Archives for the month of: June, 2021

Printing Impressions brings us a story about Southampton Football Club, an English Premier League football team’s new shirt for next season.

Fans will be able to scan a player’s shirt using their smart phones and check out specialized content. “In the future, Southampton could update the AR technology to show things like match day calendars, goal replays, or even sneak previews of future shirt designs. It could also integrate some content from sponsors, which is a mainstay of European soccer. They could co-brand any of the exclusive content put out by the club, or even integrate their logo onto the AR platform.”

Tech Digest tells a little more about the project and includes a link to a rather heavy-handed “mockumentary” about the project.

Disappointingly you appear to need to have the shirt in your hands to do this — i.e. to have plonked down your £55 to buy the thing. Still eluding us is the ideal of being able to pick up this information during the game by pointing your phone at the player. Maybe actually that’s not really the ideal — after all, you pay to get into the stadium to watch the game not your phone. (In the recent Scotland vs. England game in a warm Wembley the television coverage kept returning to a small section of the crowd containing only young ladies: on every occasion one of them was fixated on her phone.) But the ability to access information while watching on television would surely be a desirable feature.

In an overtly more commercial mode comes this story from SoccerBible about Juventus’ development of AR Instagram filter which enables you to see yourself wearing a Juventus shirt while you make up your mind about buying it. The California-based designer Clay Weishaar speculates about other potential AR developments in the world of sports.

See also Augmented reality.

The Passive Voice picks up a piece by Mark Gottlieb, a literary agent turned publisher, about royalty rates. Mr Gottlieb opts to add to the confusion between advances and total earnings. These two things are only related in so far as a book which might expect larger sales, thus larger royalty income, will probably come with a larger advance than one which has less potential — an advance on a big number will, unsurprisingly be larger than a similar percentage advance on a smaller number. Authors’ year-by-year income is of course affected by the timing of payments they receive. If you get a big advance in year 1, covering sales which will be made in years 2 and 3, clearly your income in years 2 and 3 will be lower since you will already have received these royalties as part of the advance. To repeat the trick you’ll have to try getting another publisher to give you a big advance for another book. This is unfortunately tough to do too often without actually buckling down and writing some of the books thus contracted.

None of the forgoing is particularly novel or surprising. What is surprising is how commentators almost always focus on the advance — “So-and-so has sold her latest book to Publisher X for $100,000”. This is just nonsense. Unless the book is a failure the author’s going to be getting a lot more than $100,000 — she’ll be getting a royalty on every copy sold. I guess it’s neater to write “So-and-so has sold her latest book to Publisher X for $100,000” than “So-and-so has received an advance of $100,000 from Publisher X, which implies her book has strong sales potential”. Rather more interesting might be the fact that she negotiated a royalty of 10% on the retail price (not on receipts) and has an escalator clause raising the royalty rate to 15% after the sale of 200,000 copies: but all that detail is too much for the brevity-focussed commentator — plus of course probably nobody’s telling them that sort of detail!

Mr Gottlieb gets really specific though:”Advances range broadly, from a few thousand dollars (or less) to millions, but royalties, at least among the top houses, are basically the same. Authors are paid, for hardcovers, 10% of the cover price on the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% on the next 5,000, and 15% thereafter. For paperbacks authors receive 7.5% of the cover price (occasionally with an escalator) and for eBooks 25% of the publisher’s net receipts. Many independent publishers pay lower royalties than these, but rarely do they pay higher. Competition between publishers takes the form of advance competition, with royalties generally being very similar, especially at the big houses.” Now this isn’t really wrong; it’s just stated far too strongly. Royalty rates will group around this sector of the target, but to say “Authors are paid . . .” is much too specific. “Many authors are indeed being offered royalty rates which look sort of like this” is about as far as I’d want to go.

We do not doubt that average authors’ earnings are declining, but this has nothing to do with Amazon, or with reduced royalty rates. It has to do with reduced sales. I’ve no idea what the right numbers might be, but imagine a book market which was worth $100,000,000 a year. If there are 100,000 books published, each book will be earning $1,000. If there are only 10,000 available each will make $10,000. The hard fact is that there are more books being published today that there are (large numbers of) readers out there to buy them. By and large if you’ve read fifty novels in the year you are not immediately in the market for fifty more. For readers this is great: a book dealing with your specialized interest is almost certain to be available. For writers the news is mixed: good in that you’ll almost certainly be able to get your book published; bad in that you become less and less likely to be able to make a fortune from it. We are not happy that authors incomes are not rising, but “employment” as an author is not quite the same as employment as a miner. You didn’t sign up for a wage.

Keep your fingers crossed though, I’m betting we are about to see increases in the cover price of books. As publishers have been doing pretty well over the past couple of years, there may be room for an upward adjustment in royalty rates, to allow authors to share a bit more in the enhanced profitability of the business: but caution — history suggests that a profit boost today will be followed by a drop, back to the long-term norm.

When I was in my (very) early twenties, I drove half a dozen young ladies from London to Llansa on the Costa Brava, where we had rented a villa for a couple of weeks. We had one of these VW vans, which I’ve no idea how we acquired. It was dark blue, as quite often en route was my mood: don’t address all your niggles at me please! I don’t recall how or where we got the van from. Maybe one of the girls’ parents stumped up for it — these were solidly middle class girls — but this was obviously the cheapest way of moving seven or eight people through France. No doubt the vehicle would be sold upon our return. Parking in London back then was nothing like today, but it was no picnic, especially with a mini bus.

The only specific thing I remember about the journey (apart from the never-before-encountered long-life milk of which we found a season’s supply on the porch of the villa) was that the ladies were all obsessed with Rogue Herries, a period romance by Hugh Walpole, set in Cumberland from 1730 till 1774. This incessant chatter was enough to put me off the book — I have finally broken down and opened the quite handsome first 1930 US edition which I picked up many years ago for what looks like $2.50. It was published by Doubleday Doran and appears in the slightly odd trim size of 5⅛” x 7¼”. It has a gilded top, so the book block was trimmed at the top, but left untrimmed on the other two sides. There’s evidence that readers had to slit the vertical folds themselves as they read the story, which the publisher describes as a “massive, vital, full-blooded novel”.

The jacket features a drawing of Herries, facing away from us, gazing at the mountains while holding his whip behind his back ready to discipline any errant behavior. Walpole describes Francis Herries, “handsome beyond all ordinary men”, as “gay, charming, sullen, angry, kindly, cruel”. Why is it that so many young ladies love a transgressive hero? They all chose mild-mannered, utterly reliable spouses in the end.

Hugh Walpole was no relation of Horace Walpole (who apparently started out as Horatio), the son of Robert Walpole, and author of The Castle of Otranto and a notable correspondence. The Prime Minster does however crack a mention in Rogue Herries. Hugh Walpole was born in 1884 in New Zealand of missionary stock and came “home” to England as a child. Rogue Herries hit the bestseller list in America in 1930 at number seven for the year, and spawned a succession of Herries Chronicles; five more volumes including an unfinished one which Walpole was working on when he died in 1941.

What is it that makes John Cleese want cheese when he’s been reading Rogue Herries? Well, when all’s said and done Rogue Herries is a bit cheesy. I still don’t really know why my young friends were so keen on it. There’s a lot of marking time, telling us how lovely the Lake District is. The hero doesn’t really do anything much wrong — most of his “wickedness” happens off stage, though he is definitely rather selfish. He does have a brief meeting with Bonnie Prince Charlie: can this have explained Scots maidens’ enthusiasm? Cheese doesn’t feature. The one murder (by his goody-goody lump of a son) happens almost casually and without consequence. People walk prodigious distances. It rains a lot. Wensleydale remains a long way off.

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

We are used to this sort of encomium being directed at Gutenberg’s Bible, but Edward Burne-Jones, not totally disinterested it’s true — he did the illustrations — when he spoke of “a pocket cathedral . . . the finest book ever printed” was referring to The Kelmscott Chaucer.

The University of Delaware has organized an exhibition, which is available online here, to mark the 125th anniversary of the book’s publication on 26 June 1896. There are events worldwide, and a comprehensive list may be found at The William Morris Society’s website.

This prospectus describes the binding options for the book, and offers copies at prices which of course startle today’s readers. Notice the warning about the ink used: a full year’s drying was required before the sheets would be safe for folding and forwarding!

William Morris established the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith in January 1891. Between then and 1898, the press produced 53 books (totaling around 18,000 copies). After an age which had ushered in mass production, Morris wanted to demonstrate that the craft standards of the past could be repeated – even surpassed – in the present. Kelmscott books reinvigorated the ideals of book design and inspired better standards of production. Numerous other presses were set up to perpetuate Morris’ aims, including the Doves, Eragny, Ashendene and Vale Presses. Fine arts printing is important of course, but we had to wait till the 1930s for the practical application of these design principles to “normal” books. Stanley Morison was central to this design revolution. Today’s book buyer has to thank William Morris that today’s production values aren’t even worse than we’ve allowed them to become.

I have to confess that William Morris, socialist though he was, was always a bit of too much for me. Earnestness is of course important, but it can be a bit wearing. Remember the fashion for Morris wallpapers and furnishing fabrics: too intense. And books to my mind do benefit from white space. Still, a great, energetic and good man.

As an illustration of heavy jargon, David Crotty send us this video via The Scholarly Kitchen.

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

A “drawn reciprocation dingle arm to reduce sinusoidal deplenaration” sounds like something we couldn’t live without. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the Retro Encabulator is a mildly famous fictitious machine whose technobabble description is some kind of engineering in-joke. The technobabble on show in this video should suffice for a lifetime.

Jargon however is widespread, and as Mr Crotty says, is actually rather important in allowing experts in a field to communicate efficiently with one another. “A research paper must assume some level of prior knowledge, otherwise, for example, a molecular biologist would have to start each paper with an explanation of the structure of DNA and turn each research report into a textbook.”

We are far from free of jargon in the book business, and a part of the raison d’être of this blog is the recording and explication of our specialized lingo. To take just one example, when we talk about dimensions to a typesetter we talk in picas and points (a pica is just a word for 12 points) — the fact that someone overhearing can’t figure out what we’re on about doesn’t matter. 12/15 x 18, or “Twelve point type with three point leading on an eighteen pica measure” may not mean much to the reader, but to a publisher it immediately suggests a desperate attempt to bulk out the book. We could of course talk in millimeters, in inches, in didots (as the Europeans tend to) but we talk points, and probably always will. No confusion or complexity is introduced by the fact that a point was traditionally an imprecise quantity which we all agreed was approximately 1/72 of an inch, so that a pica is about 1/6″, neither of them particularly simple fractions of an inch. (Since the arrival of computerization these more precision-minded workers have decreed that the point shall be considered to be exactly 1/72″, and so it now is.) But of course when you talk points, inches never enter your mind. On the other hand as soon as you move the job on to the printer, inches are the very units you’ll be using. If you direct the printer to position the type page six picas from the top trim you are asking for trouble. They need to be told one inch. Nobody finds this at all odd. And as jargon goes, nor is it.

I was recently talking to some people who’d postponed their planned home update because the cost of the lumber needed had jumped by $40,000. The pandemic has played havoc with the wood market, and thus the paper market. If you can get two or three times more for lumber, why would you chip it up and make paper from it? As Vox tells us “For years, the price of 1,000 board feet of lumber has generally traded in the $200 to $400 range. It’s now well above $1,000.” Prices have moderated a bit recently, and will probably continue downwards as the bump in home improvement work while we were all confined to home eases off.

As if we needed any more trouble in the printing paper market, The Economist points out that demand for commercial printing has collapsed over the past 15 to 20 years, and many mills have turned their focus to packaging rather than printing papers. “Some big European wood firms, such as Metsa of Finland, have abandoned print paper (it still makes cardboard and tissues). After shutting two mills this year, Stora Enso, which is also Finnish, will derive 10% of revenue from print paper, down from 70% a decade ago.” Book paper is a pretty small subset of the printing paper industry, so pressure on book manufacturing is likely to be even harsher.

Printing Impressions tells us that the price increases in March are likely to be followed by others as almost all mills are working at near full capacity, and putting customers on allocation. It was ever thus. A paper machine is an immense beast. Deciding shut one down because of lack of demand is a huge decision — because opening it up again will take months. And constructing new capacity is an off-puttingly large investment, especially in a market which has bobbed up and down so much recently. This makes the industry’s response to changed market conditions rather slow: indeed it has often seemed in the past that the industry was able to gear up to a surge of demand just in time for the next recession to make the expansion irrelevant. “For a decade, mills have been shuttering doors one-by-one to try to control the supply-demand equation. Today, however, mill operating rates are well above 95%, have put all its customers on allocation (which prevents hoarding and is typically a function of historic usage), and have little to no flexibility in scheduling.”

Fortunately for publishers demand for books continues high, so to some extent paper price increases can be amortized over longer runs. However, we are simultaneously facing a capacity crunch in the book manufacturing sector. As always the balancing act between demand and price must continue to evolve — but don’t bet against price increases for the books you keep on buying in mass quantities.

Oxuniprint is to close. Well, with a name like that, carrying on must have been daunting!

The Bookseller informs us that Oxford University Press is closing their Kidlington plant, Oxuniprint Ltd., which represented the last remnant of OUP’s long printing history in Oxford. This started in 1478, with a book with a typo in the date of printing! Oxuniprint produces flyers, booklets, brochures, newsletters and magazines for internal and external clients. When this plant goes, on 27 August, twenty people will lose their jobs. The Union, Unite, is understandably displeased. The Guardian and Print Week provide a little more information.

This news comes on the heels of the announcement of the closure of OUP’s warehouse in Cary, NC. Warehousing functions in the U.S.A. will now be subcontracted to Ingram. Lots of other kinds of work went on in Cary, and a search for new offices is underway. Many other publishers, including Cambridge University Press, have already taken this road. Ingram becomes ever more central to our book industry. Ingram may turn out to be the answer to Amazon*.


*Actually, let me say I don’t really see why we need an answer to Amazon. The question posed by Amazon is I suppose, “How do you feel about half your books being sold by a single retailer”. My answer would be “Might be nice if other retailers could do even half as well, but as long as you sell ’em we’ll keep on making them”. Yes, of course, a powerful retailer like that can demand bigger and bigger discounts: but if someone else was doing as good a job, they’d be the ones seeking the discount. And discount demands can only go on until the absolute bottom is reached: if you will lose money on the sale, you’ll quickly decide to withdraw from the market. I say, as long as we make our margins, keep on rolling old man river.

Also, remember that to “compete” with Amazon you don’t have to eliminate Amazon. A few sales direct to retail customers will sugar a lot of pills.

Enid Blyton was a wildly successful English children’s books author. According to Hachette, her books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, and sell 3.5 million copies a year in English alone. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages. They were certainly a prominent part of my childhood: probably the first books I read on my own.The Bookseller tells us that English Heritage, in its website backing up its blue plaques program, has added a note: “Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit.” Ouch!.

Literary merit was not a major concern to this child, and I don’t remember xenophobia and racism, but we were all conditioned to accept large doses of “Brits are best” and worse back then. That we as children were exposed to much worse isn’t of course a defense, but it’s a fact. Of recent years Helen Bannerman’s reputation has been subject to severe revision, and her The Story of Little Black Sambo has been consigned to oblivion. There’s a version of Epaminondas and his Auntie online which presents Epaminondas as a little white boy — he still ain’t got the sense he was born with. Obviously parents like to share with their children books which they enjoyed in their childhood, but times change, and as a society we mature (we hope, anyway) so that things which we once enjoyed are now things we now should keep quiet about.

Enid Blyton’s first husband, Major H. F. Pollock was her editor at George Newnes. After an acrimonious divorce she was said to have ensured that he never worked in publishing again. In 1943 she married Kenneth Fraser Darrell Waters, a London surgeon. “Her health began to deteriorate in 1957 and by 1960 she was displaying signs of dementia. Her agent George Greenfield recalled that it was ‘unthinkable’ for the ‘most famous and successful of children’s authors with her enormous energy and computer-like memory’ to be losing her mind and suffering from what is now known as Alzheimer’s disease in her mid-sixties.”

In 1926 she became editor of Sunny Stories, a magazine for children. She stopped contributing in 1952, and in 1953 the first issue of the fortnightly Enid Blyton Magazine appeared. This she wrote entirely by herself, until its closure 1959. From the late 1940s on she capitalized on her writing success by making deals with jigsaw puzzle and games manufacturers. Wikipedia informs us that “by the early 1960s some 146 different companies were involved in merchandising Noddy alone.” Unsurprisingly In 1950 she established a company Darrell Waters Ltd to manage her affairs. This management company was sold in 1995 for £14.6 million. In 2013 Hachette UK acquired world rights to the Blyton estate, with the exception of the Noddy rights, which had previously been disposed of elsewhere. It seems a wonder Enid Blyton is not included on these (rather unreliable) lists of the world’s wealthiest authors.

It’s not every author that has a personal society, but there is an Edith Blyton Society. They publish their journal three times a year. My childhood familiarity with her work was, as far as I can remember, largely restricted to “The Famous Five” series which started out in 1942. These books came from Hodder & Stoughton. “The Secret Seven” books were published by Brockhampton Press. Her policy seems to have been to favor various publishers with a different series each. The “Adventures” series was published by Macmillan, “Five and Outers” and “Mallory Tower” series by Methuen, “The Barney Mysteries” by William Collins, “The Secret” series by Basil Blackwell, “The Adventurous Four” by George Newnes, and the Noddy books came from Sampson Lowe. She was a bit of a writing machine, turning out 6,000-10,000 words every day. She’s credited with 762 books according to Wikipedia. Just look at the productivity in the forties and fifties. In 1951: 46; 1952: 58. One book a week for two years running!

Given the raising of critical voices, maybe Enid Blyton’s about to move into antiquarian status, though three and a half million a year does represent a pretty large fan base.

Richard Charkin, at Publishing Perspectives, writes about the 125th anniversary of the IPA.

A hop.

Hops are the flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) of the hop plant Humulus lupulus. Hops add the bitter to beer.

IPA, a hop-heavy style of beer, gets its name, India Pale Ale because the October beer brewed in the late eighteenth century by George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery, handy for the East India Docks, when shipped to India, seemed miraculously improved by its sea voyage. During the Napoleonic Wars the East India Company commissioned Allsop’s brewery in Burton upon Trent to develop a strongly-hopped pale ale in the style of Hodgson’s for export to India. Burton India Pale Ale was quickly preferred by merchants and their customers in India.

Once upon a time I worked for the company that produced The Complete Idiot’s Guides. This formula series was set up to compete with Wiley’s Dummy’s Guide to this that and the other. The concept grew out of computers and was probably originated to fill the gap left by those gigantic manuals you used to get from your computer company whenever you bought a new program. (Computer companies quickly realized they could increase margins by not bothering to print vast volumes, and put the stuff online, where few non-enthusiasts were able to seek it out.) These Guides were an example of publisher-driven publishing: there was a tightly-structured template of permissible approaches to the topic you had been assigned, and of the tone in which you addressed it. If an author failed to follow the plan they might get another chance before being replaced by a more rule-compliant writer. I’ve lost sight of my Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beer, or I’d have no doubt been able to go on at great length on the topic of IPA.

The mathematically alert will have calculated that India Pale Ale has been around a good deal longer than a century and a quarter. And of course Mr Charkin was talking about the International Publishers Association, the world’s largest federation of national, regional and specialist publishers’ associations. The IPA, of which Mr Charkin is a past president, was founded in 1896 with the aim of ensuring that countries throughout the world showed respect for copyright, and properly implemented the (then) new international copyright treaty, the “Berne Convention for the protection of literary and artistic works”. There are 86 member organizations from 71 countries around the world. This is one of those organizations which I’m sure it’s really valuable to have, but whose operations are invisible to most people in publishing — at least until there’s some crisis. Maybe we’ll be getting some copyright reforms to address the internationalization of information now that it doesn’t have to cross the oceans in a boat like books — and India Pale Ale — used to. Individual nations will no doubt continue to introduce their own reforms piece by piece, but with something as universally relevant as copyright, some sort of international harmonization is essential. IPA to the rescue?

Kent was where the hops would grow, and lots of London families would make their way down for the harvest. Where I lived, in the north, the school holiday we got was for the potato harvest, tattie howking, as it was referred to, but down south hops provided the “holiday”. Oast houses were used to dry the hops though most remaining examples are just sentimental memorials now that the entire process has been mechanized.

Oast houses in Kent

If you don’t see this charmingly nostalgic video here, or the IPA one above, please click on the title of this post in order to view them in your browser.

Mental Floss, via Shelf Awareness for Readers, informs us that the ten richest authors of all time are:

  1. Elisabeth Badinter // $1.3 Billion
  2. J.K. Rowling // $1 Billion
  3. James Patterson // $560 Million
  4. Stephen King // $400 Million
  5. Nora Roberts // $390 Million
  6. Danielle Steel // $310 Million
  7. Barbara Taylor Bradford // $300 Million
  8. Nigel Blackwell // $292.5 Million
  9. John Grisham // $220 Million
  10. Jeffrey Archer // $195 Million

Lit Hub has lists of the top ten for the years between 2008 and 2018, plus a list of the top 25 for that decade. How do you disentangle earnings from writing and general wealth: Mackenzie Bezos (now Mackenzie Scott) is reported as having a net worth of $36 billion, but we have no idea how little of this may have come from her writings. Slice has a list of such rich writing folk. I wonder how these figures compare with historical authors. Victor Hugo and George Eliot have previously featured in this blog as recipients of big deals. Dickens presumably did OK. Of course updating exchange rates and the effects of inflation makes it hard to work out who might be the top-earning author of all times.

According to Indeed, the average annual earnings of a novelist are $49,046. It is a job site, but the opinion “This figure can vary from $15,080 to $127,816 per year, depending on experience” nevertheless seems a bit wild — what does experience have to do with it? Where do these numbers come from? There are surely tons of living novelists who are making zero dollars from their out-of-print books, and as we can see from the list above, $127,816 isn’t going to impress anyone!

Jane Friedman writes about How much do authors earn?. She includes links to three pieces giving details. Nate Hoffelder, the source of the link, provides one more, to a Lincoln Michel piece at Counter Craft. Ms Friedman cautions “We all know people don’t go into the writing profession for the big bucks unless they’re delusional.” She is realistic about the question. “Can I earn a living from publishers’ advances and royalty checks, while I focus solely on writing more books? And the answer to that is: for the majority of traditionally published authors, most of the time, no. You should not expect this today. Yes, it happens. But without some other support or income (a spouse, a day job), it’s tough.” If you write more it becomes, with luck, less tough. Surprise to none: if you work harder you earn more (assuming a basic level of ability).

She does emphasize that we are in a time when there are new means of making money opening up for all artists. The Creator Economy is the name for this world — you just have to get out there and hustle. (Or of course settle for making less than Ms Badinter — a perfectly rational attitude be it said.

Chart via Axios

Much of the relevance of these sorts of funding sources applies to self-published authors, but authors with traditional publishing contracts can get busy too. It’s not for me obviously — doesn’t this all seem a bit like business, not so much like writing?