Archives for the month of: March, 2022

Here is Publishers Weekly‘s March 15 story by Jim Milliot.

It is not even spring yet, but the expected printing crunch already appears to be in full swing. A lack of both workers and paper continues to hamstring printers, and a number of independent publishers have already reported finding it extremely difficult—if not next to impossible—to find printing time as far ahead as July and October. 

To help all parts of the book business’s supply chain get a better handle on what is going on in in the printing world, the Book Manufacturers’ Institute has begun a new monthly survey of its manufacturing members in order to assess capacity and lead times for softcover and hardcover books. The results of BMI’s first survey were released yesterday, and did indeed indicate that press availability is at a premium.

The survey is divided between printers of hardcover and softcover books, with responses finding that printing capacity is currently running at more than 80% for both formats. For the 17 hardcover printers, the average manufacturer was running at 85% of their capacity. (Capacity was defined as what you could manufacture today based on all variables.) The average lead time for completed hardcover books was 84 days. For soft cover books, capacity was at 89% and the average lead time 70 days, based on the 15 responses received by the BMI.

“Labor and paper are still the two biggest factors we are seeing in book manufacturing today,” BMI executive director Matt Baehr said in a statement.” Both can be very difficult to come by and that is affecting a large majority of our industry.” 

Casting yet more gloom, Printing Impressions passes on to us international concerns about printing paper supplies as expressed by the World Print and Communications Forum. Demand for print in general is recovering, but supply problems put constraints on the industry’s ability to take advantage.

Given that book sales are going so well despite all these supply-chain problems, I begin to wonder whether it’s really such an awful problem after all. If a publisher can’t get their latest book printed by July, they reschedule publication to October. If they can’t get a reprint of one of their books, then orders will accumulate, or prospective buyers will move on to some other book. It’s not like people are turning up at bookshops and finding bare shelves — there are lots of books. And as everyone kind of knows and understands about the disruptions caused by the pandemic I think there’s a great deal of patience out there in the form of a willingness to wait until this or that book finally becomes available again. The real inconvenience is to the publishing companies: they now have to work harder than they’ve had to do for forty or fifty years or so to wrest books out of printing plants. Welcome, you youngsters, to the way it was in the dim and distant. Assumptions, schedules and systems need rejigging. Annoying perhaps, but far from fatal.

One might have expected that supply-chain delays would have lead to a switch-over to ebooks, but this doesn’t seem to have been happening. Will we, the book-buying public, eventually get fed up of waiting and give up on the print book? For myself, I’m betting the problems will be over before many people make that jump.

I used to work for the publisher who leased the rights from General Mills to publish the Betty Crocker cookbooks, so I’ve long been aware that there was no real Betty. What I didn’t know, but can’t really be surprised to learn from Atlas Obscura, is that there was however a team of women and one woman in particular, behind the screen playing the role of Betty Crocker.

It all started in 1921 with a competition run by a flour company in which contestants had to complete a jigsaw puzzle to win a pincushion shaped like a flour bag. Entries flooded in accompanied by lots of queries about baking and cooking. General Mills (or Washburn, Crosby their predecessor) recognized that Marketing 101 demanded that they respond to these letters, and they concluded wisely that replies should come from a woman. Thus was Betty Crocker invented.* At first the company scrambled to persuade female employees to draft replies under that name, but Betty was eventually made flesh in a department of kitchen guru ladies.

Marjorie Child Husted was hired in 1924, and in 1927 became head of the Home Service Department (later renamed Betty Crocker Kitchens) and was prima inter pares (can’t be sure about my gender agreements here — but nowadays who can?) in the collective role of Betty Crocker, often scripting the wildly successful radio show they had started the year she was hired, “The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air”. The company began issuing recipe pamphlets which they gathered as such collections as Betty Crocker’s $25,000 Recipe Set Featuring Recipes From World Famous Chefs for Foods that Enchant Men and Betty Crocker’s 101 Delicious Bisquick Creations as Made and Served by Well-Known Gracious Hostesses, Famous Chefs, Distinguished Epicures and Smart Luminaries of Movieland. Even in the nineties we would still publish a loose-leaf binder edition of Betty Crocker. It still appears to be available from Wiley who ended up inheriting the book through corporate acquisitions. They call it a facsimile, and there it is as chronically old-fashioned-looking as ever. But the description at Amazon doesn’t tell us that it’s still ring-bound, though charmingly the “Look Inside” feature shows the punch holes as black circles in their page scans. I conclude that it’s just a regular hardback book. seems just to get it wrong, telling us that the book, which they too describe as a hardback, is published by Houghton Mifflin — who now do several Betty Crocker books, but not this one I fear. The Wiley facsimile takes facsimilification to the extreme of using the old Macmillan•USA ISBN. Is this legit? Probably not. It’s quite a mish-mash: they use the Hungry Minds imprint on the title page (an interim owner immediately after Macmillan•USA).

In order to ensure that the recipes would work perfectly they instituted a “triple testing regime”. “First, staff thought up a recipe, adjusting measurements and baking times over and over. Then, the recipes were sent to hired home cooks in the Minneapolis area, who tried the recipe and took copious notes. Those notes went back to company headquarters, where kitchen staff under Husted incorporated the suggestions into the final product. If a recipe successfully made it through this testing gauntlet, then it was good to go. If not, it was filed away into a massive library, perhaps to be unearthed as inspiration someday.”

The Atlas Obscura piece is effectively a review of Susan Marks’ Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food, published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2007.


* Fictional women are not unique to baking companies. At Cambridge University Press’s office in New York we had a lady, Alice Prior, who nobody had ever met, but who regularly corresponded with enquiring minds.

Let it never be said that we don’t care about purity and innocence in this country. We care deeply: it often seems to me that the less pure and innocent we as individuals are, the louder will we shout in defense of innocence and purity in others. There seems to be a concerted move on the part of ultra-conservative enthusiasts to take over school boards and ensure that no child be exposed to any radical political or social ideas in their school or its library. The idea that our youth could be exposed to ideas they might need to think about is just too terrifying for many Americans to contemplate. See here a CNN report on a recent book burning staged by a pastor in Tennessee seeing off such dangerous “accursed” printed matter as the Harry Potter books and Twilight. Thank god, we might sigh, that someone’s willing to step up and protect us from such evil!

Publishers Weekly has a historical piece on the subject of banning books by Harvey J. Graff. And here’s a second piece from the same source.

Calling for the banning of a book is one of the most efficient political acts you can carry out. Because the book in question is alleged to be evil, enthusiastic banners will know that the last thing you can afford to do is actually read it! Just keep it out of sight (and mind), or better, get rid of it, and we’ll all be safe, they seem to believe. The evidence — the book in question — which someone has asserted is wicked, should never be examined — that would be to encourage the very process we are all dedicated to avoiding. It’s all just like witch trials: chuck ’em in the pond: if they float they’re guilty, if they sink and drown then they were innocent. After all, these guys know that scientific research has proved to them that the only reason anyone might turn out to be LGBTQIA+ is because they read about it in a book! Is there a connection here between the lack of the ability to read a book, and an excessive respect for the power and effect of so doing?

Despite all the turmoil, we should note that a recent survey conducted by the American Library Association indicates that 71% of Americans oppose efforts to remove books for our libraries. That 29% make a lot of noise. (Who are those Independents?)

In 1982 the Supreme Court pronounced on the matter of banning books from schools in the case of Island Trees School District v. Pico, and reached a split decision ruling against the local school board and reinstating the books at issue, but leaving the legal issue tangled and unclear. In a broadcast at On the Media, Arthur Eisenberg, the lawyer who argued the case, regrets not having thought of arguing on the basis of the budgetary aspects of the school board’s activities, a money argument which might have created a precedent enabling us to avoid all today’s shenanigans.

The American Library Association keeps tabs on book banning. Their claim “Books usually are challenged with the best intentions — to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information” strikes me as going a bit too far. I cannot agree that protecting others from difficult ideas is in anyway a good reason for banning a book, and I think the ALA would really agree: they are just bending over backwards here to sound “fair”. One can see that a part (a good part) of the conservative impulse to prevent discussion of, for instance, gender identity is to spare children from distress. What also needs to be borne in mind though is the distress felt by a child who has to keep quiet about an issue which seems altogether fundamental to them. I don’t think people should ever be “protected” from ideas and information. We absolutely need to confront difficult issues and think (or discuss) our way through them. If a book exposes a child to ideas it is too young to take on board, then it won’t be able to take them on board. On the other hand, if the child can figure out what’s going on in the book, they’ll be perfectly able to deal with the ideas which are probably not altogether unfamiliar to them. What do parents imagine children talk about when they hang out together?

What real harm could anyone suffer from reading J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Toni Morrison’s The Beloved, or Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, four much banned volumes? You may not like them. You may resent having to think about some injustices. You may even disagree. But harm?

TODAY: Penguin Random House is organizing a virtual event this evening. Ibram X. Kendi, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Nic Stone will lead the discussion at their Banned Books Virtual Event. To register for this free event click here.

See also Book burning.

We’ve become accustoms to hearing about how dissatisfied with their publisher some authors are. The rhetoric mainly originates with self publishing enthusiasts who seem determined to remain dissatisfied till they can force everyone else to agree with them. However, rather obviously given the numbers of books published every year, not all writers agree, and here’s an example. Dana Schwartz is pretty happy. She tells expectant authors about what they’re in for, starting from the writing of the book and up to signing copies for excited buyers. Her piece at The Observer is entitled “15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Publishing a Book”. The Passive Voice sends the link to Ms Schwartz’s 2017 piece.

We’ve all read pieces in almost exactly the same form as hers where the author bitches about publishers, their lack of sympathy, their inefficiency, their rapaciousness, their lethargy, their incompetence. I hope her YA book And We’re Off sells well: we need to keep her onside! As she’s now got three more books from different publishers out I suspect there’s no need to worry.

The relationship between publisher and author is always at risk of deterioration — after all no publisher can force the public to buy a book, and the author will tend to regard any such shortfalls as failures of the publisher not of themselves — after all their book was self-evidently perfect. The more experienced author will recognize the collaborative nature of the author/publisher relationship, and give credit where credit may be due. Deserving of mention in this regard is Professor G. L. S. Shackle, an economist, who’d take the time after each of his books came out to come down from Liverpool to Cambridge and personally thank every employee who had worked on his latest book.

LitHub tells us that 50% of the films nominated for this year’s Oscars are based on books. (You have to do a bit of clicking at their post to get to the book on which the movie’s based and LitHub‘s suggestions for further reading.)

Films nominated for Best Picture which are adapted from library originals are:

  • Drive my Car: Haruki Murakami’s story of the same title (published in his 2014 collection, Men Without Women)
  • Dune: Frank Herbert’s novel of the same title
  • Nightmare Alley: William Gresham’s novel of the same title
  • The Power of the Dog: Thomas Savage’s novel of the same title
  • West Side Story: well, I guess, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

This book adaptation is a bit of a phenomenon nowadays as streaming companies in particular are gobbling up rights to books and book series. Everyone seems to be looking for material Just this week the New York Book Forum conducted a discussion of this topic, “Watch the show, Grab the book”, which you can see at YouTube.

Co-sponsor of the Strengthening Measures to Advance Rights Technologies Copyright Act of 2022 (maybe they could use some editorial help here) Senator Patrick Leahy wirbles “Nearly twenty-five years ago we enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a landmark update to the copyright laws for the internet age. Since then, the internet has significantly changed, and with it so has the world of copyright. I’m excited to work, alongside Senator Tillis, with filmmakers, musicians, authors, and artists of all stripes, enlisting the help of online platforms, to address online copyright theft that robs these artists of the fruits of their creativity and hard work. The technology exists to protect against this theft; we just need online platforms to use the technology. I’m working hard to make sure our artists get paid, and we can enjoy legal access to their wonderful creations.”

Of course we none of us want artists being robbed of their fruit, but this proposal probably isn’t going to prevent websites posting copyright material without payment. (I confess to doing so myself.) This legislation is basically a patch to be applied to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, aiming to compel platforms to adopt the STMs (standardized technical measures) called for in the 1998 Act but hardly ever implemented. That law says that service providers and content-sharing companies like YouTube don’t have to pay for copyright theft on their platforms as long as they have “worked with copyright owners to create effective standardized technical measures (STMs) to identify and protect against distribution of stolen content.” They have just not done this, though no doubt legal experts have managed to loophole into any discussion of the matter a working-with-copyright-owners story.

Fair enough in a way; we do what we can. Baby steps are still steps. But what’s really needed is a total revision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act written from a point of view other than Mickey Mouse’s. Plagiarism Today believes that the SMART Act is unlikely to become law, and suggests it’s no more than an opening shot, a sighter, in a longer discussion. Babies and bathwater come to mind as ever when copyright changes are discussed. Legislators, please do bear in mind the fundamental differences between YouTube et al. and blogs like this one. Sledgehammers can hurt, even if they are swung with the best of intentions.

I continue to root for three kinds of copyright, though I don’t believe the Senate is listening!

Trinity College Library sends us a detailed account of the conservation of a damaged manuscript pocket Bible. The parchment was so degraded by mould and moisture and the binding so tight that the book could hardly be opened without falling apart. Some repairs to the parchment involved straightening out little bent bits, and this was done with moisture and tweezers. In some instances it sufficed for the conservator to use just their breath to dampen the damaged spot using a straw to direct it.

The damage shown above was repaired by reconstituting the parchment. “The parchment leaves were consolidated and repaired with 2.5-3.5mm dots of remoistenable tissue cut with a Japanese screw punch and applied with very fine tweezers under magnification.” In spite of the conservators success in repairing the parchment it was judged that the leaves remained too fragile to be rebound into a book, or even to be turned in the normal way, so they were preserved as individual leaves placed between oversize pages of archival paper gathered into quires.

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

Each repaired quire was bound as a paper-covered pamphlet and the whole bible is now stored in a box designed to hold the whole thing under slight pressure when closed.

Trinity College conservator Edward Cheese tell us “The conserved manuscript has been photographed and can be read in the Wren Digital Library. Those interested in the collation determined during the disbinding can view the diagrams.”

The whole process took three years to complete. It is inspiring to reflect that we live in a world where we can afford to do such work.

Brandon Sanderson (link via The Passive Voice) reports on the progress of his Kickstarter campaign, and what it all means to him. This is an important piece, and ought to be read by anyone interested in the future of book publishing.

He presents his Kickstarter sales as an alternative to Amazon who have too much power for his preference — sound familiar to people who’ve been around traditional publishing for the last ten or fifteen years? Unlike traditional publishers though, Mr Sanderson seems to have cracked it: his “sales” over Kickstarter now amount to more than $32 million from more than 138,000 people with eight days to go — not too shabby for four books.

Mr Sanderson says he plans to continue his relationship with his traditional publishers, Tor (Macmillan) and Delacorte Press (PRH), and is in a pretty unique position having built up a distribution system over the years (he confesses to even having a Human Resources manager on staff) which originated with his selling leather-bound editions of his books. His concern with Amazon is based upon his perception that they are beginning to claw back a bit of that 70% ebook royalty by charging authors for adverts necessary to big sales of their books. This he sees as altogether understandable, given the realities of business, but worries that a dominant retailer like Amazon might decide almost on a whim no longer to support this or that stream of goods. The Kickstarter campaign started as an experiment to see if his fans would move to a different platform: seems that there are lots of them who will.

One proposal he makes, undeniably sensible, is that publishers should offer (as his Kickstarter campaign does) a bundle consisting of the physical book as well as an ebook. His distribution system can’t handle paperbacks though, so it’s a hardback + audiobook + ebook bundle he offers. A decade ago I had a boss at Oxford University Press who used to propose bundling ebook and print book, more or less jocularly, as we all knew no publishing executive is going to countenance such a crazy thing. But why not? Many’s the book I’ve read as an ebook while on the train, and as a physical copy when at home. Of course “giving the ebook away” means theoretically the loss of an ebook sale, but it at least seems worth experimenting with a pricing structure with more steps on it: say ebook $10; paperback $15; paperback + ebook $17.50; hardback $30; hardback + ebook $35.* As things stand very few if any buyers of your paperback are going to lay out another largish sum to get an ebook too: but some might give you an extra $2.50 or so to have the convenience of both. Still, if nobody other than Brandon Sanderson will try this, then we’ll never know whether it works or not.

In an interview, he tells us, he was asked how he planned to spend the Kickstarter money. “I will spend the money as I spend the rest of my money.  Part into savings, part into paying salaries (along with nice extra bonuses because the Kickstarter did well), part reinvested into the company.  (We’re still planning on building a physical bookstore, and this will help accelerate those plans.  Also, it’s not outside of reason that as I move into doing more film and TV, I will want to partially fund some of the projects.) . . .  don’t underestimate how much money it costs to maintain the infrastructure (like a warehouse–or in this case, probably more than one) it takes to be able to ship several hundred thousand books.  It will likely be years before we can be certain how much this actually earned us after all expenses.  More than we’d get from New York on the same books, but potentially not that much more.”

The man seems to have energy on a nuclear scale. His books are many and some are being written simultaneously. Despite this writing blitz his blog posts are long and well thought out. And his books are popular. In assessing ahead of time the likely demand for this Kickstarter campaign he thought — “I could guess that the upper end of the number of people willing to show up to buy a Sanderson book in the first year of release is somewhere around 800k, while the lower end of people who will show up for one is around 50k.” At 138,000 buyers on Kickstarter Mr Sanderson has clearly, as he states in his blog, still got considerable sales potential left. I’m not sure what he plans to do about a paperback edition of the four books. I suppose he could sublease the paperback edition to a traditional publisher if he feels his distribution system isn’t up to dealing with such quantities of books!

It’s worth going to the Kickstarter page and watching the number pledged go up every 20 seconds or so. It’s quite extraordinary. In the few minutes I’ve spent revising this post this morning the number of subscribers has almost reached 139,000, so I’d better post this right away!


* And why not while you’re at it throw in more options, hardback + paperback $37.50, hardback + paperback + ebook $40? The mechanics of such a deal do require some thought: just printing a code in the book which enables you to access the ebook (as many textbooks do) exposes you to the risk of book browsers “stealing” access without buying the book. IT wizards can surely work out a methodology.

CorelDraw offers you a free ebook, Preparation for Offset Printing. Go to their website and fill out the form.

I haven’t done this, so I can’t comment on the value of the book, but at that price what’ve you got to lose?

NYC Media Lab and Bertelsmann are working together to launch an NFT and blockchain exploratory program for select university and startup teams.” “This project is an open-ended exploration of the future of NFTs and blockchain in the music, book publishing, and TV industries.”

The NYC Media Lab describes itself thus: “Comprised of a consortium including New York University, Columbia University, The New School, CUNY, School of Visual Arts, Manhattan College, and Pratt Institute, NYC Media Lab’s goals are to generate research and development, knowledge transfer, and talent across all of the city’s campuses in partnership with New York City Economic Development Corporation, and the Mayors Office of Media and Entertainment.” Sounds great.

I guess they know what they are doing. I don’t. They assure us, in language which to anyone who doesn’t know upfront what it all means just ends up blurring into a bunch of impressive words placed next to one another: “this challenge will explore new ways to create digital assets and interactive content to reach new audiences. Teams can, for example, explore applications of NFTs, digital assets, and currencies that exist in the metaverse for novels, music artists, and TV shows. Projects and selected demonstrations will explore emerging applications that reflect the above parameters that reimagine the future of engaging digital content, and demonstrate a creative approach to connecting with new audiences and emerging marketplaces.” This sounds sort of good, but the exact meaning escapes me. Just as I think I’m beginning to understand it, off we go into the rough again. The nearest I ever got to appreciating “the applications of currencies” to a novel, was the thought that maybe I could sell the thing to a second-hand bookstore after I’d read it.

All too often these whizz-bang organizations employ writers who obviously cannot put themselves in the position of someone who doesn’t know anything about the complicated stuff they themselves deal with every day without a second thought. (Just occurred to me that it might, quite appropriately, have been written by a computer.) The process of clarifying complex matters for a lay audience is of course a daily preoccupation in the business of academic and technical publishing — and we have developed certain skills in dealing with it.

Basically my problem with NFTs in connection with books is that when you publish a book you want to sell as many copies as you can, but when you do an NFT you want to sell only one. Should I look to the NYC Media Lab or any of their select university teams for future enlightenment?

However our lack of understanding of blockchain and NFTs is no excuse for refusing to engage with this stuff. Indeed it’s actually an indication that we should.

See also NFTs and NFTs for sale?