-front as in its right-reading reflection in the pool. I frequently found this ability of use when confronting bosses across their desk.

Thank you Nathan Barr for the link.

I guess everyone now knows about the somewhat surprising purchase of Barnes & Noble by Elliott Management, a venture capital group who also rescued Waterstones in UK. Vulture provides a time-line history of Barnes and Noble, starting only from Len Riggio’s acquisition of the company in 1971, at which point it was already expanding beyond its Cooper Union origins.

Mike Shatzkin‘s not beating about any bushes: he doesn’t think James Daunt can pull off the same trick with Barnes & Noble as he appears to have done with Waterstones. Actually, I don’t really think it is quite the same trick he’s being asked to pull off. Waterstones was never a transatlantic clone of B&N. Which just means I don’t think the trick will work either, just more emphatically. It’s hard to see how the constantly changing inventory advocated by Mr Shatzkin could be organized in a physical bookstore let alone a collection of lots of stores. Workers would spend all their time opening cartons and packing books for return. Trying to reproduce conditions available online in a bricks-and-mortar environment is a Sisyphean task: which of course is just the problem.

I believe that we have lived through the era of the gigantic bookstore. A meteor killed the dinosaurs; the Amazon drowned the chains. That the warehouse store model did indeed work for books in a pre-internet age is indisputable. That lots of money can be made from books is shown by this weird article from The New Yorker, recounting an odd initiative by a Riggio literary charity funded by money earned during Barnes & Noble’s glory days. It took me quite a while to decide whether the article was fiction or non-fiction. I’m still not sure though I’m plumping for real. “The Strange Story of a Secret Literary Fellowship” is undoubtedly strange.

A number of writers were invited to turn up for a “’congress of writers’ that would teach skills and speak truth to power”. Who was organizing it and why was shrouded in mystery, but Daniel A. Gross agreed to try it out. In the end the thing he got out of the experience was this article for The New Yorker, not nothing of course. Buried in the middle of his article is the odd sentence, used as a pull quote by Jane Friedman in forwarding the link, “I wish someone had told me that early-career writers are the cheap gas on which much of the writing business runs.” Maybe I’m just too dumb to be an early-career writer (or too old) but I can’t figure out exactly what this means, and I doubt, if someone had muttered this cryptic warning to Mr Gross, things would have turned out any different. So he got $5,000 from the Riggio Foundation for turning up a few afternoons for “the pedagogy” after the fellowship program was cancelled, not the $10,000 promised at the outset, but I don’t see who in the writing business (if such a business really does exist) benefitted from his gas, which as far as I can tell wasn’t sold particularly cheaply, if indeed any product changed hands. It’s fascinating to know that there are people with money who think this sort of gathering does any good — I’m forced to believe they apparently do since nevertheless such programs do take place. There’s always something new.

OK, you’ll probably want to argue with this, especially the nearer it gets to the present day. I can’t believe A Sand County Almanac. OK OUP has a couple of editions, and I did order the 27th printing of one of them a few years ago, but most popular? And Beloved; beloved no doubt, but again, most popular?

Of course things like this are really just conversation starters, even if like so much book talk the discussion is mainly internal.

Link via The Digital Reader. Source: Global English Editing.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that academics love to study the prospects of university presses and other academic publishers. It’s obviously a subject near to their hearts. Publishing people as well as academics like to talk about the future at conferences because it gives them free rein to say whatever they want — nobody can prove or disprove assertions about the future, and by the time we actually get there, everyone will have forgotten what you said years ago anyway. Also of course, if you are a publisher, in talking about the future, you don’t actually have to disclose anything meaningful about any clever activities you are currently up to. Publishing Perspectives told us in 2016 about a conference in Britain called “The University Press in the 21st Century”, a knee-weakening title. But anyway, here’s their report.

One interesting point in the conference report is the news that The American Association of University Presses is planning to set up a collaborative website “inspired by the National Academies Press’s Academy Scope. The site will act not only as a discovery engine and sales site for its members’ books, but also as a hub allowing closer collaboration between publishers.” Now this seems like a very good idea, albeit one which we have constantly shied away from in the past because of the Robinson-Patman Act’s forbidding of anti-competitive acts among industry players. Presumably this is in addition to the AAUP’s already existing Books for Understanding, where potential book buyers are directed to their local bookstore or to Amazon. What we really need is the guts to sell direct.

At Against the Grain, academic Nancy K. Heather tells us about our industry: Part 1 and Part 2 (Linked to by Jose Afonso Furtado). Also The Chronicle of Higher Education features academic comment on the burning issue of press survival. Much of this is behind a paywall, but you can read some sections.

There’s even an organization in Britain called The Academic Book of the Future, which started off as a two-year research project which ended in 2016. The organization refuses to die. They have published a couple of reports which can be downloaded at their site. At Publishing Perspectives Alastair Horne reported in 2017 on the presentation of their reports at a conference in London. They plan to keep Academic Book Week going, holding a meeting every other year into the future. The next occasion on which to celebrate the academic book will be 9-13 March 2020.

The Scholarly Kitchen has weighed in with “Seven things every researcher should know about academic publishing”. The problem with university press publishing is of course that if you publish specialized books you cannot expect non-specialized sales.* However, technological developments have helped to alleviate this basic problem. You can now publish a book without having to invest in any inventory: an ebook or a print-on-demand set up enables you to publish without stock. Of course the university press still faces the problem of estimating how many copies of any individual book they will sell, so that they can divide the cost of production etc. by that number in order to recover their costs when they have sold their anticipated quantity. As numbers go down prices go up. This balancing act still seems to remain viable.

Here’s Springer Nature, via STM Publishing News, assuring us that the future of scholarly books is Open Access. Maybe. I would prefer to change “is” to “could be” though. While the opinion of 2,542 authors may be interesting, there are surely a few steps between the wish and the act. If I surveyed you with the question should ice cream cost $5 or be free, I think I know what the outcome would be.

Maybe there’s value in having some university press employees think about the future. In my experience nobody in publishing had enough time to think beyond the next deadline which was generally just behind you, but it seems difficult to stop the speculation. The boss class (what in Scotland we call the high hied yins) may have an obligation to look like they are in control of future events, but when all’s said and done all we can really do is keep doing what we have been doing until the world makes it clear to us that it doesn’t want us to do it any more. I doubt if this ultimatum is at all imminent. Nobody sat around in the eighties strategizing about what we’d do when digital printing began to take over from offset: when that happened we just dealt with it. Ditto ebooks, online database publication, Open Access etc., etc. Nobody remembers what “the future of the book” guys were predicting in the eighties, because even then it was irrelevant.


* A complicating problem is the fact that most universities get some sort of subsidization from their parent universities. It’s perfectly reasonable for a university to fund a publishing arm — getting the research work of their academics out to the public is ultimately a necessary part of the academic process. Sure, there are other university presses where your professors might get their work published (and no university press will publish work which is substandard just because the author works down the corridor) but universities have regarded it almost as a matter of pride to have a university press. This subsidization is a touchy topic. Ideally, obviously, a press should work towards reducing its dependence on the subsidy — because it can always be withdrawn. It’s easy to say don’t be dependent on the subsidy, but as a policy that’s extremely difficult to implement.



John Carter in ABC for book collectors effortlessly nails it “The fillet is a binder’s tool: a revolving wheel with one or more raised strips on its circumference for impressing a line or parallel lines on the leather or other binding material. In the description of books the term is commonly used to mean the line or lines produced by the tool. It is seldom if ever used except of leather binding. Since about 1700 filleting has generally been gilded. A French fillet is a triple fillet, always in gold.”

The cover for Lionel S. Darley’s Faber book shows a couple of fillets on the left.

Now of course most of us, when we think of fillets, which we doubtless pronounce à la française, fillay, may think of fish or steak before we ever arrive at the decoration of bindings. We also have to bear in mind a ribbon used principally as a hair binding, a sort of Alice band. Once upon a time the word could be used to mean a headband on a book. In book printing the word can be used to designate a rule made up of broad lines or broad and narrow lines, often printed as a border. Engineers will probably think of it as a chamfer, a rounded joint between two bits of metal.


Alan Harvey, embattled Director of Stanford University Press, said he didn’t think it’d sell a single copy more, but Yewno did, by a factor of seven. So there!

Photo: Paul Guinnessy, via Twitter.

Clearly there was more than one person in the audience at the Society for Scholarly Publishing 2019 Meeting when Alan spoke about SUP’s success with Yewno — after all someone took the photo! Why do people always crowd to the back of the room? Does everyone want to be first on line at the bathrooms afterwards? They probably want to be able to sneak out inconspicuously in the middle of the talk if it turns boring.

The trouble with the relationship between computer companies and book publishers boils down I think to language. We value elegance, they value accuracy, or whatever it is that surely doesn’t lead to elegance.

Exactly what Yewno does is, to my stubbornly analog mind, obscured rather than clarified by this piece from a couple of years ago at The Scholarly Kitchen. I find it hard to see how T. S. Eliot’s “Rock Choruses” gets dragged in to support Yewno’s efforts, but they do. It all apparently has to do with artificial intelligence and the making available of book content to an enquiring audience.

This earlier article from The Scholarly Kitchen may make things a bit clearer to those not fluent in computer-speak. Essentially the system improves your searching, taking what you request and amplifying the results with what you didn’t say but probably meant.

Does it not begin to look more and more likely that large parts (if not all) of the publishing industry will evolve into a direct-to-customer sales model? It just makes sense. It’s always nice to see an advanced-level monograph in a bookstore, but you don’t really go there expecting to find it. Maybe we will move beyond sales to subscription/rental for our products. Beavering away getting these books out makes it hard to find the time to raise ones eyes and think what might be if what is were not what had always been. The power that Yewno brings to a small part of the relationship between author/publisher/reader surely suggests that there’s more to come.

So now you know about Yewno; or as an ancient schoolmaster of mine would triumphantly trot out as the punchline for a joke he’d told to generations of schoolboys, “Ye ken noo”.