Archives for the month of: August, 2021

Copyright exhaustion is a fancy way of saying that after a copyrighted item is first sold the copyright owner no longer has the ability to control or benefit from its distribution. In America we refer to this as the first sale doctrine. Once you have bought a book (or been given it) you can give it away, resell it, burn it, use it to clean your windows — whatever you want, and the author has no say or stake in any of these activities. The physical object isn’t protected by copyright: it’s the content that is. The end of the transition period following Brexit seems to mean that the old international agreement on regulations around this topic will lapse, and the UK government has to change the rules.

Publishers (and no doubt other heavier IP hitters like pharmaceutical companies) fear that any change will lead to a loss of income if books or pills are bought more cheaply in Europe and reexported to the UK. Not sure I understand how the basis for this worry has anything directly to do with copyright, and I think that’s the main source of confusion surrounding this campaign. The real issue seems to be a change in the regulations governing reimportation of products which have been sold to a dealer in Europe. The concern seems to be that some sort of loophole will be left in the rules which will enable books sold at a bigger discount to overseas agents to come back into Britain undercutting the local edition. But surely there are no forces mandating that you have to sell your books at a greater discount to a European dealer than to a local one, so why do we have to be concerned about masses of such books turning up so that we cannot sell our own editions? If a copy is sold to a German dealer, at that point the author gets their royalty: if the book finds its way back into Britain and is resold the author isn’t due any royalty anyway, so what’s the concern from the authors point of view? Are we worrying about the US edition being imported at a lower price than the local UK version? (It is of course possible that an author will be earning a different royalty on the two editions.)

With an ebook the copyright situation is different in that when you “buy an ebook” you aren’t really buying anything. What you are actually doing is leasing access to a file on a computer: you can use the file, but you can’t sell it or even give it away your access to it. No first sale ever takes place in such a situation, so copyright is not exhausted. To my mind this feature of the ebook market (along with the internationalization of the book supply chain) throws into question the whole basis on which we have “always” allocated rights to different publishers around the world. World rights begin to look awkwardly anachronistic.

31 August, today, is the date on which the UK government’s consultation period comes to an end. Publishing Perspectives informs us that the Publishers Association has publicized its research which shows that “64 percent of publishers’ book revenue is estimated to be at risk if the government changes the current copyright laws. The Intellectual Property Office is currently consulting on a change to the UK intellectual property framework in which one of the proposed outcomes, called ‘international exhaustion,’ would, according to the association, ‘spell disaster for the UK’s publishing industry’.”

When Britain was part of the EU single market, a first sale within the European Economic Area was the point at which the copyright owner could no longer control onward distribution. Now Brexit has apparently necessitated a reconsideration of the rules. One can see how lax rule drafting might lead to a situation where cheap international editions of a book could be imported into the UK, undercutting the domestic edition. So of course your industry association needs to lobby the government to ensure that such stupidity doesn’t happen. Save our Books is the campaign vehicle they have (rather misleadingly) selected.

Far be it from me to suggest the PA is guilty of telling an untruth — particularly as I have to confess I don’t really understand the mechanics of the problem — but I do think arguments should be conducted in reasonable and honest terms. To suggest that 64% of publishers’ revenues will disappear because English books can be imported from Europe sounds so outlandish that it makes it easy for the opposition to dismiss the claim as obviously partisan. If it really is a serious risk that lax rule drafting might lead to losses for UK businesses, wouldn’t one imagine a Conservative government, however chaotic, being rather cautious about making such a change?

Copyright exhaustion is a deeply misleading term. It seems to imply that copyright in the work is exhausted, whereas it’s just the copyright payment in that one individual copy that’s been used up. If selling a copy of your book meant that it immediately went into the public domain we’d see lots more book renting (á la ebook). Here the US term is much better: first sale is unambiguous.

I wonder what sort of discussions (shouting matches) went on to make Penguin Random House (Viking) decide to raise the price of Amanda Gorman’s book Call Us What We Carry by $5 just a few weeks before publication. “A month ago, the publisher moved back the publication date from September 21 to December 7 and retitled the book” explains Publishers Marketplace. As part of the price increase deal the content of the book has been increased too — the page count has doubled, something which can of course be achieved by bigger type and lots more white space, as well as by adding poems. Publishers Weekly puts it mildly with its headline reporting that booksellers were startled. You just don’t do this with a trade book. Which is just another way of saying there had to be a very important reason for doing it.

For instance Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC report that they have taken 300 pre-orders at the $19.95 price, and would be facing significant damage if forced to sell at the original price now. There are reportedly altogether 59,000 backorders for the book already, not all of which of course have been prepaid. There must be costs involved in publishing a book with two simultaneous prices, but PRH is jigging their system to cope. “PRH will honor the original price for all customers who preordered the book prior to the price change, which was effective on August 25, 2021. PRH is currently reaching out to booksellers to discuss the process and logistics for honoring these pre-paid pre-orders. We value our bookselling partners and look forward to launching this rich and timeless collection with them, which explores themes of identity, grief and memory.”

Do we have to suspect author input in all this? Clearly Ms Gorman’s fame is great. The manuscript, when delivered, appears to have been twice as long as anticipated, but we know publishers have blue pencils. Could Ms Gorman not be persuaded to cut? So young and yet so powerful?

Here she is reading at President Biden’s inauguration:

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

Academic publishing has its own problems, but changing the retail price at the last moment isn’t a big issue. Not too many people have rushed into their bookstore to plonk down their $75 to make sure they get a copy of a colleague’s treatise on competing doctrines of trans-substantiation on the very day on which the magisterial monograph ultimately becomes available. If it turns out to cost $85, your philosophical patience may be tried, but nobody’s credit card has been charged.

Ms Gorman’s inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, apparently sold 400,000 copies in the US in its first three months.

David Crotty’s weekend offering at The Scholarly Kitchen recently was a BBC video showing the mechanics of bat flight.

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For those who run and hide when they see one of these little mammals, let me just point out that bats’ echolocation system enables them to target and catch a mosquito in mid-flight. They consume about 6,000 of the things every night, so they are providing a valuable service. Do you really think something with a navigation system that sophisticated is going to be stupid enough to end up flying into your hair? Bats also play a vital role in the pollination of many plants, including mango, banana, durian, guava and agave.

I wonder if Thomas Nagel may actually have come to regret that he chose the title “What is it like to be a bat?” for the paper he published in The Philosophical Review in 1974. It was subsequently collected in his book Mortal Questions (Cambridge 1979). It’s almost as if it’s the only thing he’s known for — well at least among the non-philosopher population — it even has its own Wikipedia entry. Still whatever it takes to raise public awareness of philosophy, or philosophical modes of thinking!

For a different sort of Bats please see the recent Trick spines.

Shelf Awareness‘s 6 August item in full:

Thanks, USPS!

Posted by Grolier Poetry Book Shop, Cambridge, Mass.: “We love the US Postal Service. This is Bob. He’s worked for the USPS for over 20 years. He delivers us our mail. We ship all of our online orders through the USPS. We don’t know what we’d do without them.”

. . . . . . . .

Obviously the way we buy books, and lots of other stuff, has changed over the past year and a half. I suspect “Postman Bob” will be being kept busy for the foreseeable future, though as the weeks go by there will presumably be a decline in remote purchasing as book buyers become more willing to go into shops. But I’d bet a mail component is going to remain a part of all bookstores’ repertoires: and this is one positive effect of the crisis — bookstore owners have had to figure out on-line sales, packing and mailing routines, improved phone selling and so on. This has got to be good for long term survival prospects: competing with Amazon doesn’t have to mean beating them at their own game; just being in the game is important.

What does appear to be holding up well is overall demand for books. As a result we are encountering more and more problems in the supply chain. Last week one major book manufacturer told customers that it was unable to accept orders for any more books for delivery before the New Year! However book buyers are getting hold of them people still seem determined to get yet another book. Tough to have to forgo a sale because your book is out of stock and you can’t get a reprint delivered because the printer can’t hire enough people tp keep the presses rolling, but if this book doesn’t sell, that one probably will. In some cases you’ll lose a sale, in others you’ll gain one as your book becomes the substitute.

In a slightly less jolly vein, the US Postal Service plans to introduce surcharges for Christmas deliveries this year as the Wall Street Journal tells us. My knees are jerking, but of course this does actually seem a fairly rational idea. Funding for the postal service has lagged, and service has declined (recently we were getting only three or four mail deliveries a week, though in the last week or two things have picked up impressively. I think the Post Office was also having its hiring problems). If the government won’t fund you, raising more money yourself by variable pricing makes sense.

“The mission of the ISNI International Agency (ISNI-IA) is to assign to the public name(s) of a researcher, inventor, writer, artist, performer, publisher, etc. a persistent unique identifying number in order to resolve the problem of name ambiguity in search and discovery; and diffuse each assigned ISNI across all repertoires in the global supply chain so that every published work can be unambiguously attributed to its creator wherever that work is described.”

This Publishing Perspectives piece sets it all out for you. We are told ISNI rhymes with Disney. Well, the ISNI is’nae the ISBN. The ISNI is the International Standard Name Identifier.

One might imagine that names were fairly unambiguous identifiers, but of course we all know a couple of John Browns, so confusion can happen. A big turmoil generator is transliteration systems — what’s Mao called nowadays? Apparently the ISNI agency holds public records of more than 14,270,000 identities and more than 12,700,00 people. And now they are looking at their gender policies. Seems to me a unique number identifying an individual or a nom de plume shouldn’t need any gender labelling anyway. Are we not all striving towards a world where gender labelling is less politicized — why should we care that creator 1234567891234567* presents themselves as male or female, as blonde or brunette, as tall or short, or fat or buff? We just want to know we are buying the work of the real John Brown — John Brown’s body is of pretty minor concern to us.

The need for these sorts of super-precise descriptors is of course brought about by computers. The sorts of folks who get involved in this sort of business planning always seem to me to be the over-intelligent; restless minds who couldn’t find enough to keep them busy in the humdrum world of book publishing. God bless ’em: someone needs to think about this stuff, and I was always sated by a few minutes of involvement.

Another numbering system, is the DOI, Digital Object Identifier. Whereas an ISBN identifies a location, the DOI does that as well as defining content — it’s a feature of metadata. In theory a DOI can identify your single paragraph contribution to a larger collective work. This always seemed to me like a good idea which was just too fiddly to be successful. Publishers are lazy: it’s more than enough effort to get an ISBN for every edition of every book. Everybody knows what I’m talking about when I say Bullen’s Mechanics, so why do we have to mess about with numbers? Well, obviously because human memories work differently from computer memories. I remember the olden days when author/title is all you had to go on: and I’ve now lived to see clerical staff refer to a book by nothing other than an ISBN — “Another order for 0196237861; isn’t it reprinting”. If you repeat an ISBN often enough it will lodge in your brain: Beware! Referring to “the product” as a series of numbers is no doubt more profit friendly than describing the book in anything as old fashioned as words.

I’m pleased, and a little relieved, to find out that ISNI is to be found in the list of acronyms I published a few years ago, as is DOI. I’m not conscious however of ever having come across either a numerical identifier for a name or a digital object in the real world. Maybe I need to attend the virtual ISNI Information Day being held to celebrate the tenth anniversary of ISNIs. This online event will take place on Wednesday 1st September 2021.


* It’s a sixteen-digit number, the last digit being a check digit.

It always seemed a tiny bit pretentious to term your poet laureate the Scots Makar. OK, makar is a real word, often in the past spelled maker, which gives the entré to its sense, making stuff; “to mak” in the Scots Dictionary meaning among other things to compose verse. Charmingly the plural of the word is makaris — not a word I’ve ever heard spoken, but presumably one which ends up sounding like bakeries. Cue a discussion of analogies between making poems and baking cakes?

Here we see Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon welcoming our latest national Makar, Kathleen Jamie. The board they are holding might look like a sponsorship ad, but is, of course, just the names of all four Makars we’ve had since the Scottish Parliament established the post in 2004. In 2016 when Ms Jamie’s predecessor Jackie Kaye was being installed, there was discussion of changing the name to National Poet for Scotland, but such modesty was rejected: the rest of the world (in so far as it cares) can just learn what it is we’re talking about! According to Wikipedia Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Aberdeen and Dundee have all established their own local Makaris. It’s getting busy at the top; and for this appointment Ms Jamie is only being called upon to fill a three-year term, not five like her predecessor.

The Bookseller has a fairly comprehensive piece. They quote Ms Jamie as claiming “The post confirms a weel-kent truth: that poetry abides at the heart of Scottish culture, in all our languages, old and new. It’s mysterious, undefinable and bold. It runs deep and sparkles at once.”

Makar originated as a term pretty much called into existence to distinguish between the ancient oral bardic tradition and the new men who would write their poems down. The first Makar is generally held to be James I (1394-1437) who’s The Kingis Quair is fairly uncontroversially described by Robert Crawford* as “the greatest poem written by any monarch”. The word was less used in recent centuries, ending up being basically a descriptor of the Scottish renaissance poets. The word was revived for this office as part of our new cultural pride. It’s not one I ever heard in my (relatively acculturated) Scottish youth.

I have written previously about UK Poets laureate and US ditto.


* Scotland’s Books: A History of Scottish Literature, (Oxford University Press, 2009)

It never occurred to me that you could make paper out of anything other than cellulose fibers. Wrong, wrong. CaCO3, calcium carbonate, in combination with some 20% polyethylene resins makes a very paper-like material: mix it up and roll it out. Uses no wood, no water, no bleach. And the resultant sheet is foldable and waterproof. More tuned in than me Wired was writing about stone paper in 2013.

Calcium carbonate is no stranger to the paper making process: it’s a large ingredient in the chalky coating applied to “art papers”, what we call coated papers. If you want to make a smooth paper, suitable for the reproduction of color images in fine detail, various materials, including kaolinite, calcium carbonate, bentonite, and talc are used with synthetic viscosifiers to create a sort of paint which is applied to both sides of the sheet of paper as it rolls through the machine. Doctor blades and rollers regulate the amount of coating, and the resultant sandwich of coating-paper-coating can be more or less “polished” by calender rollers. Coating can also be applied to one side of the paper only: paperback covers are often printed on C1S (coated one side) board.

But here we are talking about making paper without any wood fiber: just with calcium carbonate, which is often available as a waste product. Hunter Bliss of Pebble Printing Group in Shenzen, China, talks about this development at Printing Impressions. He tells us of stone paper manufacturing being set up in China, India and Egypt. Tireless innovator, Mr Bliss is also working on printing on reconstituted plastic bottles turned into book covering material, a project he discusses at this second video interview. Stone paper looks just like paper, though it does feel smoother than wood fiber papers do: not that this is a disadvantage! It seems to be quite widely available: Amazon sent me some booklets overnight: I figured these would be good for notes made in the open air, even in the rain.

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Will stone paper invade the world of books? On the face of it there’s no reason to doubt it: we just need to get the manufacturing up to scale and there would appear to be few reasons against it. Warnings about photodegradability and lack of heat resistance may sound ominous but of course a paper book left in the sun will decay too, and excessive heat was never a book’s friend. It’s true that most of the people talking stone paper up are involved in the business, and might therefore not be entirely objective, but problems exist to be solved, and there’s an obvious attraction in the idea of using waste marble with much reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

I wonder if binding might not be a limiting factor. The little booklets I bought are 48-pagers with perforations so you can tear out pages after you’ve made a note — apparently tearing is something stone paper isn’t very good at! These 48 pages are held by two wire staples. I dare say a needle could go through to allow for Smyth sewing, but I expect perfect binding might be problematic. In a paperback book, the perfect bound pages are held together by glue which adheres to each and every leaf by the bond formed between the adhesive and the roughened up fibers of the paper. Presumably trying to roughen up the edge of stone paper would be liable to just make it smoother, not rougher, there being no fibers there to raise. Still, maybe some sort of rock-solid adhesive can do the trick, while still permitting flexibility. If Mr Bliss is right and stone paper can really be made for about half the cost of “real” paper, maybe the economics of cheaper paper plus more expensive binding will work out for the book business.

A few years back I described a waterproof paper made by Rite in the Rain. This is a regular cellulose fiber paper to which a waterproof coating has been applied.

Move over Liddell and Scott: here comes the Greek/English dictionary for the 21st century.

Publishing Perspectives brings us a review, which they claim to have held off on because upon first publication in April the two-volume set was an immediate sell-out. Good to see we didn’t fall into the trap of overprinting — even though we were able to keep the price down to £64.99, which almost seems insanely low these days for 3.3 kilos of book (over 7 pounds). The books were printed in Padstow, Cornwall.

Impressively the Cambridge site includes a “Look inside the book” feature, absent at Amazon US and UK sites. Their copy tells us “The Cambridge Greek Lexicon is based upon principles differing from those of existing Greek lexica. Entries are organised according to meaning, with a view to showing the developing senses of words and the relationships between those senses. Other contextual and explanatory information, all expressed in contemporary English, is included, such as the typical circumstances in which a word may be used, thus giving fresh insights into aspects of Greek language and culture. The editors have systematically re-examined the source material (including that which has been discovered since the end of the nineteenth century) and have made use of the most recent textual and philological scholarship. The Lexicon, which has been twenty years in the making, is written by an editorial team based in the Faculty of Classics in Cambridge, consisting of Professor James Diggle (Editor-in-Chief), Dr Bruce Fraser, Dr Patrick James, Dr Oliver Simkin, Dr Anne Thompson, and Mr Simon Westripp.”

The cover looks a lot better with the inclusion of the two-line subtitle about Volume II — its absence on the slip case throws the whole balance of the design off-kilter. No doubt the designer was not asked to do anything about it. Quite nicely letterspaced too — though I’d have preferred a bit more room between the two Es of Greek, and maybe a tad less between the swashy R and the E.

Much is made of the fact that this book was 23 years in the making, but it was a huge undertaking, and a couple of decades doesn’t look unreasonable. Of course, for the individuals involved, it’ll probably be hard to know what to do with all their free time now the job’s done! Liddell and Scott was published by Oxford University Press in 1843 in an edition of 3,000 copies, though preparation time can’t really be compared as this was at the outset a translation of Passow’s Handwörterbuch der griechischen Sprache. An abridged edition was prepared simultaneously and by 1880 was selling over 10,000 copies a year. Greek no longer commands pride of place in the school curriculum, but it still survives: let’s hope there are enough students to guarantee success for this dictionary.

We tend to assume, I think, that all agents will be eager to sign up any author — just as we know that all publishers are desperate to publish any and every book. A couple of seconds’ thought is enough to tell us that this just can’t be so. Just as there are publishers who specialize in cookbooks, say, or in advanced mathematics or what have you, so there are agents who specialize in this or that area of the business. And perhaps even more important for a successful agency business is the personality type of the authors you chose to deal with. Shrinking violets may not be overrepresented in the ranks of potential book writers, but if you are agent or publisher for one, you’ll have your work cut out for you. An author who can sell thousands of copies via their Twitter feed is clearly a better bet that one who’s embarrassed to sing the praises of their own work.

Here’s an attractive little chart showing what a literary agent will apparently want to know about you, aspiring author. (From a tweet by Carley Watters, a co-host of the provocatively named podcast ‘The Shit No One Tells You About Writing’. Link via Technology • Innovation • Publishing – Issue #157.)

So now you know: or as the punchline of a ponderous joke told by our 3rd form Latin teacher put it “Weell, ye ken noo”.

International Paper has a piece on their renewed commitment to recycling.

This is Chapter 5 of their on-going series “Our Renewable Future”. You can access the earlier chapters in their drop down menu above the little video they have as an introduction.

Of course the paper industry has been focussed more or less seriously of recycling for all my working life, and I’ve no doubt that World Wars involved a lot of recycling, but it does at last seem that we are getting serious about the topic. It’s hard to know what motivates whom, and destroying the Amazon forest does seem to be more about clearance than lumber, but of course there are always going to be people who don’t care for anything beyond their next meal.

The phrase “going for broke” takes on a different meaning when uttered in a paper mill. Broke is the waste paper which never makes it to market — the miles of paper discarded because imperfect as the result of of a hiccough during manufacturing or messed up during the set up of the machine. After it’s gone for broke, it goes for recycling into pulp again. Once paper has had ink on it it becomes harder to recycle, so broke has ever been a valuable raw material. IP claims that the fibers can be recycled up to seven times. Each time through the process the resulting grade of paper is lower and lower: so you might start out as a handsome book, become an envelope, then a cereal box, and end up as a corrugated carton or worse the stuffing in one of those padded envelopes.

Now going for broke is pretty much what we now have to do if we are to keep the temperature of our world down to livable levels.

See also Recycling.