Archives for the month of: July, 2020

Quad Graphics have reopened their book manufacturing operations, which is a relief; but they still seem to want to focus on the magazine and catalog business.

Early this month Publishers Weekly informed us of the sale of Quad’s Versailles, Kentucky plant to CJK Group, which to most of us means Sheridan Press. The plant will operate under the name Sheridan Kentucky. The CJK website’s map is already updated.

Expanding on the dots on the map (which you can click on to enlarge) CJK informs us that they have also acquired over the years Media Lithographics, Capital City Press, The Press of Ohio, D. B. Hess Company, United Litho Inc., BookCrafters, Dartmouth Printing Company, Dartmouth Journal Services, Braun-Brumfield Inc., The Sheridan Press, Dickinson Press, and Thomson Shore.

Many of these names are old staples of the university press (short run) book manufacturing market. Sheridan Press started out in 1915 and served this market, specializing in journal printing and distribution. This new acquisition will extend their range, and provide considerable new capacity. This is good news: any reduction in book manufacturing capacity at this time would cause great disruption. Publication of many books has been held back till the fall, which is going to be crazily busy.

Let the rejoicing be unrestrained. This is Paperback Book Day, I’ve just discovered. How can I have been so ignorant? The website Days of the year clarifies: “Paperback Book Day is observed as the anniversary of the date that the first Penguin paperbacks were published in England back in 1935.” They go on to encourage us by suggesting “The best way to celebrate Paperback Book Day is to curl up with your favorite paperback book”. So no hardbacks please.

STM Publishing News tells us about the launch of a new journal, The Buckingham Journal of Education, published by University of Buckingham Press — perhaps another sign that these times are not altogether bad times for publishers.

Fascinatingly the piece refers to “parent company Legend Times, which acquired UBP in 2019”. I’d not been aware of any university press’s having been acquired by a commercial publishing operation: which doesn’t have to mean it’s never happened before of course. But is this perhaps another sign of confidence in our industry, or a mark of rashness? As their website informs us “Legend Times is an independent group of UK publishing companies, with a shared aim to shake up the book world, innovate and inspire.”

The legend all started in 2005. Legend Times have four or five imprints: hard to know for certain as things change so fast. In January they launched Hero, a non-fiction publisher, into which they will redirect part of the backlist of Legend Business. The rest will apparently go to the University Press.

Cynically I wonder about the not-for-profit tax benefits which university presses tend to enjoy. Maybe this is irrelevant anyway since the University of Buckingham is a profit making concern in any case. It retains a 25% ownership stake in the university press.

Doubleday, an imprint of PRH, will shortly be bringing us a memoir by Jay Parini called Borges and Me, a little extract from which has been trailered at The Daily Beast.

In the extract Parini tells us he was studying at St Andrews University in 1971 and periodically visiting Alastair Reid who’d “correct” the poems he’d write. There he met Jorge Luis Borges who eventually  suggested Parini drive him round the highlands which he had not yet seen. When Parini objected that seeing the highlands seemed a bit of a problem since  Borges was blind, Borges response was the somewhat cryptic “Oh, no, dear boy. Don’t tell me that you’re blind as well.”

So of course off they set. Their second stop was Dunfermline, way off to the south, where they visited the first library founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1883. Although it was closed, Borges insisted they be admitted — “Dear sir, I’ve come all the way from Argentina to see this library! I’m the National Librarian of Argentina.” Once inside “Borges went over to a row of books and ran his fingers along the dusty spines. Then he pulled one volume off the shelf and, without hesitation, began to lick the spine. It was odd. The Carnegie’s librarian objected, but it was no use. ‘Some books should be tasted’, Borges announced, quoting Francis Bacon. ‘Others devoured’!” I suppose the librarian should have been relieved that the book wasn’t good enough to need to be completely devoured!

I wondered if the licking of books was at all a common practice. Just seems a bit grubby to me, and might tend to make me wary of library borrowing. A Google search suggests it’s not a widespread form of synesthesia, and indeed while googling around I received this news from Meg Cabot who got my pulse going by telling me she’d just done some heavy-duty book-licking —  but “In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a book licker is someone who’s writing a novel, but instead of just finishing it and surrendering it to her editor, she keeps going back and re-reading it over and over, finding tiny things wrong with it, and revising it. She never actually gets to The End.” I don’t know enough about Borges’ writing practice to be able to guess whether he was also this sort of book-licker, but I expect not.

Another general concern with licking and books involves the habit many more or less reluctant readers have of licking their thumb before turning a page. Library users are encouraged to give up this practice. Clearly in “The Age of Corona Virus” we all recognize the desirability of keeping our hands in our pockets.

Spies are, as we all know, constantly being forced to chew up and swallow notes containing compromising information. As far as I know we do not however have any studies of the differences in flavor or nutritional value as between pages from say a shorthand notebook, a romantic novel, and an academic monograph. Or even groundwood, 55# white offset, and 80# matte coated sheets.

I once had a boss who’d bury his nose in the gutter of any new book you handed him, and sniff contentedly. Now we production people were all of course afflicted by this weakness too, if less ostentatiously. Once you’ve spent a bit of time in a book manufacturing plant you inevitably become addicted to the smell of the place. That and the noise. The scent of a new book takes you right back.

Thanks to Sam Rutter for the Beast link.

At Publishers Weekly Bethanne Patrick makes the case for digital galleys rather than printed ARCs.

Lots of publishers have been wanting to move to digital proofs for a few years now — from their point of view, not having to pay to print ARCs (basically just a short run of paperback books) would represent a significant cost saving. However, it’s not really up to the publishers. There are some reviewers who will not review a book if they don’t get a printed ARC. And in consequence there are some review media outlets that will not accept them at all.

Is this a wasting process? One suspects that an analysis of the population of book reviewers, as of the general population, would show older readers being more resistant to reading on a screen than their younger colleagues. Eventually might get to a world where digital proofs are considered acceptable by almost all?

Of course the purpose of the ARC is not just to solicit early reviews. Booksellers and librarians are often the target audience: and in a way you can see how trying to persuade a bookstore buyer to invest in an upcoming book might involve, in addition to an appreciation of the content, some sort of feeling for what the final object might actually look like.

But. . . Is the business perhaps changing under our feet as those feet remain absent from the office with their owners working from home? Surely as everything becomes more and more virtual, the proof might be expected to wander off down the same trail. No doubt it’s a hassle, but could we not devise a process where a reviewer wrote their review from a digital proof, and was rewarded later on by the receipt of a copy of the final book. (Part of the problem, at least in more specialist areas of publishing, is that reviewers tend not to be paid, or not paid very much, and being able to trade their review copy at their local second hand bookstore represents at least a little reward. In these branches of publishing ARCs are a bit of a rarity: review copies tending to be sent out after the printed edition has been received into the warehouse.)

Of course all this may eventually turn out to be a non-problem — as review media continue to shut down and reduce the space devoted to books, the whole idea of sending out review copies may become a fond historical memory.


The Bookman’s Glossary published by Publishers Weekly and Library Journal in 1961 gets straight to it: “The major commercial application (along with Mimeographing) of the stencil principle of printing. Silk screen printing is little used for halftones or for small type or for runs over 5,000. It is much used for posters and for printing on glass, plastics and textured surfaces. It utilizes the simplest of equipment: a piece of silk stretched on a frame and blocked out in the non-printing areas and a rubber squeegee* to push ink or paint through the porous areas of the design.” This picture, from Wikipedia, illustrates the system well.

A. Ink. B. Squeegee. C. Image. D. Photo-emulsion. E. Screen. F. Printed image.

Now the process tends to be referred to as screen printing, or in artistic parlance, serigraphy, a name devised in the 1930s by a group of artists using the technique who wanted to differentiate the artistic application from the industrial use of the process. Andy Warhol, not of course one of that group, is no doubt the most notorious artistic user of the technique.

The “silk” part of the name has pretty much been dropped by the industry, because modern screens are commonly made of artificial fibers, mainly polyester, nylon or even a steel mesh. While individual users will likely be printing from a flat screen, industrial applications in longer runs are likely to be printed on rotary presses. Fabric printing is perhaps the commonest such application. Electronic circuits may also be printed by screen printing machines. One advantage of the process is its ability to lay down a heavy layer of ink.

The earliest firm evidence for screen printing comes from China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD), and the technique didn’t reach Europe till the late 18th century, according to Wikipedia. Handmade screen prints may have the blocking agent painted on by a brush. In commercial applications an emulsion is applied and is selectively exposed to ultra-violet light through a film printed with the required design. The exposed areas are hardened by the light, leaving the unexposed parts to be washed away using a water spray. The remaining uncoated area in the shape of the target image will allow the passage of ink.

Stencil printing is a conspicuous absence from my post Printing methods.


* I’m quite surprised to find that the earliest use of the odd-looking word “squeegee” dates, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, from 1844.

In paper-consuming businesses we refer to groundwood all the time. I suspect the word doesn’t mean a whole lot to the man on the Clapham omnibus, sitting there reading the day’s newspaper.

Newsprint is the most conspicuous use for groundwood paper, though newsprint actually usually contains only about 85% groundwood fiber — depending on how much you care you’ll get more non-groundwood material mixed in to the pulp to improve its strength and staying power. When we had telephone directories and mass market paperbacks they were printed on groundwood paper too. Nowadays perhaps the commonest use in printing is in the form of coated groundwood paper: a sandwich basically of a groundwood sheet between two layers of chalky coating designed to make the sheet look good and to accept a color halftone. This type of paper is much used for magazines, catalogs and advertising. The use of  groundwood in old books can immediately be identified by the way the paper has turned a rusty-orangy-brown as the acids in it work away at the fibers. For $7.37 you can buy a pen from Amazon so you can identify whether you are dealing with acidic or non-acidic paper. (Not sure just why anyone would want to do this though. You find out because the pen draws invisibly on pH neutral or alkaline papers while showing up as an orange line on a groundwood sheet.)

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s earliest quote for ground wood (they make two words of it) comes from Forestry & Forest Products in 1885, “Ground wood was first used for paper-making about the year 1846, when it was manufactured by Keller”. Friedrich Gottlob Keller, a weaver from Hainichen in Saxony, Germany, patented the first practical wood grinding machine, which as the name might hint is fundamental to the production of groundwood pulp. Tree trunks, their bark removed, are fed into a gigantic array of rotating blades and come out the other end as little chips. This is a strangely inspiring sight: a bit like a gigantic aggressive pencil sharpener greedily consuming a whole heap of pencils with ear-splitting roaring and bellowing.

Don’t see a video here? Please click on the title this post in order to view it in your browser. (Video: Sean Doherty.)

Paradoxically, groundwood is the opposite of wood free. Wood free means not free of wood: wood free pulp is wood with the lignin removed. If you need to be reminded what lignin is please go to Wood. It’s what turns the paper brown.

I can’t seem to make up my mind on the question of whether newspapers will still be being printed in the future. I already lost a bet on the subject — I said there’d be no newspapers being printed by such and such a date: I forget what the date was but it is now well in the past. (I never paid up as I am sad to say the other party to the bet, David Seham, died before the terminus.)

The Passive Voice brings us a Wall Street Journal story pointing to the number of papers which have abandoned their pressrooms — though they are still printing, just on presses owned by a newspaper in a nearby town). Included is a clip showing Humphrey Bogart as the intrepid newsman in “Deadline—U.S.A.” (1952), shouting defiance over the roar of the presses. The post includes Passive Guy’s reminiscences of visiting a printing plant in his youth. He describes the sort of on-press correction a journeyman pressman would do almost casually.

Sure, lots of pressrooms have closed down, but the papers are still being printed. Even during the corona virus shutdown The New York Times is still lying in front of our apartment door every morning.  Local newspapers are in even worse shape of course. But Small town A’s newspaper’s plant is now being subsidized by Small Town B’s paper being run on the same presses. In theory this could go on for ever. However, In the end I have to admit I do still incline to the belief that newspapers will ultimately be available only on-line — in so far as they’ll be available in any form resembling their present structure. The behavior of young people is what you need to look at. As far as I know no kids are to be seen reading a newspaper — many cynics regret that they are not paying any attention at all to the news, though I suspect the reality is just that they are getting their news from other places, places which my generation wouldn’t suspect of being news sources. Reassuringly young people do still seem to be reading books. (Keep those fingers crossed.)

For those who, like me, can’t get too much of the sight and sound of presses running, here’s an account of the last days of the Boston Globe‘s Dorchester 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.

See also Boston Globe’s move.

In a guest post at Jane Friedman’s blog, Anne Trubek, founder and publisher of Belt Publishing, and author of So You Want to Publish a Book, gives us some real(-ish) numbers involved the financial decision-making behind a particular book. These numbers may make more “real” the discussion of this topic I posted three years ago.

Her first paragraph gives a fairly good image for representing the publishing process: “Each book a publisher launches is its own miniature, stand-alone start-up. Every book is a gamble. Publishing could have a game table on the floor of a Vegas casino, nestled between blackjack and roulette. Bet on which title will earn out, and which will fail. When a title doesn’t break even, the casino swipes the chips off the table. But when a bet wins, it can make up for all those losses. A few bestsellers can support a press despite many money-losing titles.” Just as in the casino you mostly loose, so too do most books disappoint their publishing punters.  Yet we remain hooked, and defy the odds by laying down our money for the next chance to roll the dice. (The analogy seems to fall apart when I start to wonder who represents the casino owner in the book business. The trouble is that the money lost on a book is just money lost, not money gained by anyone. It just evaporates away into the sands of time.)

Ms Trubek’s costing for the case study book, Cleveland in 50 Maps yields a profit margin of 35%. This may sound pretty good, but it is gross profit, not net profit. The overhead cost of running the company; taxes, salaries, pension and medical benefits, rent, insurance, electricity, paper clips and coffee, etc., etc., etc., are not included anywhere else in the calculation — and obviously have to be paid for out of revenue from your books. Net profit is basically gross profit minus overhead. And there’s no god given reason why you need to include overhead in your costing calculation, as long as you don’t fool yourself into forgetting all about it! Mostly we’d solve for net, but solving for gross involves exactly the same sort of mathematics. Now Belt Publishing is a small independent publisher and clearly isn’t running the kind of overhead cost structure that a Penguin Random House, or even a small university press has, and at 35% gross, Ms Trubek reports satisfaction.

I do think she allows herself to fall into the common trap of assuming that because big publishers have big turnovers they can afford just to spray advances about wily-nilly. No doubt an unearned-out advance of $100,000 is less devastating for a big trade publisher that it would be for a small indie publisher — but it’s not something that can just be shrugged off as one of the normal costs of doing business, like buying another box of paper clips. Negotiate too many big advances (relative to the size of the company and the number of instances where you agree to an advance) which don’t earn out, and you go bankrupt — whether you start out big or small.

J. H. Ainsworth, in his Paper: The Fifth Wonder tells us that construction paper is “a heavy groundwood paper in various colors used for elementary school art work”. He remarks that one mill made 59 colors of construction paper — his book was written in 1959, revised in 1967. You’ve all seen it; though perhaps not in 59 varieties. The bright colors favored for construction papers are due to synthetic dies added during the pulp mixing process.

But why is it called construction paper? Wikipedia tells us that it is/was also known as sugar paper (first time I heard that), and explains that usage by saying that the stout blue paper was used for sugar packaging. OKaay . . . But why did it pick up the construction name at the start of the 20th century? This is not explained. Did schoolchildren back then have to build lots of paper models while in class? I guess so: that seems to be the only available explanation, although I bet it has always been more drawn upon than cut up for models. Another of these “unimportant things” that nobody bothers to grace with a formal explanation (cf. my tortuous perfect binding investigations). The Oxford English Dictionary‘s earliest quote, from the 19 December, 1902 issue of the Decatur, IL Daily Review reads  “Baskets, sleds, and boxes made of construction paper”.