Archives for the month of: May, 2022

The Scholarly Kitchen reported last year on the initiation of the Association of University Presses’ Global Partner Program, whereby expertise of member presses will be shared with university presses in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Perhaps it’s the charm of distance affecting the view, but I seem to become more and more ardent in my belief that the university press is the paradigm of what a publishing company ought to be. One could argue that they do exactly the same as commercial presses with the lack of profit-making. But it’s more than that. University presses need to make profits, and do — it’s just that a not-for-profit company doesn’t pay that profit to shareholders, but uses it to fund future operations. The terminology is important: a not-for-profit company is not a non-profit company: its raison d’être is just not profits. Perhaps in not having someone pushing to maximize profit your operation can avoid the excesses we think we see in trade publishing. Maybe it’s just that taking the overwhelming money-motive out of the picture leaves just the essentials of getting a book from author to reader. Because university presses often tend to be dealing with books of importance but small demand, and are not themselves rolling in money, they have over the last five hundred years had to develop super-efficient methods of survival. Having painfully developed over the years a bundle of techniques about how to survive in tough economic circumstances existing presses have acknowledged a duty to share this with as wide a range of newer presses as possible. The AUP’s Global Partner Program is clearly “a good thing”, if not a moral obligation. I hope it is a success, and develops more and more.

A statement of what a university press is may be found here. It always struck me as inspiring that we published stuff because it was good, useful, and valuable, not because it’d make money. (Though nobody minds if it does that too.)

Does the discovery of a “Wicked Bible” in New Zealand justify a post? The Guardian report describes the situation.

The so-called “Wicked Bible” was printed in 1631 and contains everyone’s favorite Biblical typo: the omission of “not” in the seventh commandment. The printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, were summoned by King Charles I and admonished for sloppy workmanship. Their printing licence was rescinded, and they were fined £300, though the fine was never paid. One thousand copies had been printed, but most of them were destroyed, leaving only about twenty survivors. Wikipedia lists the location of most of these. The existence of a second error, leading to Deuteronomy V,24 reading “Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory and his great-asse” may be no more than wishful thinking, though of course errors could and would be corrected during the run. Though the good old British word “arse” was well established at the time, its American variant, “ass” didn’t come up till, well, America did.

Proofreading a huge work like the Bible is a royal pain. Any illusion that the divine author will use his good offices to guide the hand of the typesetter is of course no more than that, an illusion. Indeed I suppose one could argue that typos might be more frequent than usual in setting biblical matter because, at least in parts, the compositor will be dealing with familiar words and may be more inclined to allow his mind to slip into free-wheel mode while composing such familiar copy.

The Guardian (appropriately for fans of Private Eye) has a piece on the ten worst typos in the Bible, which naturally includes this one.

Much more fascinating than the Strunk and White* kind of style are the rumors “that celebrities and fashion influencers [are] paying someone to select reading material for them to carry in public.”

The New York Times Style Magazine (o tempora, o mores: Style Magazine!) carries an account of the alleged book stylist by Nick Haramis. (Thanks to Nate Hoffelder for the link, which is doubtless hiding behind a paywall.) What a career opportunity for a superannuated publisher: get a job advising film stars which books they should be seen carrying in order to maximally impress their fans.

If you can’t access the NYT story, don’t worry; it concludes inconclusively that nobody can/will confirm the existence or non-existence of this book stylist. A sample of the article’s style: “The worlds of literature and fashion have flirted with each other since long before Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe tied the knot in 1956, but in the past few years, books have become such coveted signifiers of taste and self-expression that the objects themselves are now status symbols.” Now that can’t be bad, can it? Signifiers of taste!

For similar, if less public, book styling services, see my post Personal book curation. Celebrities who’d just had their “libraries” set up for them might be expected to go for the book handling service proposed in The Irish Times by Flann O’Brien and mentioned by Emma Smith in her Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers (Allen Lane, 2022). O’Brien proposed a service that would rough up your books to make them appear thoroughly used. They’d riffle pages, turn down corners, leave thumb prints and break spines. The tippy-topmost level of service would include “Not less than six volumes to be inscribed with forged messages of affection and gratitude from the author of each work”. What celeb could resist?

Of course many people have recently been falling victim to the urge to “style” their book collections now that we spend so much time in Zoom meetings. Sitting in front of your bookshelves is a nice way to project an intellectual air.

Style is a word with an interesting history. It originally meant “An instrument made of metal, bone, etc., having one end sharp-pointed for incising letters on a wax tablet” — what we’d think of as a stylus. Its metallic pointiness then seems to have gotten it implicated in stabbings, as a sort of dagger. One of the Oxford English Dictionary‘s early examples of its use as a metaphor for literary work dates from 1655:  “But Princes swords are sharper then their styles”, which perhaps makes playful reference to that dagger meaning. Still you can see how the characteristic way you write could eventually come to be metaphorically conflated with the instrument you used to do so.

In the publishing business it is perhaps the OED‘s definition 21d which first leaps to mind: “The rules and methods, in regard to typography, display, etc., observed in a particular printing-office” and by extension, publishing office. This of course is the sense used in the title The Chicago Manual of Style, which is ultimately just a codification of the house style of the University of Chicago Press. Personally, as attentive readers may already know, I consider Cambridge University Press’s house style to be more stylish than Chicago’s or indeed Oxford’s.

Style in the sense of “the author’s style” resists definition: it’s one of those things where all you can really say is that you know it when you see it. Satiric novelist Sam Riviere writes in his recent novel Dead Souls (all one long, 300-page paragraph — now there’s style of some sort!) that the designers of novel software QACS (Quantitative analysis and comparison system) designed to deplagiarize novels, “also had in their sights that most elusive quality, the style of the work, which would be objectively defined at last, locked down, taking into account the frequency and emphasis of specific words, the frequency and emphasis of specific sounds, and perhaps even—the engineers refused for now to be drawn on this point—the indivisible emotional components, below the surface, underpinning everything.” We still await this important development. Tim Parks reviews Dead Souls at The New York Review of Books. (No doubt paywall protected.)


* Strunk and White: The Elements of Style began life as a 43-page self-published booklet used by William Strunk Jr. in his classes at Cornell. E. B. (Andy) White was one of his students in 1919 and used “the little book”. In 1957 he was commissioned by Macmillan to revise the book for the college market. Strunk, who had died in 1946, had focussed on nuts and bolts advice on what was right and what was wrong, such advice delivered as series of sharp commands — “Do not join independent clauses with a comma”, “Do not break sentences in two”, “Use the active voice”, “In summaries, keep to one tense”, “Omit needless words”. Professor Strunk was nevertheless willing in theory to accept some rule-breaking. “It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules.” White added the only chapter on style “in the sense of what is distinguished and distinguishing”. In our personal quest for style, the best we can do is follow all those nuts and bolts directives, or at least those that we don’t chose to disagree with, and hope that the cleaned-up, straightforward result will reveal what we’d like to think of as our style. Probably will.

Generations of American students have bought Strunk & White which is now in its fourth edition. Maira Kalman did an illustrated version in 2005. That book has a Foreword by Roger Angell, White’s stepson, who just died on May 20th at the age of 101. Like his stepfather and his mother, Angela was a New Yorker writer.

What an impressive job title! Book influencing is a phenomenon which has rather snuck up on us, though it is in some ways an inevitable consequence of the way social media work nowadays. On 5 May NPR’s Morning Edition put some flesh on those bones.

Of course a book influencer is someone who’ll influence people to buy a book rather than someone who’ll have an influence over how a book might turn out. In that sense a real book influencer might be an editor like say Maxwell Perkins who took a pile of inchoate manuscript and threw away enough of it to end up with something that could be called a book. Or maybe that sales team that really got behind a book and turned it into an unexpected bestseller. Or maybe those teachers who recommended the book to enough of their students that it turned into a standard text. But no, a book influencer is a category of existence that had to wait for the development of social media. First gather a whole lot of followers, then recommend things to them. (It may actually be a better paid gig than a job as an editor.)

I’ve been rattling on for the last few weeks about Paul Dover’s The Information Revolution in Early Modern Europe, which is definitely the most interesting book I’ve read this year. And I’ve been singing its praises on this blog. Does that make me a book influencer? Probably need a few more followers to qualify for that epithet, but if I had, maybe the publisher, Cambridge University Press would pay me to act in that capacity. (Not that I’d take the job!) Penguin Random House is however paying the lady in that radio story, and no doubt other trade publishers are doing the same with other media influencers.

Now The Economist reveals to me that there’s a whole other world out there, a world of virtual influencers. Should I be more upset if Renault were paying a real person to attempt to influence me, or that they have themselves created a fictitious person who appears to be trying to influence me? Doesn’t really seem like a difference with a real difference. The government of India has stepped in to require virtual as well as real influencers to disclose their financial associations: this seems fine. If Lil Miquela starts telling me I really need to buy this PRH book, I’d like to know that PRH is actually paying her to do so, whether or not she lives and breathes (as Lil Miquela or Aya Stellar don’t). For myself I doubt if I’d be taking a recommendation from any online influencer I didn’t know personally. But in any case I expect that Lil Miquela and Aya work on higher value products than mere books!

BookTok was at the start of this popular fetishization of the book. Book Riot has a round up, with a few video clips. At the end, anything (legal) that helps to sell books cannot be a bad thing, can it?

See also Word of mouth — many mouths, TikTok, BookTok, Tok-i-Talk.

One day all books were manuscript books, mostly written on parchment/vellum, but with a growing number on paper; then the next day there were printed books too. We probably need to keep in mind that “book” meant something a little different from what you’re used to finding in a bookstore today. Printers and scribes produced pages, not books. Better-off customers would take their purchase to a bookbinder and have it put between covers. Often what went between the covers was not exactly the sort of thing we’d expect to see in a modern-day bookstore. Just see for instance the first “book” printed in Scotland which I wrote about the other day. Gifted in 1788 to The Advocate’s Library, the book contains seventeen different “books”. Many a “book” would in fact be what we’d think of as a pamphlet*. Take my program for the 1987 Braw Lads’ Gathering, an 80-page, wire-stitched booklet, mostly filled with ads. When did it become a book, if indeed it ever did? When I put it onto a shelf in a bookcase, thus treating it as an item to be saved? When it became a container of historical information rather than a program of events? Certainly if I had had it bound up with other items, it’d be an unambiguously bona fide book.

Whatever the product may have looked like, the addition of printing to the universe of book production increased output massively. Over the centuries scribes had tended to move out of the monasteries and into a world where more general work was available. Consider the pecia system: in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries university bookstores came up with the bright idea of renting to students four-page sections of “textbooks” which the students would copy, often in multiple copies, then return. Diligent students would end up with the entire book written in their own handwriting.

Paul M. Dover tells us in his The Information Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press 2021, pp 167-8) “One set of estimates has put the number of manuscript books produced in Western Europe in the twelfth century at 769,000, rising to 1.761 million in the thirteenth, 2.746 million in the fourteenth, and 4.999 million in the fifteenth.”

“. . . the technology of the printing press meant a great many more books in circulation. An estimate of five million manuscripts produced in Western Europe in the fifteenth century, became 12.56 million printed books for the period 1454-1500, 215.9 million for the sixteenth century, and 518.64 million for the seventeenth century. The printing press was not the sole reason for this spectacular rate of increase — growing prosperity, urbanization, and literacy all played a role — but these numbers suggest, quite simply, an altogether different world of books.”

The location of these books also began to change with the availability of cheaper, printed versions. Whereas the majority of medieval manuscript books were destined for ecclesiastical settings, printed books became more broadly distributed. Professor Dover references research by Henri-Jean Martin who studied book ownership in Valencia from 1474 to 1550, and “found that nine out of ten ecclesiastics owned a book, three-quarters of all professionals, one-half of aristocrats, one-third of all merchants, one-seventh of textile workers, and one-tenth of manual workers”. This balance moved heavily away from the ecclesiastical end of the scale during subsequent years. Most impressive to me is that ten percent of manual workers owned at least one book. That, and the textile workers in the list too, put me in mind of the subscription library picture in a nineteenth-century wool town, which I wrote about recently.

Another problem with research into these sorts of issues is that the older the book, the more likely it is to have been lost to us. This would be especially true of cheaper books, less formal volumes such as almanacs, diaries, catalogs and so on: the sort of thing which might have been more likely to have been owned by a poorer person. David McKitterick’s research shows us that of all the sheet almanacs printed at Cambridge University before 1640 (and he estimates over 30,000 of them were printed in the years 1631-33 alone) only a single, partial copy survives. Having scribbled on them users would throw them away and move on to the next issue.†

The arrival of the printing press did not mean that people stopped writing out books — quite the contrary. Not only were there traditionalists, like the King of Hungary and the Duke of Urbino, who insisted on maintaining their libraries in print-free form and kept providing employment for (a few) scribes, but people would heavily annotate their printed (cheaper) books, treating them almost as a venue for a conversation between author and reader, often copying extensive alternative “chapters” into their copy of a book. Some types of book survive more in hand-written form than in their printed version — for example subversive political tracts from Stuart times. Galileo (1564-1642) sought to evade the censor by “publishing” some of his works in manuscript form, with multiple copies circulating simultaneously in a methodology reminiscent of the samizdat of Soviet times.

I myself own three in-progress manuscript books. My Book of Books, a Commonplace Book and my on-going illustrated version of Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts. La lutte continue.

From script to print always struck me as a really good book title. Henry Chaytor, Master of St Catharine’s College used it for his 1945 Introduction to Medical Literature. Through the joys of on-line access and print-on-demand the book is still available.


* Strange word for a booklet when you start to think about it. Derives from the 12th century Latin amatory poem or comedy Pamphilus de amore, a work which was often copied as a little booklet. According to The Oxford English Dictionary the word arrived in English via Middle French. Their earliest quote, from 1415 is this dedication by Thomas Hoccleve to his poem Balade to Edward, Duke of York, reminiscent of Ezra Pound’s “Go, dumb-born book”,

Go, litil pamfilet, and streight thee dresse
Vnto the noble rootid gentillesse
Of the myghty prince of famous honour,
My gracious lord of York, to whos noblesse
Me recommande with hertes humblesse,
As he þat haue his grace and his fauour
Fownden alway, for which I am dettour
For him to preye, and so shal my symplesse
Hertily do vnto my dethes hour.

† In a fit of entrepreneurial zeal I produced such a single sheet calendar for university use in the early ’70s. I did manage to persuade Heffers to take enough of them at a price which covered my costs, but no-one could regard the publication as a success of the 1630s variety.

In 1581 Francisco Sanchez (c.1550–1623) estimated in Quod nihil scitur that it would take ten million years to read all the books in the world. Maybe a speed-reading course might knock a couple of tens of thousands of years off that — who’d know? Obviously since then things have just gotten worse. Wondering when was the last moment at which someone might have been able in a normal lifetime to read every book in the world is probably less interesting than wondering at what point it might have been worth anyone’s while to try. Surely anyone who has read more than a couple of books will be aware that lots of them aren’t worth opening.

In 2010, when they cared, Google told us there were 129,864,880 books in the world. Hernando Colon (1488–1539), Christopher Columbus’ second son conceived the ambition to read all the books in existence at the time — clearly a number well south of 130 million or even 1581’s more modest total. He amassed a huge library (he must have been rather well off) and set to. Only 3,000 books from the Biblioteca Hernandina survive, and nobody seems sure just how many books he did actually manage to consume, summarize, and index. His biographer, Edward Wilson-Lee tells us, “It simply became impossible for one man to read everything. Maybe in his youth, it would have been possible — there would have been few enough printed books. But as his library grew, he realised he needed to employ readers to work through each book and provide him with a summary – in effect the forerunner of the Reader’s Digest.” Dr Wilson-Lee would seem to have been giving Mr Colon a running start by restricting his reading to printed books only, but he seems overly optimistic even in that restricted category. Almost every early book, printed or not, has failed to survive. The earliest dated book is The Diamond Sutra, dated to 868 CE. The first firmly dated book printed from movable type, Jikji, comes from Korea and dates to 1377, but we know that they were using movable types in China two or three hundred years earlier. There’s just no measuring in a hazy category like this.

JikjiSelected Teachings of Buddhist Sages and Seon Masters, the earliest known book printed with movable type, 1377. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

What keeps jumping out at me in all this is that Gutenberg’s innovation was less a technical one than a business one. He didn’t “invent printing”; he didn’t even “invent” moveable type, though there’s no evidence that he picked up the idea from Chinese and Korean precursors, so he probably did come up with the idea himself. His working in the gold-smithing and wine trades could be seen as having prepared his mind. But what he really did invent was the mass-market book business.


The American Booksellers Association, as its website informs us, is a “national not-for-profit trade organization, [which] works with booksellers and industry partners to ensure the success and profitability of independently owned book retailers, and to assist in expanding the community of the book.”

“Independent bookstores act as community anchors; they serve a unique role in promoting the open exchange of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and creating economically vibrant neighborhoods.”

There are eight regional groups acting independently towards similar ends.

California Independent Booksellers Alliance
Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association
Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association
New Atlantic Independent Bookseller Association
New England Independent Booksellers Association
Pacific Northwest Independent Booksellers Association
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance

In Britain they have a single central organization, The Booksellers Association.

Printed 31-Line Indulgence. Mainz: Johann Gutenberg 1455. The Morgan Library & Museum.

The theory was that an indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and all of the saints”. Effectively it was a bit of paper recording your “purchase” of forgiveness for some sin or other.

The printing press was just made for the printing of indulgences. No longer did your poor pardoner have to spend time writing the damn things out — they could be bought in their thousands from the local printer with blank spaces left where the name of the “sinner” and the date could be filled in. Somewhat unsurprisingly this lead to a sharp increase in their use, and in consequence also of the revenue which would be raised by the “charitable gift” it had become conventional to make after receipt of your shriving.

Printing indulgences was a great job: set it up, one sheet only, one side only, and let it run for days. Of course you had to buy paper, but apart from that indulgences were pretty much pure profit. Gutenberg is said to have interrupted the printing of his Bible to knock off a few thousand of them. You’ve got to pay the rent after all.

Famously Martin Luther objected to the Catholic church’s indulgence business model. In another printing press success story, after he was painted by Lucas Cranach, versions of Luther’s portrait became one of the most widely circulated woodcuts, making his the most recognized European face up to that time, even though he rarely left Wittenberg.

Well a month’s just a month, but I do like every now and then to take a look at the month’s book sales breakdown.

Here’s the Association of American Publishers total US net book sales picture for February 2022. The percentage change shown is as against February 2021. Overall reported sales rose 4.1%, to $968 million, compared to the previous February. The numbers include sales of 1,367 publishers and distributed clients as reported to the Association of American Publishers. Even University Presses did OK. You can inveigh all you want about what the meaning of such sales numbers might be without the self-publishing industry’s contribution being included, but unsurprisingly the AAP can only report on what the AAP can report on, and that doesn’t include lots of things which aren’t reported to them.

Publishing Perspectives dices the numbers a bit differently, and includes this pretty graphic.

But just check out physical vs digital. P-books total $780 million, while ebooks come to $92.2 million, with audio at $1.889 million. These are all great numbers. However, commentators love to present them as best accords with their own prejudices. I am constantly pointing out how dishonest it is to trumpet misleading statistics like “xyz increased by a huge 25%: look out abc” when the base from which xyz is increasing is rather low. For instance audio books, about which we have recently heard of sharp sales increases, though not this month evidently, could increase by 25% and still be less than 3% the ebook total. If ebook sales increased by 25%, they’d still be less than 15% of printed books.

Just sayin’. These are only figures for one month, being used here as examples, but at least as far as the traditional book publishing industry is concerned, print looks pretty dug in.

See also Ebook, p-book, and comments thereon, whereamong indie publisher Harald Johnson reveals that he sells 10 ebooks for every POD p-book.

Immediately after I had posted about Paper’s take-off here comes news from Patently Apple (via Kathy Sandler’s Technology • Innovation • Publishing) that Apple has been awarded a patent for a virtual paper. Does this mean ordinary paper’s in for a crash landing?

Not really, though who knows what’ll happen next. The story suggests that the end customer is unlikely to be interacting with virtual paper any time soon — it’ll be something developers use. I can’t begin understand all this, but as Figs. 4C and 4D from the Patent application seem to show, a 3-D image will somehow stand out from the surface of the foldable sheet. They somewhat disingenuously suggest “The patent then goes 10 miles deep into the lighting, rasterized images, spheres, pixel depths that could lose the average reader.” Hey guys, you lost me at about six inches down!

For other non-paper paper see Stone paper.