Archives for the month of: August, 2022

Type Punch Matrix, a Washington DC rare book dealer, presents this folding cut-out book from the 1830s. Look through the little holes on the front and you can see different views of the Jardins des Tuileries.

You can (I hope) see a little video of the book at their Twitter feed. I wonder if a book like this would be cut out by hand. You could set up dies to cut it out, but maybe in the 1830s labor costs would have enabled you to avoid that investment. Depends on how many copies were produced I guess.

Publishers Lunch of 26 August reports that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has announced an updated policy that will make journal articles reporting the results of publicly funded research available immediately available to the public free of charge starting in 2026. Current policy allows journals to require payment for access to government-funded articles for a year.

Alondra Nelson, head of OTSP says in the announcement: “The American people fund tens of billions of dollars of cutting-edge research annually. There should be no delay or barrier between the American public and the returns on their investments in research.”

The OTSP estimates that the government funded 195,000 to 263,000 publications in 2020*, about 7-9% percent of the 2.9 million scholarly articles published around the world. They estimate that the annual “cost of public access to the American taxpayer through investments in research” is from $390 million to $789 million.

The Association of American Publishers issued a statement expressing concerns about the policy’s effects on “business sustainability and quality.” To me it has always seemed, at an idiot level, to be appropriate that the taxpayer should be able to access the results of research they funded without having to take out a journal subscription. We’ve payed already. And we are after all only talking about less than 10% of the articles published, so it’s not surely a death blow to any publisher. However, I do have to agree that there will be a greater effect in some subject areas than others — not too much government funded research going on in literary studies after all.

A Publishers Weekly article gives a good roundup of history about the topic.


* Is it concerning that they seem unable to agree a definition any closer than that? If they‘re not sure, how are publishers meant to make the determination — when and if the policy is eventually put into operation?

Maybe a slightly opaque word? One however we used to use constantly in book manufacturing in pre-computer days. When you print a book by offset lithography any extraneous marks which get incorporated into the film negatives have to be painted out with an opaque ink-like fluid. Anything on a negative which isn’t black will reproduce on the plate, where, when the light goes through the negative, everything black will become white and everything white black. The opaquing fluid tended to be a chestnut red liquid which the spotter would apply with a paint brush. When you looked at a flat (a bunch of negatives stripped up in imposition order) it was a rather colorful sight — black squares of film held by red tape on an orange carrier (which was called goldenrod), the whole dotted with chestnut colored splurges of opaquing fluid.

Behold a failure of opaquing:

Below the printer’s address there are two horizontal lines. These are shadows: clearly something was cut out here after the repro proof had been pulled, and was (presumably) replaced by a strip of plain white paper. When the repro was shot by the camera the lighting caught the edges of this strip and saw the resultant shadow as a line. Did we, the publisher, not check a set of blues? Looks like we didn’t — or if we did, we did it with our eyes shut! On the facing page we managed to miss another similar mess, where, presumably, the page numbers for the indexes weren’t known when the repro was pulled, and were subsequently cut in as repro corrections; then embarrassingly missed by the production department. Maybe volume two was running late and we had to rush it through to catch up with the first: can’t remember. Halliday Lithograph Company was certainly considered a good printer. — they were unfortunately one of the earlier of the northeastern book printers to exit the scene.

Perhaps we were making a silent comment on the inferiority of offset lithography to letterpress printing in a book all about the revolution in knowledge consequent upon the invention of letterpress printing from movable metal types!

This map, from the Barbican Children’s Library, seems to suggest that in order to read R. L. Stine you have to have passed through David Almond et al. Cute nonetheless.

In my working days a book map used to mean a detailed listing of the page make-up which you’d send to the printer along with the package of repros. The book map was intended to remove the possibility of the printer’s stripping up the pages in the wrong sequence. (Strippers often used to love to get their Roman numerals mixed up.) If you had multiple blanks to insert in order to bulk the book out to make an even working, then the book map was even more important. A book map might look like this:

One of the first posts on this blog was entitled “Why do paperbacks cost less than hardbacks? It answered the question thus—

Well it’s obvious isn’t it?  It costs less to bind a paperback than a hardback.

This is true, but not altogether unambiguous.  What we normally think of in these situations is a combined run, hardback/paperback, where the 500 hardbacks have a stamped case and no jacket, and the 2000 paperbacks have a four-color cover.  Actually, what makes the hardback more expensive in this scenario is the quantity not the specs.  If you did the whole run as unjacketted stamped case hardbacks, your overall cost would be lower than if you did the whole run as a paperback*.

Now you’ll say that’s ridiculous because we actually need the book to appeal to two distinct markets: the libraries who want a more durable version and will pay more for it, and the public who won’t pay nearly as much.  You want to be able to publish the book at $100 for the few and at $35 for the many.  Being able to show the same “profit” by pricing all 2500 at $48 won’t work: because your knowledge of the market tells you that $35 is as much as the masses will pay and $48 is less than you could get from librarians.

In that paragraph is embedded the truth that we tend always to overlook.  Paperbacks are cheaper because we (expect to) sell more copies of them.

Still true, but it’s beginning to be historically true rather than absolutely true. As we move more and more over to digital printing the economics behind book manufacturing shift under our feet. Part of the reason why longer runs were always “cheaper”† for publishers is the fact that with offset or letterpress there’s a lot of cost incurred just getting the machine ready before a single copy is printed. This is called makeready, and is an essential part of book manufacturing cost structures until is ceases to be with the development of push-button manufacturing processes.

Today (or maybe next week) I might be inclined to answer the question by saying hardbacks cost more than paperbacks for just two reasons:

  • 1. the small materials difference, and, more significantly,
  • 2. because that’s how we’ve always priced them.

Nowadays many traditionally published books never get a hardback edition at all, and are published only in paperback. This goes even more strongly for self-published books, where of course many don’t even have a paperback, just being ebooks. For years you’ve been able to find paperbacks in your local public library: used to be we (academic publishers at least) would publish a hardback edition for the libraries and a paperback for the rest. The trick of subsidizing the paperback price by overstating the hardback price probably doesn’t work any more. I expect the hardback’s days may be numbered, though there remains one important reason for its survival — many (most?) authors get a higher rate of royalty on sales in hardback as against paperback, and given that the hardback’s price is also going to be higher, authors will initially do better off hardback than paperback sales — at least until the volume of paperback sales ramps up. But no doubt such clauses in author contracts will wither if/when the hardback does.

† I should perhaps add that the link between price and expected sales quantity hasn’t gone away. No matter what format, the more you sell the lower you can set the retail price, as your overhead costs (the other fixed cost element in book pricing) are gently amortized. For book pricing, see Costing.

One tends to think of printing as a clanking machine shooting sheets of paper out having impressed some ink onto them. But while it is indeed that, it is more. Leaving aside all the preparatory pre-press work, there are two steps in printing. The run, which is what my first sentence was attempting to describe, and the makeready. Makeready — setting up the machine — takes place for every job, and has to be carried out before a single copy is printed. To set up a offset printing press you need to mount the printing plates, load the ink and dampening solution, make sure they are flowing freely and adjust their balance, fine tune the relationships of ink and dampening rollers, as well as plate and blanket cylinders. The aim of these and other preparatory procedures is to avoid wasted time and paper once the job itself has started to print. As part of makeready a few sheets will be run to check everything’s in alignment. Usually it’s not, and adjustments have to be made and a few more sheets of paper “wasted” as makeready checks. In letterpress days it was necessary to pack fillers below the type from in order to ensure that it came into even contact all over with the impression cylinder — to avoid its printing feint in one area and overly bold in others. All these operations take skill and time, which means they cost money — and all before a single sheet has been printed. I just read, in a family history by my cousin Patrick Mark, that a large Quad Demy Perfector at Harrison’s in St Martin’s Lane, where he worked in the early 60s, would take more than a day to make ready. This standing cost motivated the constant search among printing equipment manufacturers for machines with quicker and quicker makeready.

Now that we are moving from offset to digital printing, makeready times can come down more than ever. The extreme case is a one-off on-demand digital set up, where in terms of the individual book there’s effectively no makeready — in so far as the machines are made ready, that takes place in the morning before we start running. The invoiced cost of printing ten copies will just be the cost of one copy multiplied by ten, whereas with an offset job the unit cost will be the cost of each piece’s journey through the press, PLUS a share of the makeready; basically the total makeready divided by the number of copies printed.

See also Unit cost.

Capacity constraints create opportunity. If it becomes difficult to get something done, then sooner or later someone’s going to move to sop up the excess demand slopping around in the marketplace.

Maple Press has just installed a new ink jet machine. Printing Impressions tells the story. Maple, of York, PA see their new HP PageWide Web Press T260 as enabling them to produce another 100,000 books a week in runs from 250 to 6,000 or so. They opine that this ink jet press can print as good a halftone as the best offset presses. Maple Press‘s overall annual capacity is 13 million hardback and paperback books.

If you don’t see a video here (from the Maple Press site) please click on the heading of this post in order to view it in your browser.

One swallow comes; another goes. In the same PI edition is a link to The Target Report‘s report on the state of the paper industry, another huge constraint on book manufacturing capacity. Here the picture remains troubling. Given that the industry was already redirecting capacity pre-pandemic in response to reduced book manufacturing demand, and that our intense supply-chain difficulties are largely a consequence of the boom in book demand in 2020 and 2021, allied to a bump in demand for packaging papers, it may turn out that when book paper demand reverts to long-term trend, our troubles will recede. 2022 book sales do seem to be down from the frenzied heights of the past two years, but are still strong as against 2019. The trouble is that while buying and installing a printing press takes a matter of months, rebuilding a paper machine takes years. While supply can be turned off fairly quickly for this or that type of paper, getting the supply up again is a slow process.

. . . does visually what intonation does audibly: it emphasises the important, subordinates the less important, so clarifying the message. There is more to it than that, however. Just as the impact of the spoken word is affected by the appearance of the speaker, so is the impact of the printed word affected by the overall appearance of the sheet or page.”

This struck me as the best thing in Brooke Crutchley”s To Be a Printer (Cambridge University Press, 1980). However I think it needs slight qualification. Authors have to get this “intonation” through the services of a book designer. This makes the situation a bit more like that of an actor, surely. The actor’s delivery will be directed by the Director, so some of their intonation will be the Director’s not just their own.

Regrettably the individualized design of the text of a book is a much less common happening than it was when Mr Crutchey was working at the University Printing House in Cambridge from 1930 to 1974.

So Andrew Cuomo gets to keep his advance. The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which no longer exists, is held by the law courts to have violated the ex-governor’s due process rights in their demand that he pay over the advance on the grounds that he used state workers on the research. I guess this means you’re not guilty, not that you’re innocent, but when it comes to a $5,100,000 advance I guess that’s all that matters. Here’s The Daily Mail‘s account.

Why do I find this decision highly relevant in the DoJ’s case against PRH in the matter of the S&S take over? Because it shows the crazy randomness of the awarding of large advances. Who in their right mind would imagine that royalties of that much would ever be earned off a book about the (admittedly exemplary) policymaking by the State of New York around the Covid pandemic? No matter how many or how few publishers were bidding, there’s no way that the total should ever have gotten that high, is there? That it did shows that rationality tends to get left at the door once the auction starts. Sales of American Crisis: Leadership Lessons form the COVID-19 Pandemic had staggered to around 50,000 by the end of last year, and seem to have made little progress since then. An advance of $5.1 million implies an expectation of sales of around a couple of million copies. Whatever, I think we can assume that Crown didn’t budget for paying the author a royalty of $100 for each and every sale!

Where did this word come from, and why is it the same word as we use to talk about the amount of stuff that a container will hold?

It came as a bit of a surprise to me, but The Oxford English Dictionary tells me that the earliest meaning of “volume” is the booky one. It all goes back before the invention of the codex. “Volvere” is the Latin verb meaning roll, twist, and thus “volumen” meant a coil, a wreath or a roll — which obviously lands us with a scroll on our hands. Now in those days Latin had great authority, as the lingua franca across Europe which English has now become (in succession to French). It may thus seem a bit paradoxical that the earliest recorded use of the word “volume” in English (by a year or two only) refers actually to a codex, not a scroll — but the paradox is only apparent: by 1380 the scroll had of course long been superseded by the codex.

So how did the word get to be used to describe the amount of material that’ll fit in a container? Apparently, rather unexpectedly, via the book: it was apparently first used in its quantity sense to describe the amount of stuff in a book, as in “The Alcoran or Bible . . . is in volume twice so big as the Psalmes of David..” It was only in the eighteenth century that “volume” began to appear in the sense I’d assumed was primary: “The prodigious volumes of water which have from the beginning of the world been falling into [the ocean].”

I guess it’s fairly clear how it’d move over, around the same time, to mean the loudness of music. Who’d have guessed that it also meant a bend in a stream, as in: “Where Thames’s fruitful Tides, Slow thro’ the Vale in silver Volumes play”?

Oddly perhaps, we’d buy paper by the carload, which masquerades as a volume measurement. Carload was “defined” as the amount that would fit in a railroad car — but that was always figured to be 40,000lbs, so we were really buying by weight not volume.