Archives for the month of: December, 2022

We saw recently New York City’s assessment that the average salary for book publishing was $119,000.

Here is Publishers Weekly‘s salary survey for 2022 which paints a rather different picture: a median 2021 salary of $72,500. Of course this picture is being painted by only 577 people, but it does seem to have a more convincing feel to it.

Naturally we all always believe we are not being paid enough, but when all’s said and done publishing’s such good fun that you can’t really complain. And anyway, averages and medians are not too much help — you’re paid what you’re paid, or are able to win, and pay levels will be different in different companies. We talk about it as if publishing was a coherent industry or business, but it is of course just a bunch of individual companies, all with different experiences.

In an industry with apparently only 20% males, it remains striking how in all job categories the gender pay gap persists. PW suggests that the main reason for this is that the men represented in the survey are concentrated in management and have more years on the job. Maybe we are working our way through the few remaining men left in the business, and when the last few of them have retired, they’ll no longer be there to muck up the numbers!

Maybe. LitHub has their annual shot at this, showing their selection of 103 best covers of the year.

Best is a hard word. If forced to choose one, I’d go for this twister:

Daisy at Beautiful Books spends about an hour in the video below going through her 60 Most Beautiful Books of 2022 (or prettiest, something slightly different). This is actually worth a watch. A listing of the books covered, and more, can be found here. Sorry it’s too late here to serve as a holiday gift guide — unless you like to mark the New Year.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser. (Link via David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen,)

The Economist tells us “The grim state of publishing in China has contributed to her [Sally Rooney’s] status. As censorship tightens, resources are flowing to publications linked to the Communist Party. Bestseller lists mostly comprise classics and science fiction, both deemed politically acceptable. Stories that deal frankly with contemporary issues are scarce. Ms Tian, Ms Yang and Ms Miao [local book readers and bloggers] all struggle to name good recent novels by Chinese authors.”

Sally Rooney’s books are apparently appreciated in China because “they combine feminist tales of urban life with earnest thoughts on capitalist exploitation”. Lots of Chinese are coping with the stresses of having moved from the countryside into big cities, and clearly criticism of the other way is always likely to make your own system seem a little better. Despite its “grim state” Chinese publishing does nevertheless seem to be capable of bringing translations of Ms Rooney’s books to her (large) Chinese public.

While this sort of story, like Communist Russia’s erstwhile samizdat publishing regime, doesn’t prove that mere anarchy is right, it does clearly indicate that a directed publishing industry doesn’t work well. Commentators who love to snarl that “publishing” should do this or do that, please note.

Here is an announcement from Shelf Awareness‘ 15 December issue:

James Patterson has selected the independent booksellers who are beneficiaries of his Holiday Bookstore Bonus Program, which in October he said would go to 500 booksellers in $500 increments. As he has done in previous years, Patterson pledged a substantial amount–$250,000 this fall — to fund the program. The complete list of recipients can be seen on the American Booksellers Association’s website.

A successful author ploughing some of his earnings back into the business which helps sell his books is truly something to be applauded. We hope that Mr Patterson’s generosity is rewarded by even better sales!

Mr Patterson’s generosity seems to know no bounds. He is now announced at Publishers Lunch as signing on to “complete an unfinished manuscript by Michael Crichton, who died in 2008, the WSJ reports. The as-yet-untitled novel was sold to Little, Brown by Shane Salerno for production company CrichtonSun and Robert Barnett for Patterson, and is about ‘a mega-eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano that can destroy not just the island but the entire world’ due to a secret cache of chemical weapons. It’s scheduled to be published in 2024.”

How long can this game go on? I’m always impressed at the ability of publishers to sell into a market where just about everything is already available free of charge. The introductory material which publishers, intent of giving at least the appearance of value for money, insist on providing, never seemed to me to be worth much. Of course, removing it wouldn’t reduce the price of the book by a huge amount if at all, and no doubt much of this belling and whistling is there in order to persuade Professor X that this is the version of text to use in their course.

Whatever, despite it all being easily available at Project Gutenberg, most people still do seem to want to read their books in physical form. I keep wondering if that’s because of some fundamental trait of human beings, or because we haven’t gotten totally used to digital reading yet, or because ebook formats remain stuck in the digital Stone Age.

Publishers Weekly reports on the activities of a few of the publishers alive in this classics-repackaging business. One editor suggests “An especially inspired pairing of authors can imbue an old text with new relevance or highlight its enduring influence”.  I wonder if this effect has ever been detected in the mind of a book buyer looking for something to read. Maybe if you love Toni Morrison, you’ll consider Camara Layé. I suppose once in a blue moon it might function a little bit like a trusted friend telling you they’d enjoyed this or that book; and this might just make you buy it. Much thought is given in the article to the distinction between Introduction and Foreword. Sometimes these bits even come as Afterwords, which always strikes me as the right location. If I ever read them, it’s not until after I’ve read the book itself — even with a classic text I like to avoid spoilers.

Fore-edge painting used to be a one-off highly deluxe operation, involving a craftsman taking up paint brush and painting the trimmed edges of a book. See Fore-edge painting and Fore-edge painting again.

Now a design can be affordably applied to the trimmed edges of a complete edition of a book thanks to digital printing technology. This video shows it happening, and very little else: just line up the trimmed books, clamp them tightly, and let your little Chinese-made ink-jet print head do the rest.

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

Theoretically book edges don’t have to be printed only digitally: you could do them by silk screen or even at a stretch I suppose by offset, but the cumbersomeness of setting up such a system would doubtless make it prohibitively expensive. This digital system will obviously add cost, but not so much extra that nobody can afford to use it: here’s Waterstone’s special edition of Lessons in Chemistry with the elements printed on the fore-edge; top and bottom are plain blue. They’ve also given it fancy ends, using the same design as appeared on the preprinted case of the trade edition.

Cambridge University Press and Assessment have digitized their thirty-four Christmas books. An account is published in Fine Books Magazine. The Press’ own announcement doesn’t suggest any way in which you might be able to consult these scans. They are part of the CUP archive at the University Library. Apply at the front desk?

If you’re not letting the masses look at them, what’s the point of scanning these books? Is it only a belts-and-braces sort of archivists’s trick. A bit like “You’ll never steal another Darwin’s notebook from us”? CUP have been asked by Publishing Perspectives to let them know when (if ever) the scans do become publicly available. Archivists no doubt regard the existence and survival of these items as sufficient justification in itself. Wishing to keep archival materials “forever” is a human characteristic, whether forever is really forever, or just means “until I’m gone”. Surely anyone who wants to study a printer’s presentation books will want to see the books themselves — after all their physical properties are a huge and basic part of the effect, and the point.

I suppose it’s OK, is it, that we live in a world where the words “hi-res digital copy” inspire automatic respect? My recent Gentileschi post went on about this.

The AI Sages was allegedly written, designed, and published in 12 hours with zero expenditure. (News via Technology • Innovation • Publishing.)

Here are the authors.

This morning NPR’s Morning Edition had a piece on the chatbot ChatGPT, which you can listen to at this link. The work of OpenAI’s ChatGPT can look totally convincing, but it really knows nothing and can also lie to you totally convincingly. You can ask it questions of fact, as well as request that it write you a poem about frogs: and it’ll respond with total conviction. Even its creators warn that ChatGPT “may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information”. The Morning Edition conclusion: this sort of application of artificial intelligence may increase our intellectual capacity by a hundred times, but it may make us unnecessary — if we manage to get the bugs out, which I guess mainly means feed it more information.

CNET has a review of the bot.

Apparently students are using it to help with essays — to make the student essay redundant? Obviously ChatGPT can be used to generate text for a book. I don’t plan to get a copy of The AI Sages in order to check its work product, nor have I tested ChatGPT’s capacities, though it is available free of charge for the time being. Is this sort of AI capacity something book publishing can learn to cope with? Does it matter that the text of this or that book is nothing more than a lightly edited version of computer output? I kind of think it does, but I’m not sure I can express just why that it. Of course if you can just go to ChatGPT itself to get the information why bother to pay for a book? Is this the worm which’ll eat out the heart of our business?

The words “Tournament of Books” raise keen expectations of a modernized medieval jousting contest with contestants mounted on e-bikes, charging at one another, throwing books in an attempt to unseat their opponent. This exciting-sounding announcement comes from BookRiot, whose 12 December message reads:

Tournament of Books has just announced their 19th edition for the year 2023 . For the tournament, two books from the shortlist are read and evaluated by one of the judges on each weekday in March, starting March 8. One of those books is then chosen to advance to the next round. This goes on through the month of March until one book wins. This year’s judges are Abayomi Animashaun, Ahsan Butt, A. Cerisse Cohen, Adam Dalva’s, Nathan Deuel, Summer Farah, Torsa Ghosal, Calvin Kasulke, ML Kejera, Lauren Markham, Christina Orlando, Aminah Mae Safi, Santiago Jose Sanchez, Nicola Twilley, Olivia Waite, Katy Waldman, and Xuan Juliana Wang. You can see the full list of shortlisted books and participate in the tournament’s Zombie Poll here.

Turns out it’s a bibliomaniacal version of March madness.

Those who wish to vote in their Zombie Poll for the overall winner have until midnight (Eastern Standard Time) on Friday 16 December — tomorrow. Here’s the layout for all the rounds:

If you click on this picture, you may be able to read it!

From Nate Hoffelder’s weekly email of links comes this piece from the Internet Archives Blog reminding us that Digital Books Wear out Faster than Physical Books.

We used to hear a lot about how computer advances would, with the passage of time, render inaccessible lots of things we then relied upon. Changes in computer languages, software, conventions, whatever would inevitably make reading that antique floppy disk impossible. I imagine it’s hard to read old Wang files today. We don’t hear as much about this any more. Maybe this is because we’ve taken the warning on board, hired IT departments, and constantly refresh the archive, or maybe (same thing in a way) we just assume it’s someone else’s problem, and we’ll be kept all right: after all don’t our computer companies keep on sending us directions to upgrade to their new operating system? Of course “being all right” tends, in this world, to mean paying some more money to upgrade your software so that it can still decipher those hieroglyphic files. This is just another reminder of how far from true ownership your relationship with your ebook library really is. (Though if you can read it and enjoy it, what difference does ownership really make?)

Even though in The Foundation series, millennia in the future, they buzzed around reading ebooks, they nevertheless had a vast central library. What was kept therein? Printed books do make for a pretty solid archive. You just put them away, and a couple of centuries later there they are waiting for you to take them off the shelf again. Of course, paper will eventually disintegrate — modern archival papers are claimed to be good for 1,000 years, though nobody’s been around long enough to test this claim — and one can easily argue that a water-tight update protocol could make digital files more survivable than paper ones. Still, who’s going to commit our descendants to a regular re-running of every ebook file in the world? Or in the complementary scenario, to printing a new POD copy every 1,000 years? And who’s going to pay for it? Not our problem! — Let’s just hope they still care about what we’ve put in the archive.