Archives for the month of: July, 2021

Via Tom Gauld’s tweet:

© The Guardian/Tom Gauld

Printing Impressions has a video in which Frank Romano, a well known name to anyone involved in book printing over the past few decades, reports from The Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Mass. of which he is Chairman and Executive Director.

Mr Romano believes printing has a bright future, but he sees it as likely to be less involved with ink on paper, as with ink on almost anything else. This prediction is also made by Mark Hahn whose Target Report (on mail-order printing) at Printing Impressions emphasizes the trend towards personalization in print too.

For the time being, however, we are living through a time of high demand for ink on paper printing — for books. Books are selling well, so all publishers are scrambling for such book manufacturing capacity as remains. Paper is in short supply, too many plants have closed down, and the remaining capacity is stretched thin because, in a time of surging demand, like so many businesses, printing is finding it hard to coax people back to work after coronavirus shutdowns. And it’s not just printing: it’s harder and harder to find space in a shipping container. We keep being told we are short 600,000 truck drivers in the U.S.A. (the union says 1.1 million) — so even if the books do get made it’s almost impossible to get them shipped in a reasonable time. Cynically one might anticipate an easing of these labor shortages as well-deserved support measures for out-of-work workers come to an end over the next few months.

One does have to be wary about talking about sales growth this year as compared to last. Last year’s book sales did end up strong, but at the beginning of the pandemic the book industry was in shutdown chaos. That the recovery was so quick and so strong is impressive, but makes year-on-year comparisons difficult. Compare the first six months of 2021 with the first six months of 2020 and what do you think the outcome will be? Comparing the first half of 2021 with the first half of 2019 would be a more meaningful thing to do, but of course that’s not what we usually get.

Here’s Publishers Weekly‘s graph (based on BookScan data) showing various scenarios for 2021 sales outcomes: consensus is they’ll be up by 2% or 8%, or some number in between. The thin dotted black line at the bottom is 2020’s performance. Bear in mind these “numbers” are percentage increase over the previous year, on a week-by-week basis. You can see that last year the rate of sales declined (went below the zero line) in April/May, and then made steady improvement for the rest of the year, as the retail book trade figured out means by which people could pick up books kerb-side and so on. Somewhat sickly, it seems the book industry’s prospects may be tied to the pandemic prospects — the more shutdowns the better for books sales!

Via Technology • Innovation • Publishing, here’s Velocity of Content, the Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast, telling us that sales of graphic novels have surged in 2021, growing from 9.3% of adult fiction sales in 2020 to 20% this year. I believe that a comparison like this of the break-down of the total sales rather than just the gross numbers does have the potential to be meaningful. Velocity of Content does tell us that “Unit sales soared 178.5% in the first six month of this year. With 16.2 million copies sold, graphic novels are now the second-largest adult fiction subcategory.”

I wonder if this apparent move towards graphic fiction represents a growth in the overall book market with the addition of some “reluctant” readers, or whether long-time fiction readers have moved over to the graphic format? BookScan does suggest that the sales increases in graphic novels as well as in Young Adult fiction (another booming category) may indicate the participation of more young people in the book market.

Graphic novels tend to leave me a bit huh-huh, but in general terms, what makes so many think them so great? BookMachine‘s article (linked to by The Digital Reader) gives one woman’s answer — which doesn’t really nail it down for me. But there’s no question; they are quicker to read! From a production point of view these books seem to have become a kind of fetish object. Although when they were first published many comics were fairly crudely printed on newsprint, it seems that when we put them between book covers we have to lavish 100# matte coated paper on them and insist on the solidest of solid blacks (rather hard to achieve given the originals) as well as precise color matching. Seems like a part of the market may be a dilettante, collector group: almost an art book audience.

Apparently “The word ‘graphic novel’ first appeared in 1976 on the dust jacket of Bloodstar by Richard Corben (illustrator, USA) and Robert E. Howard (author, USA)” as Guinness World Records informs us. Britannica gives the palm to Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, 1978. The Oxford English Dictionary‘s earliest reference comes from 1964 though. However what goes around always comes around. Even before Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, and the birth of the printed book, there were “graphic novels” galore: stories told in pictures carved into wood blocks and then printed. See Block books for an example (not a novel, it’s true) dating from 1474. More recently, in the nineteen-thirties, Lynd Ward made several graphic novels, six of which are available in a boxed set from Library of America. Ward takes the medium to the extreme, eschewing words! And of course, almost everyone of a certain age must be familiar with Classics Illustrated and their ilk which, for me, certainly fall within the definition of graphic novel, even if they were adaptations to the medium.

Still, even if they aren’t exactly the latest thing, we should rejoice that graphic novels are enjoying sales success.

Our local library is still closed, though many branches of the New York Pubic Library system have reopened. I suspect this prolonged closure might have something to do with conversion to regular library space of the caretaker’s apartment which was located until recently at the top of the building.

After reopening, one might anticipate changes in the way people use their library. The OUP blog tells the story seen from Scotland and Northern Ireland where they seem to anticipate things going on much as before. Probably the same will hold true here too. There’s bound to be a bit of reluctance to cram yourself into a crowded space too soon. Borrow your book, and go.

However one thing which probably will not be changing will be the need for silence.

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

Thanks for Rick Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen for this link to Brigham Young University Library’s promotional video. Mr Anderson provides links to a couple of other smart videos.

The Office of the General Counsel of Harvard University has spoken. “Copyright and Fair Use” is available here. You may also download it as a PDF.

The basics — “Copyright does not protect ideas, nor does it protect facts.  It protects only the form in which ideas or facts are expressed.  For example, you may read a copyrighted paper and appropriate its ideas, or facts it conveys, into your own work without violating the copyright.” But you can’t just use the same words.

The piece is, obviously, directed at academic authors who may feel the need for guidance in the matter of quoting other researcher’s work. The advice is straightforward and direct.

Link via The Passive Voice. No doubt most colleges offer similar advice.

Risograph is a brand of digital duplicator made by Riso Kagaku Corporation and first released in 1980. This printing technique is a stencil duplication process, analogous to mimeograph. A digital file may be uploaded or an original scanned in and this digital information is used to “burn” tiny voids in a master sheet, one per color used. As with silk screen printing, ink is forced through these holes to create the printed piece.

Digitalartsonline has a good introduction to riso printing featuring the work of four artists, who all emphasize the importance of learning to make the limitations of the process work for you.

Risograph print by Rope Press

“Riso printing is a high speed, low cost alternative to screen printing. This process combines the ink-on-paper look of traditional screen printing with the speed and affordability of Xerox printing. Perfect for flyers, books, zines, brochures, artist editions, cards, 7″ jackets, cassette & cd covers, and much more.” — From Oddities Prints.

Oddities Prints, of Kansas City, are quite upfront about the limitations of riso printing. They show this graphic, and suggest if register like this will upset you, that you rethink you printing plan. They also illustrate the tendency of the roller which advances the sheet through the printer to smudge the ink it travels over. But it is cheap and cheerful.

A dramatic gif visualization of the shift of focus in 2020 of the scientific community’s virus research may be found at (Thanks to Sid Huttner on the SHARP listserv for the link.) Around 80,000 coronavirus-related articles were added to PubMed Central in 2020, a 1,600% increase over 2019. According to Nature, one database puts the number of coronavirus papers at more than 200,000. Many papers were posted as preprints — i.e. before peer review — though there is as yet no evidence of any greater proportion of withdrawals than normally.

Many publishers also made covid-relevant books available free of charge.

Plagiarism Today tells us

Andy Maxwell at Torrentfreak writes that Talon White, the former operator of a pair of pirate websites, has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for criminal copyright infringement and tax evasion. He has also been ordered to pay some $4.3 million is restitution to the MPAA (now MPA*) and the IRS.

The investigation began almost 8 years ago when PayPal sent information to the alleged infringing sites to Homeland Security. That prompted the MPA to send a cease and desist letter to the site’s operator, which responded by actually opening up new sites. In November 2018, a judge granted a search warrant for White’s property and, a year later, he pleaded guilty to one count of criminal copyright infringement and one count of tax evasion.

However, White’s sentencing was delayed due to the pandemic, and it only recently took place with the Department of Justice petitioning for a strong sentencing noting that White made millions off his operation and deliberately underreported his income by $4.4 million to the IRS. On top of the restitution, White must forfeit all currency and cryptocurrency previously seized from his bank accounts as well as a house purchased with the revenue.

Gambling News also carries a report — they describe Mr White as “a self-reported 31-year old professional poker player from Newport, Oregon”.


These mills grind slow, but copyright enforcement is important. All too often the damage is worth less than the cost of a lawsuit would be, so no action is brought. To counter this problem Congress recently passed legislation establishing a small claims court for cases involving less than $30,000. This court is still being set up. On a larger scale, it looks like SciHub may be in trouble now for taking journal articles and making them available for free.


* Motion Picture Association (formerly “of America”). I suspect we all know what the acronym IRS stands for, but, for the benefit of non-Americans, it’s the Internal Revenue Service to whom we get to send our taxes. In Britain this was once upon a time called the Inland Revenue. Now it rejoices in the name Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

The Scholarly Kitchen brings this story by Todd Carpenter about the origin of the ebook, an event which took place fifty years ago already. The Declaration of Independence went online on 4 July 1971, having been typed in by Michael S. Hart. Thus began what turned into Project Gutenberg, masterminded by Mr Hart.

Michael S. Hart. Photo: Wikipedia

Project Gutenberg, a wondrous resource, has more than 60,000 works freely available. However “Project Gutenberg is hardly the world’s largest free book repository. The Internet Archive, by comparison contains some 2.3 million texts. HathiTrust contains 8,415,795 book titles.”

John Thompson’s The Book Wars recounts the recent digital revolution in the book business. This Scholarly Kitchen review suggests that academic publishing has blazed the trail through the digital developments, and that trade publishing is scrambling to catch up.

Nobody can doubt that the ebook has established itself as a fundamental part of the publishing scene. Contrary to many a commentary, publishers are not reluctant to sell ebooks: they are just reluctant to give them away in an unrestricted way. Clearly we have yet to work out what the right method of supplying ebooks to libraries might be. The conflict is between the “right” of readers to be able to borrow books from their library unrestrictedly, and the “right” of the author (and of course the publisher) to be remunerated for their work. From the reader’s perspective an ideal world might be one in which you could log on to your library’s website and borrow a digital version of any book you might want. After all, with the limitation that there has to be a copy there, this is how it works with library borrowing of physical books. When a publisher sells a physical book to a library they accept that the library will be able to lend this copy to as many people as want to see it, and can keep on lending it till it falls apart and they need to buy another copy. Doesn’t work like that with an ebook. Sell a library an ebook file and an infinity of readers can borrow it free of charge, simultaneously and for ever. Publishers want to sell ebooks to libraries, though some of the rhetoric you see might make you think the opposite. They just don’t want to sell ebooks to libraries in a way which is tantamount to making the book generally available free of charge online. A compromise is needed. Maybe we’ll get one.

As usual academic books present a completely different scene. Print sales of monographs continue to decline, and may well vanish fairly soon, in step with inevitable (and much needed) improvements in the digital presentation of academic material online. It’s possible, even probable, that the digital format will become the only format for the academic monograph; (though it will probably make sense to set your monographs up for print-on-demand manufacture too). However scholarly materials are usually accessed digitally as part of a subscription bundle — e.g. Oxford Scholarship Online. OUP’s Annual Report for 2021 tells us they have gotten 25,000 books online. This sort of subscription business just isn’t an easy option for trade publishers. While academic publishers do publish many individual ebooks, the bulk of access to monographs (and journals) tends now to be via a subscription by the institution. But note that, in round terms, according to the AAP’s monthly sales figures, university press print book sales came to about $3 million, while ebooks accounted for just $700,000. Where, if at all, subscription revenue for online collections was includes is not clear.

Writing before the pandemic Niko Pfund and Mandy Hill (of OUP and CUP) wrote in detail in The Chronicle of Higher Education (paywall protected) about the evolution of the monograph. OUP and CUP’s joint report on the use of the monograph shows that the format isn’t going away and that its salvation seems almost inevitably to involve digitization. As open access becomes more and more desired (and available) the key question becomes who’s going to pay the costs of publication.

If sales are booming in 2021, so too are signings. Publishers want to do more books and authors seem to be full of pent-up content.

According to Publishers Lunch of 8 July:

HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray told an investor conference in June that the publisher is, ‘Being aggressive in terms of buying books. We’ve seen the book pie grow, maybe 15 percent. And so our response, which is part opportunistic and part defensive, is to be aggressive in buying right now.’ Our exclusive analysis of deal transactions in the second quarter of 2021 confirms that behavior, across the industry.

In the first quarter, US deal volume was 19 percent higher than a year ago (and 21 percent higher than the recent four-year average). For the second quarter, deal volume again registered 18 percent higher than a year ago, and  23 percent higher than the recent four-year average.

This time, the biggest gains were in adult fiction. Deals in our traditional fiction categories were 27 percent higher than a year ago, while the smaller group of fiction sales to digital publishers rose 38 percent. (Combined, all fiction sales were up almost 30 percent). Children’s deals continued to grow, as they have steadily year over year, up 15 percent.

Clearly we expect book sales to continue strong. See the bar graph below the increase in signings over just the second quarter:

Not only has the number of deals increased, so too has their size. However, in that bar chart below, that right hand column would probably be larger in any case if more books were being signed up, so this effect may not be as dramatic as it looks here:

I wonder how much coronavirus-diary sort of material there may be in these numbers of new signings. Not too much I hope: if every major publisher signs up one of them we’ll quickly be overwhelmed — and most of the books will thus fail to wash their face, which won’t be good for hopes of continued expansion.