Archives for category: Book publishing

Once again we hear that audio books sales are up substantially. According to the report at Shelf Awareness sales rose 22.7% in 2017 to $2.5 billion. Units sales were up 21.5%. Over 46,000 audio books were published in the year.

Edison Research’s consumer research findings include the following:

  • More than half (54%) of audiobook listeners are under the age of 45.
  • Audiobook users also read print books: 83% of frequent listeners had read a print book in the last year and 79% had read an e-book.
  • Audiobook users read or listened to an average of 15 books during the year, and more than half (57%) agreed that “audiobooks help you finish more books.”
  • More and more audiobook listeners use smartphones: the percentage of listeners most often using smartphones to listen to audiobooks is 47% in 2018 vs. 29% in 2017 and 22% in 2015.
  • Smart speakers are becoming more popular: 24% of listeners said they have listened to audiobooks on a smart speaker and 5% said they listen most often on a smart speaker.
  • More than half (53%) of listeners say they most often listen to audiobooks at home and 36% say their car is where they listen most often.
  • The top three activities while listening to audiobooks are driving (65%), relaxing before going to sleep (52%) and doing housework/chores (45%).
  • The most popular genres in audiobooks were mysteries/thrillers/suspense, science fiction and romance.
  • 73% of audiobook consumers say they agree that listening to audiobooks is relaxing
  • 55% agreed or strongly agreed that they choose to listen to an audiobook “when they want some time” to themselves
  • The top three reasons people say they enjoy listening to audiobooks are: they can do other things while listening (81%); they can listen wherever they are (80%); and audiobooks are portable (75%).
  • Libraries remain major access channels for audiobooks and important drivers of audiobook discovery. A total 52% of people surveyed said borrowing from a library or its site was important or very important for discovering new audiobooks. Those saying they downloaded an audiobook from a library accounted for 43% of respondents and 14% said that they most often use the library for their digital listening.

Publishing Perspectives also carries a report.

Now we get news of research that tells us that audio books are more emotionally engaging than films. BookRiot links to The Guardian story. There’s a 10-minute video showing physiological reactions to viewing and hearing a passage from Game of Thrones. They seem not to have measured subjects engaged in just plain reading. The fact that the research project’s sample was only 102 subjects might, however, tend to reduce one’s awe at the results. Mine isn’t too high anyway: I always think of viewing TV or video as a rather passive pastime.

Perspective always helps. In the same Shelf Awareness issue we are told that Barnes & Noble’s sales fell by 6% to $3.7 billion. $2.5 billion in sales of audio books is a lot — and very encouraging — but it’s not so large that we need to close all the printing presses. Print book sales rose 1.9% in 2017 according to NPD. The rise in print book unit sales during 2017 came to 13,100,000 copies more than in 2016, for a total of 687,230,000 (still less than ten years ago). This rather puts in context the audio increase, where the total universe is only 3,327,000 according to NPD (whose figures may have been superseded as they also show a decline for the year. I suppose it is possible that units could decline while revenues increase, though it’s a large gap.) I often find myself having to insist that while a casual reference to a 50% increase on a total of 100, may sound rather impressive, it is nevertheless exceeded by a 1% increase on 5001, an increase which the media would tend to treat as rather trivial. We went through this sort of hype with the percentage increase in sales of ebooks a few years ago. Small numbers will tend to increase in apparently large leaps, but the curve levels off as the numbers get higher. Panic should not be allowed to set in.

I wonder how many of these audio titles were self-published. Amazon dominates the market after its acquisition of Audible, and they do offer a self publishing option on that platform. Publishers Weekly did a round up of self-publishing audio options in 2015.



You get them all the time in magazines, and quite often in books.

Here’s an example provided by Neglected Books.* What Simon and Schuster were after was not of course your opinion on the book. What they wanted was your name and address so as to add you to their mailing list.


Library of America tends to have one in each of their volumes. I use them as bookmarks — I can never be bothered with those ribbon markers. The LOA cards are explicitly asking for your name for their mailing list, but they also ask that question about how you heard about the book. I wonder how much attention they pay to the answers: it’s nice to know your readers heard about the book through a book review, but is knowing this going to make you send out more review copies? I suspect the cost of recording the data is more than any value to be gained from it.

Blow-in cards are usually randomly blown into a magazine by a special attachment to the line. Book manufacturing lines tend not to include this facility which is much less commonly required, and thus blow-ins in books will more likely have been inserted by hand at the same time as the jacket is being put on.

More rarely you may find advertisements printed in the back of a book. Usually these are merely ads for other books from the same publisher, but ads for other products were energetically solicited by book publishers in the sixties and seventies of the last century, and during Victorian times. The Digital Reader has an account of the history and new on-line initiatives.

Photo: Toptenz



* Neglected Books is a great site that deserves more attention that this aside. They direct attention onto forgotten books and authors. Nowadays, with the availability short-run techniques and ebook publication making the cost of republishing a book much less than it once was, this site is no doubt being followed by lots of publishers.

It doesn’t all have to be about literature and making a contribution to culture.

On Kindle Direct Publishing people are putting together ebooks with no original material (other than the packaging) and gaming the system by incentivizing their “readers” to go straight to the last page to hear about a prize. As Amazon pays by number of pages read but cannot tell whether each page has actually been read or just passed over, this technique enables the “author” to receive large per-page payments. The cunning writer can include several other worthless books available separately in order to boost the page count. Apparently the maximum length you can achieve is 3,000 pages, for which the author will be paid $13.50 every time someone “reads” it to the end. Because Amazon’s system is so automated they really have no way of preventing this other than by taking down the author’s page and all its offerings at the Kindle Unlimited store. According to BookRiot, this they have now done in the case of Chance Carter, whose story was recently recounted by The Digital Reader, and again here a week later. Inc. has a good article which makes the methodology of the scam clear enough that you too can become a free-loader.

The self-described “bad boy” still has an Amazon presence, so the curious may apparently still buy his books.


























One assumes that all Chance need do now is take another nom de plume and begin again. This almost seems clever enough to deserve it’s reward: though of course I have to insist that crime never pays.

As further illustration of Amazon’s struggling to keep on the straight and narrow here’s a story from TorentFreak about their offering books telling you how to set up pirate video streaming, while at the same time working to eradicate pirate video streaming.


. . . but is it the right way?

The Borders Council (I’m relieved to note that my cousin is no longer a member) has decreed that a pupil or a volunteer parent can easily fill the functions of librarian and three Border schools (one of which I attended a year or two ago). They claim that the “job” will teach pupils leadership skills. Och aye? BookRiot carries a link to The Guardian‘s story which gives the third site as Hawick, whereas The Herald story linked to there says Kelso, as does the BBC.

Knee jerking demands resistance to the plan — the general secretary of the the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union is quoted as saying “Seeking to replace such [library] staff with the unpaid labour of pupils is folly of the highest order”. But I wonder if things are as bad as the objectors imply. Yes, it’s true that a qualified librarian can provide direction, but is direction really needed? I never attended a school which boasted such an employee, and we seemed to get through OK. Maybe wee Jimmy from Form 6 can check books in and out and provide advice just as well as a starchy librarian. After all, the readers he’ll be advising are his peer group, and what he has enjoyed might be expected to be what they’d enjoy. In so far as resources are web-based, his advice might well be better.

Galashiels Public Library

Frankly I think it’s a bit of overkill for Gala Academy to have had a librarian at all. Isn’t taking the money spent on that and diverting it to other purposes only sense? All local authorities are always short of money, and prioritizing expenditure is a necessary part of governing. Seems to me it’s better to pay teachers — or even buy a book or two — than to hire a librarian. Now, if it was the librarian at the town’s public library who was being replaced with a school kid, my knee might be jerking more.

£24,000 a year may not be riches beyond your wildest dreams, but as a starter salary for writers it’s not too shabby. De Montfort Literature, a new publisher, makes the offer to writers “who pass its selection process, which includes an algorithm that is ‘designed to identify career novelists’, psychometric tests and interviews.” The Guardian has the story about this offer. Ten lucky writers will get a job, and presumably be asked to buckle down to work right away. If De Montfort’s psychometric testing has any real basis in reality, this could work. At the very least, entering your name in the contest might be seen as a willingness to work.

Jonathan De Montfort says “I have taken what I know about hedge fund management and applied it to literature”, which may raise a frisson of concern among the generality of potential hires.

I imagine that the books written will be work made for hire. As such the copyright will be owned by De Montfort, so their offer to give their authors 50% of the profits is quite generous. They also offer to “share copyright with an author” which means whatever it may mean. Of course, definition of profit is always a bit variable. But all in all this seems like a good idea. Will there be performance reviews in a year or two, maybe even with the possibility of a pay raise or the sack?


Photo: Rosenbach Museum & Library

The first known printed bookplate, as Hyperallergic boldly claims, dates from 1480. You can see from the photo of that bookplate that this label, printed in black only and hand-colored, was pasted into a manuscript book.

Hilprand Brandenburg, clearly a 15th century early adopter, stuck at least 450 of these bookplates into volumes he donated to the Buxheim Carthusian monastery near Memmingen. The book illustrated is from the collection of The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, who last year organized a bookplate show called “The Art of Ownership: Bookplates and Book Collectors from 1480 to the Present”. Probably because the exhibition closed in March 2017, the link in Hyperallergic‘s article no longer works. You can find the Rosenbach’s note about the exhibition here.

You’ve got to have some fairly valuable books, I’d think, to want to put a bookplate in them. Of course in the early days of book production books were exactly that: rather expensive, thus valuable objects. Sticking a bookplate in a mass market paperback would surely make you look slightly foolish.

Apparently as a security device the bookplate was preceded by book curses, often added to a manuscript as by the scribe an awful warning. Here’s an example from Bibliomania and the Medieval Book Curse: “Whoever steals this book let him die the death; let be him be frizzled in a pan; may the falling sickness rage within him; may he be broken on the wheel and be hanged.” That should do it. Of course chaining the book to the shelf was another satisfactory security method.

Link to Hyperallergic‘s story thanks to Kathy Sandler.

See also Plates/inserts.

Digital printing is made up of two separate approaches. There are toner-based systems, and ink jet systems. The toner side is better established, having been a growing factor in book work for the past 25 years. Ink jet is just beginning to get established as the primary technology for books, though it has been around for about as long.

There’s no doubt now that digital printing is a solid part of the book manufacturing scene. Not only can publishers print fewer and fewer copies — a highly desirable ability in uncertain times — but the quality of digital print is now every bit as good as offset, and in some respects I’d argue, superior. For instance the catalog for The New York Book Industry Guild’s 2015 Annual Book Show was printed digitally (ink jet) for the first time: see the photo below. In an offset world the pale blue tints — made up of tiny dots of blue ink — which appear on almost every page would have been difficult to hold consistent, as their color would be affected by the colors used on the rest of each individual page. Some photos will call for more blue ink, others for more yellow etc. In an offset job, to serve that need more blue, or yellow ink will need to be delivered to that area. This ink can’t instantly disappear when the press revolves on to the next part of the book needing to be printed. If that’s just a page of black text, no problem, but if it’s a color tint, the ink buildup needed for individual halftones would make the background tint vary slightly from one track to another. On a digital press the ink deposited can be exactly right every time. (See Printing methods.)

Here’s a report on a 2016 Ricoh seminar from Book Business Magazine. which projects steady growth in digital printing. Notable in the projections, regardless of whether you think the projections are too high or too low, is the contrast between percentage of production and percentage of sales volume. Avoidance of unsold inventory is going to loom larger and larger in publishers’ planning.

Digital printing first made its appearance in the office environment, and was soon adopted for short-run book manufacturing. Initially this was available only for black and white work — which of course means about 90% of serious books — and this made it initially ideal for academic publishing. I recently discovered a couple of memos I wrote in 1982 in which I advocated for the setting up in our warehouse of a digital print engine plus a small binding line so that we could print one-off books in response to customer orders. This seems to me to be extraordinarily early for such a thing to be possible, but hey, you can call me a dreamer. In fact the first real digital book printer, Integrated Book Technology, wasn’t established till 1991. I’m not sure when the first on-demand setups in publishers’ warehouses were, but I don’t think it happened earlier than about 2005. Here, from Edwards Brothers Malloy, a pioneer in this regard tragically closing their doors this week, is a neat little illustration of why digital printing works.


In the offset scenario 750 copies are manufactured and paid for. Publishers have long been hung up on the unit cost of production, a number which is often used to in calculating the retail price of the book. But of course the unit cost per copy sold is really the important number; you just don’t happen to know it ahead of time. You may claim that the 350 you hadn’t sold by the end of the 20-month period measured in the EBM scenario will eventually be sold: and so they may, but “eventually” might be a long time, and does come with a cost. Your capital is tied up in slow moving inventory, and you have to keep a warehouse going to house it all. If you don’t print the book till after you’ve received an order, you clearly avoid holding unsold copies in stock, even though each individual copy has cost you more.

BIGNY did a meeting in March, reported on at Book Business Magazine. Perhaps the most important message heard at this meeting relates to the economic difficulties presented by ink jet printing today. Paradoxically a technology which is ideal for shorter and shorter print runs really has an economic model which demands longer runs. The equipment costs a lot, and the per page cost is higher than printers are accustomed to. Maybe, as we have become accustomed to in the era of Moore’s law, both machines, and perhaps most importantly, inks will come down in price. Or perhaps we publishers will get used to paying the economic price for such a convenient technology. Still it’s evident that nobody’s junking their last offset machine just yet.

See also Print on demand.


Edwards Brothers Malloy announced on 31 May that they were closing completely. Publishers Lunch was first with the news, closely followed by Publishers Weekly. Only in February this year EBM had decided to cut back offset operations in their Lillington, NC plant, focussing that part of the business in Ann Arbor, MI. This was to have resulted in the loss of 100 jobs by the end of this year. Obviously a total closure affects many more.

The brief note on their website today (1 June) reads:

It is with heavy hearts we announce that Edwards Brothers Malloy will be closing our doors as of June 15. We are working with prospective buyers for our Fulfillment operation and should have information within the next few days. We continue to operate business as usual and will keep you updated as we have information. If the need arises, we will work with you to retrieve your inventory.

As you can imagine, this is a difficult time for our employees as we work through the process of shutting down our facilities while finishing projects for our customers with work in-house. We do, however, want to take this moment to thank you for your support and business through the years. Our employees and customers have been the cornerstone of our 125-year history.

We wish you all the best going forward.

John Edwards and Bill Upton

Clearly John Edwards’ February assessment of the state of the market “We continue to see shrinking demand for offset printing and double-digit growth in digital printing” has become even worse. But double digit growth in a smaller segment of your business cannot necessarily offset shrinkage in the larger part.

Of course one cannot know the full story of the company’s financial position, but it did look like they were making the right moves. They had an established position in short-to-medium-run offset, and were moving steadily into digital printing in response to demand for ever shorter print runs from their university press and other “serious” publishing customers. They even had a proper print-on-demand operation (making one book at a time). For a number of years they offered to set up a POD line in a publisher’s warehouse, so that “out of print” books could be manufactured while the rest of a customer’s order was being fulfilled from stock, and ship out along with that order. Maybe the problem results from their consolidation/expansion in what is surely a shrinking market.

In the meantime, if you work in the manufacturing department of a publishing house, be alert. EBM is/was our 6th largest book manufacturing supplier. Think where all that work which till a couple of days ago was locked up at Edwards Brothers Malloy is going to go. Talk to your suppliers and book time for your books. Don’t leave it till big shouldered competitors have gobbled up all the press time. We’ve become used to being able to get a reprint in a couple of weeks. Now press capacity is being reduced at the same time as the paper market is becoming tighter. Take care.


Clearly Upwork is hoping that a frustrated author short of time but with money to spare (though not so much that they don’t still ride the New York City subway) is going to get off the L train at 3rd Avenue — and who am I to say that that’s never going to happen?

Of course, Upwork offers more services than just ghostwriting. One suspects that writing of any kind must be a bit of a minority profit center among their freelance offerings. But still, we can all endorse the message. Please get on with it George R. R.!

“A ghostwriter is a writer who is paid to write for someone else, under that person’s name. It is most commonly associated with publishing a book, but today it is also widely used in public relations, corporate communications, social media, and many other industries and fields that are producing greater and greater amounts of written content.” Thus Valerie Petersen at The balance. What after all is a speech writer?

There’s a whole lot of it going on, but naturally it doesn’t always go smoothly. Peter Carey was apparently invited to be the ghostwriter for fellow Australian Julian Assange’s autobiography, but turned the job down with the thought “Two control-freaks? It wouldn’t work.” In the event the collaboration between Assange and Andrew O’Hagan was fraught and broke down as The Guardian reports. O’Hagan says “the man who put himself in charge of disclosing the world’s secrets simply couldn’t bear his own. The story of his life mortified him and sent him scurrying for excuses. He didn’t want to do the book. He hadn’t from the beginning.”

Roz Morris offers to teach you how to get into ghostwriting. Her course is described on Jane Friedman’s blog. There’s a link there to Ms Morris’ more general paper on becoming a ghostwriter. MentalFloss has Nine Secrets of Ghostwriters, where we can learn that “ghostwriters can get paid anything between $15,000 and $150,000”. This may be true for James Patterson’s team, for instance, but I’ll bet there are lots who may get paid something less than that too!

Fiverr has scads of ghostwriters offering their services. How is one to judge? The border between editorial rewriting and ghostwriting is not a hard line. One will shade easily into the other. Maybe the difference boils down merely to the intention. If a publisher or author hires a ghostwriter they may give direction, but will be getting a first look at the manuscript once the ghostwriter has done the job. With an extensive rewrite, the editor/ghostwriter will be getting an already-written manuscript with the task of improving it. Like so much freelance work you get it because you are known to the person doing the hiring, and are known to be good at the sort of thing required.

It may come as a surprise to many of her readers, but Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew books was in fact a collaboration of dozens of different authors. Marissa Martinelli blows their cover at Slate. (Link via The Passive Voice.)


It’s comforting to see scientific research which tells us we’ve been doing the right thing all along. NPR has a story What’s Going on in Your Child’s Brain When You Read Them a Story? which reports on research into the reaction of kids to different types of stories as measured by fMRI. It seems that “just right” lies exactly where Goldilocks has always told publishers it should: text which a parent can read out, accompanied by pictures a child can look at. More digital “enhancements” end up being too much; text alone, too little.

Such is our eagerness for this sort of comforting news that we are willing to discount the awkward fact that the research is actually only based on a sample of 27 kids. Still, it sounds true, doesn’t it?

Link via The Passive Voice.