Archives for the month of: April, 2020

Publishers Weekly brings us the inspiring news that we have a legal right to literacy. The U. S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling on a case brought by Detroit Public School students, has determined that literacy is a Constitutional Right. Just as the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, so the price of literacy must be eternal reading. So get to it. Use it or lose it.

Well, it’s true that what was judged to be a Constitutional right was a basic education, part and parcel of which is presumed to be the ability to read and write. The Court held “that access to a basic minimum education ‘that can plausibly impart literacy’ is a fundamental, Constitutionally protected right.” One dissenting judge snorted “This positive right to a minimum education will jumble our separation of powers.” Hey, if you can’t win on the merits of the argument, object on an irrelevant issue. Let’s fight for any local administration’s right to keep its people in blissful ignorance!

What is the literacy rate in the USA? Hard to know, it turns out. Literacy is not a line you cross: it’s a continuum along which you progress. Wikipedia tells us that the most basic definition of literacy is “people age 15 and over who can read and write” which seems to me to be so vague as to mean virtually nothing, but is the definition used to tell us we Americans have a 99% literacy rate which apparently ranks us 28th in the world according to The World Factbook! Wikipedia goes on to say “NCES statistics reported that 19 percent of adults in the U.S. cannot read a newspaper or complete a job application, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of U.S. adults cannot read a book written at an eighth-grade level.” Is an American who is able to read Chinese but not English literate? Obviously yes, and obviously no. ProLiteracy informs us that “Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. . . 70% of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels . . . Nearly half of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information . . . about 50 percent of the 2 million immigrants that come to the U.S. each year lack high school education and proficient English language skills . . . Seventy-five percent of state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate.” We’ve all met people grasping a piece of paper with an address on it asking for directions to what’s written there. But of course, with a 99% literacy rate there’s no reason why we should do anything about this issue!

The Modern Language Association takes a rather pessimistic view of trends in literacy in our nation.

 

 

Publishers Weekly‘s article introduces us to the Rallying Round #BooksAreEssential campaign, from which this picture is lifted.

Essential, books do indeed seem to be to many people, and during our current supply disruption, these folks have been working out new ways of getting hold of them. Online sales in many different varieties have taken off. Curbside continues. Some stores are packing and shipping to customers. Bookshop is booming: it passed the landmark of returning $1,000,000 to independent bookstores yesterday. People who want books are finding a way to get them. These determined book-buyers are the ones who give us hope that things may eventually return to “normal” or something which will at least resemble the old normality.

Governments have yet to acknowledge the idea that books might be essential. Printers in for instance Pennsylvania were initially told to shut down, but were eventually allowed to operate because they do “essential things” like printing inserts for pharmaceutical companies — not because publishers needed them to keep printing books. Luckily this also they can do.

The use of the word “essential” in connection with books seems utterly anodyne to me. It may be a bit of an exaggeration: I mean nobody’s going to get ill because they don’t have enough books, but hyperbole is a perfectly respectable part of rhetoric. But some object. This piece, guest written at Publishers Weekly, takes exception to the labelling of books as essential, since “Crucially, essential is a term applied to people—it is an acknowledgment that workers are what stitch our communities and what’s left of our economy together.”

OK. Nobody would ever suggest that our essential workers don’t deserve thanks and support, way beyond our 7pm applause, but just because we have named them “essential workers” doesn’t mean that “essential” ceases to carry the range of meaning which the word has always had. Air is essential to life, as indeed are the essential workers. It’s essential that we get our bathroom redesigned: in a somewhat less essential way. Just because we are all talking about “corona virus” doesn’t mean we have to stop using the word when referring to the measles virus, or to a computer virus, or that the famous beer, or that neighborhood in Queens have to change their names. Words can label more than one thing: books are clearly not essential in the same way that essential workers are, but essential they can still be. And by the way The Los Angeles Times reminds us that marijuana supply has been deemed essential in California but not books. An argument about vocabulary is of course utterly trivial: one wonders if these young literary agents have ever used hyperbole in describing one of their books to a publisher — and if not, why not.

I’m not sure just what the #BooksAreEssential campaign is meant to achieve. Is it addressed to legislators? I suspect it’s eventually nothing more than a feel-good gesture, just reminding the few people who happen to see some evidence of it that they might think of reading during these troubled times. Nothing wrong with that.

I flip between delight and frustration when I read Mike Shatzkin lauding Lightning Source and the POD (Print on Demand) concept. Delight, because he’s right; frustration because I’ve been singing this song since 1993 when I left publishing for a couple years to work for a POD pioneer.

Mr Shatzkin maintains that corona virus has transformed publishers’ thinking about inventory. I hope he’s right, but I suspect publisher minds are a little harder to change than a couple of months’ isolation will cause. He assures us that a book can be done overnight: Publishers he says “can send down the book file today and have Ingram start shipping whatever quantity they need to the stores, or Internet resellers, tomorrow.” This is a slight exaggeration: it does take a bit of time to set up a book in the Lightning Source system, and a careful publisher might like to see a proof before “turning the title on” for supply to customers: but once the book is in the system, most orders (if they are for paperbacks) can indeed be printed immediately, and shipped to the ultimate purchaser next day.

What he says about unit costs is absolutely right. “Print more and you get a lower unit cost but you tie up capital for a longer time and take the risk that you’ll fail to sell them all. Print fewer and you save cash and reduce the risk of waste, but you add to the risk that you’ll be caught short at some point.” Along with the ability to judge which books to sign up, this balancing act is the central skill of a publisher. Publishers regard themselves, with a certain justification, as really good at forecasting demand for their books. The forecast sales number determines print number which determines unit cost. Be a little cautious in the face of claims that intuition, experience, and innate judgement play a role — demand planning relies on historical data: how many did this book sell last year; how many did this comparable book sell; how did the author’s last book do; are there any events coming up which might cause a bump in the sales curve? In a company with thousands of titles this sort of calculation is done hundreds or even thousands of times every week. Hey, if we can’t do it, nobody can do it! If we weren’t good at this we wouldn’t still be in business.

Quite apart from the fact that all historical sales patterns have just been blown out of the window, the print numbers for academic books are now just so low that spending time thinking about the right number to print is a waste of time and energy. The right number to print for a book that’s going to sell 200 copies is zero! It should be set up for print on demand right away. The unit cost — which is the number all publishers focus on like a Siren call — is likely to be insignificantly different as between 200 and 250 copies, so that there’s really no payback on the time spent figuring out which number is better.* And the difference between the unit costs for 200 printed by offset and for 1 copy printed by POD is not so large that the difference is going to make or mar anyone’s annual performance. BUT, even more significantly, if you used POD for all your books and consequently didn’t have a warehouse you might be saving (I don’t know, and it will vary from case to case anyway, but let’s say) 25% of your overhead costs. Plus, you will no longer have most of your capital tied up in an inventory of unsold books sitting in that warehouse for however long it takes to get rid of them. Plus, you will never be out of stock. However good your demand planning, there cannot but be cases when you sell more than you expect to and end up without stock, which necessitates a rush reprint which may mean you can’t sell any copies for a couple of weeks. Plus, there are always a few mistakes where too many books are printed, sit around accruing storage costs for a couple of years, and then have to be wasted. None of that needs to be thought about if you’ve set up all your books for print on demand.

Mr Shatzkin implies that Lightning Source is the only game in town, but of course this isn’t the case. Lightning Source is a division of Ingram, and this provides a large measure of efficiency as books shuttle from binding line to wholesale shipping. They are a wonderful operation and all publishers should be using them, but other suppliers, notably Bridgeport National Bindery, can provide a similar service. In fact when it comes to hardback books (and yes, you can do a hardback book via print on demand) Bridgeport will make you a superior product.

Anyone setting up an academic press these days — and such daring souls do seem to exist — should forget about warehousing and inventory and exclusively use print on demand. When I was first involved in the POD game, the main concern from publishers was the quality. This is no longer an issue, though some traditionalists love to hang onto it as an excuse for inaction. The reason early POD books didn’t look good is that back then nobody had text files: computers were just beginning to be used in book production then. Early POD books were made from a scan of a printed book. Some of these printed books were less than beautiful printing jobs (yes, traditionalists, even an offset book can be badly printed) and the resulting POD version could never be better than the book it scanned. Be it also admitted that scanning was often less than brilliant. Sure every publisher dreams of the big book where they could clean up on a really low unit cost — but beware, hubris beckons. Stay with the basics, and if you do end up selling thousands of one of your books at a unit cost higher than it might have been, at least you have made money, less perhaps than you might, but losing money is always simpler than making it, so be grateful for what you’ve got in the bank.

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* Just about the worst decision a publisher can make is to print more copies of a book because the unit cost is lower (thus the potential profit margin is higher) at the bigger number. Print what you know you can sell. Not one copy more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American Printing History Association  reports on the restoring of a Coisne Stanhope hand press in Puerto Rico. (Link via TYPOgrap.her.) “Coisne Mécanicien à Paris” is the French manufacturer of the press.

During 1802 and 1803 the first all-iron hand press was made by London engineer Robert Walker to designs by Charles, the third Earl Stanhope (1753 – 1816). All earlier presses had been constructed from wood just as in Gutenberg’s time although improvements had been made over the years introducing iron to strengthen the frame and replace other parts. These wooden presses derived their power from a single screw which needed the printer to apply enormous pressure.

As letterpressprinting.au tells us “Stanhope retained the conventional screw but separated it from spindle and bar, inserting a system of compound levers between them. Greatest power was obtained at point of contact. The platen was made the full size of the bed enabling impression to be done in one pull compared with 2 pulls on other presses. His first presses had a straight-sided frame and were subject to breaking due to the the added impressional strength. This problem was sorted a few years later when the frames were strengthened with rounded cheeks. Production wound down in the 1840s in England, however many European manufacturers continued manufacturing it into the twentieth century. French manufacturers included the firms Bresson, Misselbach, Thonnelier, Giroudot, Frapié, Gaveaux, Durand, Colliot, Coisne, Rousselet and Tissier. Others were Paravia and Dell’Orio of Italy and Munktell of Sweden.” Only a few Stanhopes were ever imported into the USA, where local iron presses were developed in the 1820s, among them the Smith, Stansbury, Washington, and Wells presses.

The original Stanhope Press design

Charles Stanhope invented a wide range of things, including:

  • A method for preventing counterfeiting of gold currency (1775)
  • A system for fireproofing houses by starving a fire of air (1778)
  • Several mechanical “arithmetical machines” that could add, subtract, multiply and divide. These inventions were early forerunners of computers (1777 and 1780).
  • Experiments in steamboat navigation and ship construction which included the invention of the split pin, later known as the cotter pin (1789).
  • A popular single lens microscope that became known as the Stanhope that was used in medical practice and for examination of transparent materials such as crystals and fluids (1806).
  • A monochord or a single string device, used for tuning musical instruments
  • Improvements in canal locks and inland navigation (1806)

 

. . . managed to slip past without any impact in my lockdown. Sorry — though I did spend quite a bit of it reading. This infographic sent via Book Patrol contains a few interesting factoids. The Day was actually the 23rd of April this year, St George’s Day. And Shakespeare’s 456th.

I did do a couple of posts on that domino record. A video of the United Biscuit attempt listed in the infographic may be seen here. The attempt made at this link must still be under adjudication.

 

Photo: from Atlas Obscura, by Nathan Mahendra

Well I guess it probably does have a pretty good fiber content, but making paper from elephant dung seems an unlikely idea to come up with. Notwithstanding, Atlas Obscura shows us that it’s being done in Sri Lanka. I guess an elephant is actually quite an efficient pulping machine; apparently they eat, digest and reprocess about 300lbs of fiber-rich fodder every day.

Somehow in these days of paper hoarding, this topic seems especially relevant.

Can this have any connection with that old sheet size, elephant (584 x 771mm)? Well, although papersizes.io lists Elephant and Double Elephant under the heading “Imperial” this cannot really have anything to do with the colonial rule of Ceylon by our revered ancestors, though it may of course have been they who bagged all the trees.

A famous example: Audubon’s The Birds of America was printed on a double elephant folio sheet. The Beinecke Library has a nice little post on the topic. Do we need to say that no elephants were involved in the production of the paper used for this book?

Digital Publishing 101 has a thorough post explaining how Amazon’s ranking algorithms work. For self-publishers keen to game the situation this sort of information is no doubt invaluable. One point they make is that as Amazon’s bestseller rankings are based on unit sales rather than dollar sales, it makes sense to start your e-book out cheap, and raise the price once it’s established. Readers in the Know has similar post encouraging self-publishers to maximize their sales.

I find it a little hard to understand why people care about ranking algorithms. Obviously there’s a minor interest in which book has sold the most copies, but “algorithm” is surely a bit of a fancy label for a process of adding 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 . . . Wikipedia provides a bit of the mathematics involved in ranking, for those with a curiosity gene.

I suppose there are people out there who want to read the same book that everyone else is reading, and for them the sales rank must have some significance. An algorithm designed to figure out what books would, in suitability rank, be the “best” books for you to read next, just seems like something a bored computer programmer would get up to in an idle moment. You really need a computer to tell you what you want to read?

The Digital Reader of 20 November 2014 brought us a story of a ranking algorithm of the less sales-oriented kind.

Machine-Learning Algorithm Can Rank the World’s Most Notable Authors, But Can it Identify the Most Worthwhile?

If it’s possible to judge an author’s notability based on their Wikipedia entry then Dr Allen Riddell of Dartmouth College has you covered.

Earlier this month Riddell published a paper which laid out his algorithm for generating an independent ranking of notable authors for a given year. he developed it with the goal of helping Project Gutenberg and other digitization projects focus on digitizing the public domain works of the most notable authors.

According to MIT Technology Review:

Riddell’s approach is to look at what kind of public domain content the world has focused on in the past and then use this as a guide to find content that people are likely to focus on in the future. For this he uses a machine-learning algorithm to mine two databases. The first is a list of over a million online books in the public domain maintained by the University of Pennsylvania. The second is Wikipedia.

Riddell’s begins with the Wikipedia entries of all authors in the English language edition—more than a million of them. His algorithm extracts information such as the article length, article age, estimated views per day, time elapsed since last revision, and so on.

The algorithm then takes the list of all authors on the online book database and looks for a correlation between the biographical details on Wikipedia and the existence of a digital edition in the public domain.

The article goes on to say that the algorithm can also rank authors by specific categories of interest, and not just a broad ranking across the calendar year in which an author died. For example, the top-ranked female American writer is Terri Windling, the top-ranked Dutch poet, Harry Mulisch, and the top-ranked President of France is Charles de Gaulle.

You can find Riddell’s website here, and his paper here (PDF).

This is a good idea, but even though Riddell says his ranking system compares well with existing rankings compiled by human experts, I still want to see a human hand in this decision.

Sometimes notability isn’t the best way to judge an author’s value. I was reminded of that point by one of the stories in this morning’s link post. The Boston Globe profiled a small publisher who had, over the course of his career, published two Nobel prize winners:

Boston publisher David Godine likes to say he specializes in books nobody buys, and that includes the works of French writer Patrick Modiano, whose novels about memory and war earned him the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Godine found Modiano by “asking European publishers to recommend their best writers — not their best-selling writers”. Modiano was relatively unknown in English before he won the Nobel Prize, and even though he has a sizable Wikipedia entry he still stands as a reminder that the obscure can be worth more than the notable.

An author who died in obscurity 50 years ago might only be known to scholars and not have a lengthy Wikipedia entry, but might have written Nobel-worthy work. But you might not know that without asking an expert, which is why I think the human touch is still required.

What do you think?

Should I be interested in the fact that America’s top-ranked female writer is Terri Windling (1958 –  ), not say Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton or some other piker like that? Maybe the algorithm included a requirement that she be alive. Not sure what to make of the discovery that Harry Mulisch (1927-2010) is the top-ranked Dutch poet. He did do a few poetry books, but published tons of novels, a few of which appear to be available in English translation. But ranking is just ranking. It doesn’t have to mean anything more.

Faced with help like this in figuring out what the “best” of everything is, one wonders how soon we’ll get an app that reads the book on our behalf and feeds back to our brain what it is we ought to think about it. In a way, come to think of it, I guess ranking algorithms already get pretty close to this — after all why does the machine have to bother with reading the book. It can just tell us what we “think” straightaway. Then we won’t have to worry about “the best”, “the most notable”, “the most important” any longer, and can spend all our time dozing on the couch in front of a television with the sound turned down — ‘cos who wants to bother with the effort of listening?

The longer this goes on the harder it will become to get back to exactly where we were before the shutdown. It could already be too late. The New Republic speculates on whether independent bookstores can survive as book fulfillment centers. Many booksellers are just packing and shipping books to customers, but that’s clearly not what any of them went into business to do. Running a bookshop and buying a book there is a very social experience, even if many customers don’t actually talk to an employee. You know that being there you can ask questions and interact in other ways, but just silently browsing the shelves represents a social interaction as you build up an idea of what the curatorial principles of the book buyer really are. Obviously browsing in one bookstore is different from browsing in another.

Nevertheless we may have to admit in the next few weeks that many bookshops are never coming back, at least in anything like their previous form. They may end up surviving here and there as a sort of showroom for a severely reduced book industry. Books will, of course, still be published, so there will be businesses called “publisher”, but publishers may mostly just be independent contractors struggling to get freelance gigs with Big Brother Ingram, who looks like he may end up orchestrating the entire book business, Amazon having taken off into space, household goods or wherever.  For instance just why would Ingram, who we like to think of as a book wholesaler, introduce this week a site called Bookfinity (what a name!) designed to provide recommendations to individual readers about which book they might like to buy next. Publishers Weekly doesn’t go there, but I’m more and more inclined to suspect that Amazon’s thinking about abandoning the low-margin book business, leaving the whole enchilada to Ingram. It is true that the PW article claims that, after generating the recommendation, “Readers can then click through to buy the books they like online via a variety of bookselling options that include, Bookshop.org, Amazon, B&N, Google Play, and Target in print and digital formats. The Ingram spokespeople also noted that readers can use the site to identify titles to be purchased at their local physical bookstores if they choose.” OK; am I falling victim to conspiracy theory, increasingly the preferred mode of thought in our modern world?

Of course even a reduced role for bookstores as showrooms may turn out to be unnecessary if we can’t get books printed because the printers have had to shut down. If everybody has to buy the ebook, why would they need a non-virtual storefront to look at the options? Although recent sales data suggest a reversion to the norm in the p-book/ebook sales ratio, we might be undergoing enough turmoil that norms are out the window. Unless we are willing to pay a premium, deluxe price for our books, we may all only be able to get ebooks once the world of business opens up again. There The New Publishing Standard dared bravely to go on 10 April, reporting among other things that 50,000 readers in Spain have moved from print to ebook during the Covid crisis. Ebooks are all you can borrow from New York Public Library right now.

Still, I can’t really bring myself to believe this sort of apocalyptic stuff. Sure some like ebooks, but more still want printed books, and whatever the troubles of the big book manufacturers may turn out to be there’s still a large installed base of print-on-demand technology. Ingram’s Lightning Source is huge, and Amazon has a large POD capability of their own, to name just the big ones. Printed books will still be able to be produced, whatever happens. People are, despite the barriers imposed by the shutdown, still eager to buy printed books, and are finding more and more cunning ways to do so. Printed books are being published. Work-arounds through the mess we are faced with are being figured out, and as we get better at fixes, things will become easier.

On the bright side, The Bookseller informs us that Germany’s bookshops are opening this week. Let’s hope the side this move ends up on really is the bright one. Italy’s bookshops are displaying a bit of reluctance to follow suit. (Both links via Technology • Innovation • Publishing.) The New Publishing Standard says they are also opening up in Iran, as well as in Denmark and China. Witness of people’s belief in the value of bookstores is provided by the funding campaigns mounted by several bookshops, for example City Lights in San Francisco, who, as reported by AP News, raised $400,000 via GoFundMe in a just a few days.

 

He it is who’s reputed to have been the first person to have read to himself silently. Here he is at it.

Ambrose (339-97) was born in Trier in the Moselle valley, son of the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul (we think). He became a lawyer, and in 370 was appointed governor of Aemelia and Liguria, headquartered in Milan. He became bishop of Milan in 374 as a result of public acclamation: the crowd he was addressing started shouting for him to take the place of Bishop Auxentius who had just died, although at the time, according to The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Ambrose hadn’t even baptized as a Christian. However within a week all the “t”s had been crossed and “i”s dotted, and he was consecrated bishop.

We all know, don’t we, that in ancient days people who’d read would always read aloud, and that the idea of reading silently was an exciting innovation attributed (by Saint Augustine in his Confessions) to Saint Ambrose? Despite copious evidence to the contrary, some cited in Mr Fenton’s piece linked to below, it was German scholarship that battened onto this idea and ran with it. Here’s Friedrich Nietzsche refusing to beat about the bush: “The German does not read aloud, does not read for the ear, but merely with his eyes: he has put his ears away in the drawer. In antiquity, when a man read – which he did very seldom – he read to himself . . . in a loud voice; it was a matter for surprise if someone read quietly, and people secretly asked themselves why he did so. In a loud voice: that is to say, with all the crescendos, inflections, variations of tone and changes of tempo in which the ancient public world took pleasure.” (Beyond Good and Evil, section 247.)

It turns out that this idea is just plain wrong, being based on a mis-reading of Saint Augustine. What Augustine was really commenting on (in Book VI, Chapter 3*) was Ambrose’s keen focus on what he was reading, and his refusal to share what it was he was reading. Augustine wanted him to read it, and then read it aloud again so that everyone present could share and discuss the text. This Ambrose wouldn’t do, didn’t have time to do, and fame followed. Nietzsche’s authoritative assertion is on the face of it idiotic, implying as it does that the time-traveling philosopher was there, hiding behind a pot plant listening to the noise. How else would he “know” that reading aloud was reading really loud?

James Fenton explored the myth at The Guardian in 2016, and sets us right. There are just some “facts” that want to be. There’s nothing we can do about them: although they are wrong, most of us unthinkingly accept them as true. Everybody knows that . . . x, y and z. In the scheme of things reading out loud is not too significant a thing to fixate on. Fear of measles vaccine is a tougher nut.

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* When he was reading, his eyes went over the pages and his heart looked into the sense, but voice and tongue were resting. Often when we came to him (for no one was forbidden to come in, and it was not customary for visitors even to be announced) we found him reading, always to himself and never otherwise; we would sit in silence for a long time, not venturing to interrupt him in his intense concentration on his task, and then we would go away again. We guessed that in the very small time which he was able to set aside for mental refreshment he wanted to be free from the disturbance of other people’s business and would not like to have his attention distracted; also we thought that he might be taking precautions in case, if he read aloud in the presence of some eager and interested person, he might have to give a lecture on the obscure points in the author whom he was reading, or enter into a discussion on the questions of difficulty, with the result that, after he had spent time on this, he would not be able to read as many books as he wanted to read. (Rex Warner’s translation.)

It is a commercial, but I love to watch paper going through printing presses. (If you are not seeing a video, please click on the heading of this post in order to view it in your browser.) Notice that they don’t tout books as one of their target markets: just not worth enough money I guess. The change-over in book manufacturing from offset lithography to ink jet is probably pretty much at the same place where it was during the similar change-over from letterpress to offset (in the UK at least) when I first started in the book business in 1965. Most printers have dipped their toes in the ink jet “water”, or at least considered doing so, but the majority of the presses in operation remain offset presses. This is because the investment involved in putting such a large piece of equipment on the floor is just so vast that you cannot simply rush off and buy the latest machine right away, or afford to write off the fortune represented by the machinery on your shop floor — so technological change comes with a time lag. It wasn’t all that long ago that you could quite easily find a printer who could print a book by letterpress: and such a service can still just be found — but now at a deluxe price.

I wonder if offset will survive. For all the sentiment invested in boosting offset lithography — mainly I always thought because it was inherently so difficult to do excellently that even close approaches were loudly applauded — I suspect its suitability for long runs is just what will count most against it as we move to a more variegated publishing industry with shorter runs. For color intensity in long runs photogravure surely beats offset lithography hands down. Ink jet in shorter runs can be every bit as “good” as the best offset.

This second video, from the University of Sheffield, is focussed on 3-D printing, but gives a good introduction to what goes on inside an ink jet printer. 3-D printing is just ink jet with depth. This is a fascinating video, not only for making clear the mechanics of digital ink jet printing, but as an indication of the sorts of things which can now be achieved.

If you don’t see a video here, or at the one at the top of the page, please click on the title of this blogpost in order to view it in your browser.

Ink jet printing works by squirting a tiny droplet of ink onto paper or some other substrate. Put enough dots together in the right place and bingo you’ve made a hat. This little gif from Wikipedia shows them making an “E”. The computer printer you have at home is quite likely to be an ink-jet printer, so you know what the technology, in fairly elementary commercial form, is capable of.

That the changeover to lithography was long and gradual is evidenced by Arnold Bennett’s Clayhanger trilogy set in the Potteries in the late nineteenth century. The title character, a frustrated architect, follows his father into their printing business. We see him introducing lithography in a daring early move which makes everyone despair of his success. This technological switch involves building a new plant (which they did need anyway) and hiring craftsmen who could paint the image directly onto the stones used for printing. The Clayhanger books were written in the nineteen-teens and describe life before the turn of the century. So it took about fifty years for lithographic technology to replace letterpress in the industry.