Archives for the month of: October, 2022

The exciting opportunity to get a stunning Halloween costume arrived the other day by tweet from David Congdon. Sorry to be so dilatory in letting you know of its existence — you’ll hardly be able to get your costume in time for this evening’s trick or treating I fear. Actually the Spirit website appears to be strangely quiet about this particular beauty. Could this be a spoof? Who’d imagine? Disappointing to think we might not be able to acquire that lesson on the superiority of endnotes — we can always afford to learn.

Editors have occasionally been observed glass in his hand but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one with a pipe. I wonder if these props come with the outfit. Also, a suit is so last century. Female editors, probably now a majority in the acquisitions editorial arena, presumably just get to stew, or maybe protest.












John Coulthard has a piece at his blog Feuilleton telling us that the logo for Pan Books was drawn by Mervyn Peake (1911-68).

Those who know Peake mainly through the Gormenghast series will think of his art as a bit more eerie than jolly old Pan. Here are a couple of covers from the Penguin edition to show what I mean:

Comparison of the lines on the subject’s face in Lynn Goldsmith’s Prince photograph and Andy Warhol’s Prince series (via The Andy Warhol Foundation For The Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith et al, 2017)

These pictures come from a Hyperallergic article noting the start of a likely year-long Supreme Court consideration of the Prince picture bru-ha-ha. “At the crux of that debate is the question of whether Warhol’s visual style changed the meaning of the photograph Goldsmith shot. If it did, then Warhol’s use of the image could be covered by ‘fair use,’ a legal doctrine that lets artists use an artwork in order to make a different one — what is known as a ‘transformative’ purpose.”

It does seem relevant to me that Vanity Fair paid the photographer $400 for the right to use the picture, but I suppose it might be argued that that was a right to use it unaltered. Might it not be that much of the value of “art” like this resides in the presence of the signature of the artist? Still, no harm in spreading the wealth around.

Later: The New York Review of Books has a piece reporting on the start of this case in the Supreme Court. This is paywall protected after a few paragraphs.

In a post from 5 June 2020 I wrote

In so far as they think about it, I imagine that most book-readers believe that when a publisher decides to print 5,000 books, 5,000 books is what they’ll receive. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Indeed one might almost say that of all the possible quantities which will be checked in at the warehouse, 5,000 is probably the least likely!

This is not because publishers and book manufacturers are really bad at counting: it’s inherent to the manufacturing process. If a car manufacturer sets out to make 5,000 cars, that’s what they’ll make. They set up 5,000 bits of metal on the conveyor belt, and stop adding more bits once they’ve reached 5,000. (All right; I dare say it’s a little more complicated than that.) A book is made differently. It’s made as a collection of different parts which end up being brought together and united at the very end of the process. And it’s made of rather flimsy materials any of which can easily get damaged at any point in the process. I’ll use as my example the now rather old-fashioned procedure of a book printed on a sheet-fed offset perfecting press, bound as a sewn hardback with a jacket. (Books printed in other ways have to go through the same steps but they are often made with a different sequence and significance.) For my example I’m assuming a 5% over/5% under allowance on final delivery.

Lets assume our book has 320 pages, and is imposed to deliver 32-page signatures. Each of these ten signatures/sections will be printed separately, or possibly as two-up for five separate passes through the press. If there are two sigs on each sheet, the sheets will then have to be cut in half after they have been printed. Once you have your ten stacks of flat sheets each containing one signature, you send them off to the folding department where they will be folded down to ten little booklet-like sections. Let’s say there’s also an 8-page 4-color insert, which has been printed at a different plant and delivered already folded to the bindery. Now each of these eleven sections (10 for the text, and one insert) will be placed in sequence in a series of pockets on a gathering machine, which takes one from each pocket to make a book’s-worth of eleven sections, arranged we all hope in the right sequence without any duplications or omissions. Prior to gathering the first and last sigs will have had the endpapers tipped on. Now that you have lots of little piles of sigs, each making up an 11-sig book, they will go into the sewing department where they’ll be joined up into untrimmed book blocks. Cases are made from board and cloth, then stamped with foil. Thereafter the book blocks and cases go to the binding line where the book blocks are squeezed, gripped and trimmed, get their spine glued, and a liner applied, then get glue spread down the sides and have the case cover dropped and pressed onto the pages before they roll off the end of the machine. Here they receive a rapid examination as the jacket is applied, and the books travel on on a conveyor belt to where they are packed into cartons meeting the weight requirements of the warehouse to which they will be traveling.

At every one of these steps there is a risk of damage and loss, so you have to figure out what the loss risk might be at every stage and aim for a quantity at step one which will get you to the finish line with at least 5,000 copies of the book. Printing presses are big pieces of equipment and don’t stop and start on a dime. Makeready is required for every impression: you have to get the paper path perfect and adjust the ink/water balance to ensure an even black impression across the whole sheet. You’ll know from past experience how much paper you’ll be likely to need for makeready on this press: so you start off aiming for, let’s say 5,550 copies. (This is just a notional number used for this example. I don’t have access to any book manufacturer’s spoilage allowance data — and in any case it will vary from plant to plant, and press to press, maybe even from crew to crew.) You don’t want to make the spoilage allowance too big, because you have to pay for the paper you use, but you don’t want to make it too small, or you may be forced into a little (and killingly expensive) reprint of one sig to make up the count. Additionally there are accidents which can occur on press and have to be allowed for: a lump of dust flies onto the plate, or even a fly, and gets squashed onto the blanket where it starts printing. This we call a hickey — and as soon as they notice it the press minders will start pulling pages out of the press and throwing them away, while one of them cleans up the blanket and on we run guessing at how many impressions we need to add at the end of the run to keep our count up. You don’t stop the press if you can avoid it: if you do, there’s that makeready to do all over again.

So here you are, off press with between 5,250 and 5,650 copies of each of ten sigs. Sod’s law will determine that you actually have about 5,500 of eight sigs and 5,250 of two of them. You may loose a few sheets to makeready on the folder: it’s got to get the fold in at perfect right angles to the edge of the sheet: start with the sig with the highest count! On their way to the gathering department one of the skids of folded sheets may get bashed by a passing forklift truck, or waiting overnight, they may be dripped on when the roof leaks in a thunder storm — hey, accidents do happen. At each step you’ll lose a few more overall: fingers crossed the major loss will not be on the sigs you started out with 5,250 on.

The manufacturer will be aiming to deliver the maximum number of books permissible under the purchase order. After all the more they ship the more they’ll be able to bill: but there are limits. Most orders allow for a 20% slop, which tends to resolve into 10% over and 10% under, but more powerful customers will negotiate that down to 5% each way. In this example, worked on 5% over/under, the book manufacturer will be striving to be able to ship and bill 5,250 copies — and will be tearing hair out if the count drops below 4,750. The same consideration has been motivating the jacket printer, and the insert printer. They will aim to over-deliver against the ordered quantity, but not by so much that their materials costs will cause them a loss on the job. Publishers often like to receive extra jackets for refurbishment in the warehouse, so running out of jackets at the bindery line shouldn’t be an issue, though like everything else it has been known to happen. If you go into the gathering line with one or two sigs totaling only 5,075, you know you’re not going to be able to overdeliver too many, or any at all, and you also know that all those extra sigs from the other parts of the book are just wasted time and paper. They’ll be sent for recycling after the job’s completed. Storing partials is no longer an economically viable aim.

Book manufacturers will negotiate adjustment to the overage allowance. What I mean is they may accept an order for not-more-than, in which case the overage allowance of all goes to unders none to overs. In other words, in our example, the 5,000 will be priced at rates which would apply on a 4,500 run multiplied up. If the publisher ordered 5,000 exactly, the job would be priced as if it were a 5,500 run. In any case, if the manufacturer comes off with too many copies, they will be on the phone asking the publisher if they’ll accept overs over and above the overage allowance. If the book has subscribed well (i.e. if bookstores have ordered better than expected) the publisher may well decide to accept extra copies, so that the time when they’ll need to order a reprint is moved out a little. Tough negotiators will offer to accept these overs at no charge: I’d have agreed to paid for them at run-on cost; but I’m just a softie when it comes to supplier relations. Unlike many I regard the relationship as a partnership: if this sounds a bit old-fashioned, I fear it is.

The advent of digital printing, plus the forces of economics, which to some extent may be held responsible for the development of digital printing, have reduced the significance of overage. At the extreme end, true print-on-demand, overs aren’t an issue: the customer orders one copy, one copy is produced. If you’re printing a couple of hundred copies though, some of the pitfall-points listed above do come into play. Obviously damage can occur at random, but the crisis points are fewer, and it’s easier to get close the the ordered quantity on a digital press run than with other processes. Of course you may still have the spoilage allowances on the folding and binding lines to negotiate.

This is good news: less spoilage is good for us all, ecologically and economically, and being able to more accurately control your inventory makes publishing more profitable, or at least removes one hindrance to profitability.

“Open or public access is a good thing – how could it not be?” — thus Robert Harington, Head of the Publishing Division at the American Mathematical Society, writing at The Scholarly Kitchen. Well, of course, how it could not be is the burden of his piece. The proof of the pudding is all in the details: he points out that the goodness of the idea may depend on where you’re standing. The way we’re going seems to be to shift the cost of publication away from subscribers and onto authors (or the funding sources supporting their research). If you find it hard to afford the publication charges as younger researchers may, this will tend to be a mechanism for supporting the establishment among academics, while discriminating against the untenured. Nobody would really want to promote such a system, but that may be the effect of the direction we are going in, which many of us are keenly promoting.

Everyone may think it’s a great idea that Elsevier shouldn’t be able to make gross profits off research which we the taxpaying public have already funded. Open Access is an obvious solution: make the research available free, i.e. forbid the charging of subscriptions for access, and pay the costs of publication up front. Another Scholarly Kitchen article points out that it looks like babies may be at risk of being thrown out along with that bathwater. This is especially true in the medical world. Some journals, they point out, have been getting 15% of their subscription revenue from corporations: under the OSTP regime these corporations will, like the rest of us, be able to get access for free. A further wrinkle relates to payments for the translations of articles. Collections of translated articles have been used by corporations as overseas marketing tools. Payments for the rights to reproduce these papers has been large enough for its loss to be noticed. Just because corporations will get a break is perhaps not a reason to scrap the whole initiative, but that and the non-tenured problem does suggest that thought needs to be taken before leaps into the dark become irrevocable.

This round-up piece from Scholarly Kitchen reveals that the OSTP memo is regarded by its creators as only advisory, not a mandate, but as the essay reveals there remain problems especially with the humanities which seem to continue to be disregarded and disrespected. Just how significant this distinction turns out to be remains to be discovered, but it looks like we may need some rethinking.

This Public Books post, by Melanie Walsh works on the assumption that book sales data should be publicly available.

I’m not so sure. It may be interesting to wonder, “How many copies of Emily St. John Mandel’s pandemic novel Station Eleven were being sold in COVID-19 times compared to when the novel debuted in 2014? And what about Giovanni Boccaccio’s much older—14th-century—plague stories, The Decameron?” It may be interesting — but do we have any right to know? Might as well ask Ms Mandel how much she earns. After all her book income is based upon the number of copies sold, multiplied by the royalty, which is calculated off some percentage of the retail price. Even if we can’t be sure exactly how much she gets because we don’t know for sure what the royalty rate is and whether payments are based on the retail price or on net receipts, in which case we don’t know the average discount, these are things at which intelligent guesses can be made, with results which are, I think, even if only a range of probabilities, nobody’s business. It is for this reason, among no doubt others, that publishers’ boasts about the sales of their books are usually shrouded in vagueness. “Thousands” or even “bestselling”, rather than 101,276 or whatever.

BookScan data is a wonderful addition to the publisher’s armory, but BookScan provides only the data it gets. And it doesn’t get all of the data. They themselves only claim 85% coverage. For the publisher BookScan sales data is useful to have — they are available on subscription — but the really important number is the number of copies you’ve got left on hand (and, it’s true, the rate of sale too) so that you know when to order a reprint — not too soon so you fill up the warehouse with stock you pay for before you really had to, and not too late so that you can’r fulfill impatient demand. We rarely needed to know an exact sales number. If we did, I can remember going to the royalty payment operation to verify the facts.

“Bad book sales numbers can haunt an author ‘like a bad credit score,’ . . . and they can “caus[e] others to be hesitant to do business with them because of past failures.” This is presented as if it were a problem, but frankly, I can’t see what’s wrong with it. Credit scores may well mean something, may they not? How many baseball teams do we imagine have a hiring policy which aims at acquiring pitchers who have demonstrated an inability to hit the strike zone, and hitters who’ve never taken the bat off their shoulders. We’re in the business of selling books — isn’t the fact that your books have never sold at least a relevant consideration. Of course we all know (and we do all know it) that past performance is no guarantee of future success, but in a world where there are a million projects and you’re only able to properly evaluate about a hundred, ignoring past sales data is about as sensible as refusing to considering books unless they begin with the direct article or are written by people with red hair. I know we aren’t meant to say or even think things like this but there are just some authors who are incapable of writing a good book. If there weren’t, there probably wouldn’t, at the other end of the scale, be authors who could write a great one. No-one has a “right” to be published however disadvantaged the group they belong to may be. More importantly though, no-one should be (or is) excluded from the process simply because of their membership of any group whatsoever — except perhaps the group of incompetent and boring writers — though as perpetual optimists publishers will always believe that even members of that group have the change of breaking out.

An editor, who should know better, is quoted as saying “the sway of book sales figures has siphoned much of the creativity and originality out of contemporary book publishing”. There are two equal and opposite responses to this crazy claim: 1. when was publishing ever “creative and original”, and 2. publishing’s as creative and original as it ever was regardless of sales numbers. A third would be “When was this mythical time when these creative types were ignorant of the sales numbers of their books?”

The claim that the future of human culture is being determined by data also strikes me as nonsensical — the sort of thing you’d only come up with if you were a data analyst. Artists, while they no doubt welcome income, are not (mostly) driven to create their art by money or data. They are driven by the need to say something about the world. To the extent that the rest of us value their insight, so are they regarded as great or minor artists. The future of human culture is being driven, as ever, by the creativity of humans. Maybe someone can make art out of data, though I don’t think we know what that means just yet.

Link via Technology • Innovation • Publishing – Issue #214

This has never really been my problem, but apparently many people like to have prompts about their reading choices. BookRiot gives a review of a new service, Tertulia, which does seem like it might be quite good.

My unsuitability for the service is however indicated by my inability to answer their first question:

I’m not aware of reading books in any of these categories! Well I suppose I could select “Literature & Fiction” and as a second, “Poetry”, but these just seem too dauntingly wide to count as real categories. Might as well select “Books”.

Printing Impressions reports “The equilibrium between paper demand and supply within the printing industry continues to remain out of balance in North America, with no end in sight. Much of that has been driven by outright mill closures, numerous paper machine shutdowns, and the repurposing of existing mills to produce packaging, board stocks, and other high-value products instead of lower-margin printing grades.”

This much, I think, we all knew. It comes as a surprise therefore that this is the lead-in to a story about the closure of a Canadian paper mill. Who knows what’s going on? We do have to remember that there’s paper and then there’s paper. This mill however, on Vancouver Island in western Canada actually makes packaging grades, the very grades we had thought were in high demand, causing shortages in printing papers. However it does seem that their main market is in China. “Paper markets in China served by the mill have significantly weakened while there have been substantial cost escalations for chemicals, energy, and wood fibre used. . . The intersection of these pressures has materially impacted the financial viability of the paper operation.”

I’m sure they don’t need me to suggest that selling their product on this side of the ocean might have been an option. Shutting down a line is an expensive operation, and dealing with 150 redundancies and the severe blow that’ll have on your local economy is not something you casually drift into. They must have no practical alternatives.

This is apparently what they get up to at Grand Canyon University. As they say “We can all agree that literature plays an important role not just in sparking your imagination—but in shaping your educational career path and future goals.”

Not content to do the work for fiction alone, they repeat their analysis for non-fiction:

The impulse to thoroughness leads to their combo analysis: the bestseller overall:

Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers of 23 September.

Paper is sold by weight. In the days when most of our printing was done sheetfed, you had to be able to get to a number of pounds from the required number of sheets. This you could calculate in two steps: firstly by working out the number of sheets needed for each copy — if it’s printing 32 to view, i.e. 64 pages per sheet, your 256-page book will require 4 sheets per copy. Multiply that by the number of copies you plan to print, and add a spoilage allowance, which, if you didn’t already know it from experience, was something the printer could be coaxed into giving you, but would always be a “best guess”. With these numbers — Bob’s your uncle — a number of sheets. How much does each sheet weight though? This information is contained in the basis weight designation for the paper: if it’s 50# basis that means that a ream of this paper, if your sheet were to measure 25″ x 38″, would weigh 50 pounds. But of course your book is almost certainly not going to print on a sheet as small as 25″ x 38″ — this is just the standard sheet size used when we talk about book paper basis weight. These sorts of quaint old-fashioned things are there because they were first thought of eons ago. Who talks about reams now? But because it all works nobody’s changed it. (Metrication in Europe has greatly simplified this sort of thing.) So

M weight = Length of sheet x Width of sheet x Basis weight ÷ 950/2.

The number 950 is the product of 25 x 38 (the standard sheet size area). You’re calculating the area of the sheet you need to buy and dividing it by the area of the standard sheet which links you to weight. The 2 comes in because a ream is half of a thousand — 500 sheets. The answer to this equation, the weight of a thousand (M) sheets, is then multiplied by the number of thousands of sheets you need: and now you have it in pounds.