Archives for category: Book publishing

Will the new tariffs on Chinese goods be implemented or not? Despite our President’s repeated assertion that Americans are not paying the cost of the tariffs he’s imposed thus far, it turns out that he thinks it right to delay the implementation of much of his new round till after the Christmas season, because he doesn’t want to increase the cost of the holiday for the very people he’s always telling us don’t pay this cost. “We’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers”.

Bibles and other religious books are omitted from the tariff list altogether. No doubt we can thank the “base” for this exemption. Along with iPhones certain categories of book — children’s picture, drawing and coloring books — as Publishers Weekly tells us, will not be subject to tariffs till 15 December. However all other books printed in China, including trade, education, and professional titles, are still subject to the 10% tariffs which are scheduled to take effect on 1 September. Of course, as in so many instances, the President may change his mind yet again! Stock markets around the world have become accustomed to bouncing up and down again in response to yet another volatile White House tweet. In the meantime should we look for publishers to emphasize the religious aspect of their novels and argue that they are really religious books? Much more likely, because of the rather short lead-time in book printing, orders will just be placed elsewhere. Chinese book manufacturers may be able to reduce their prices to counter this move, but when all’s said and done, where you print your book is a straightforward economic decision. This will of course only worsen the capacity crunch in the US book manufacturing industry. Look for delays.

See also Tariffs.

I bought this book shortly after arriving in America, probably in the summer or fall of 1974. (You can click on the images to enlarge them to read the back cover copy.) They don’t make books like this any more, and I don’t just mean the price. It’s printed on a nice bit of paper — looks like S. D. Warren’s 1854 MF to me; that’s a sheet I loved and used all the time back then. But it’s bound to fail: back then our adhesives were really pretty lousy, and a perfect bound book was a book almost destined to fall into loose-leaf format after a while. I’ve read this copy three or four times. You may be able to see the packaging tape repair holding the front and back cover to the spine. I’ve had to read it very carefully, resisting as far as possible bending the spine, and have managed to keep it all in one piece — till last week when a gust of wind whipped it open and blew the first page of Malcolm Cowley’s Introduction into the bushes. Of course I got it back, but there it is, a loose page ready to get lost. Ah well, it should have died hereafter.

The book is, of course, still in print, but now the paper is worse, while the binding is better, although still of course perfect.

The Portable Faulkner is renowned among all the Portables, which were published by The Viking Press who were located on Madison Avenue just above 57th Street; 57th and Madison is where Cambridge’s US offices were in those days too. They are now, inevitably, part of Penguin Random House. Malcolm Cowley compiled and edited it in 1945 when as he puts it “Faulkner’s books were little read and often disparaged.” It isn’t altogether inaccurate to say that the volume was the making of Faulkner. It was 1950 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The author took an active part in the compilation of this volume, which includes short stories and extracts from the novels, and wrote a history of the Compson family for inclusion in the book. His continuing output necessitated a revised and expanded edition in 1967: he had died in 1962. The renown of the book is based upon Mr Cowley’s ability to sort out the jumbled account of the growth of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County which comes in here, there and everywhere in Faulkner’s oeuvre in no coherent chronological sequence. If the experience of reading Faulkner wasn’t so wonderful in whichever book or order you attempt, this would be the best way to understand his world. It remains the best way for the initiate to enter the world of Yoknapatawpha.

I assume that I bought this book in White Plains in that big bookstore on Mamaroneck Avenue which soon went out of business, selling off its inventory by reducing every price by 50% each week. I got several rather dull books — but they were cheap. I can tell this was when I had it because of the marks down the fore-edge. I had been given a huge car by my boss, the admirable Jack Schulman — maybe I had to give him something for it, just to keep things straight. It was one of these large, long cars, with fins, in a slightly stained pale blue. Plymouth is the word that floats into my mind. It eventually got stolen just across from St John the Divine: my reaction (I swear) was “Damn. Someone’s taken my parking place”. Anyway, the car wouldn’t start one day — flat battery. Simple solution: I took it out, put it in the basket of my bike and took it into the garage on my way to work, picking it up, fully charged, in the evening. For those who doubt there’s acid involved in car batteries, please observe the dark marks where the book which I was reading on the train rested against the battery terminals. It has eaten out interesting semicircles in the back cover.

Amazingly I once went to dinner with Mr Cowley and his wife in their Connecticut home. (He was a friend of my then wife’s then boss.) I didn’t take the book for signing. I was still a self-absorbed jerk in those days and hadn’t yet managed to work out that many authors are pleased and flattered by being asked to sign their books. I strive to imagine that Red Warren dropped by after dinner, but though he was a neighbor he did not. Malcolm Cowley was a member of that now extinct (?) species, the man of letters. He seemed to know everyone; to have read everything; and to have sensible balanced judgements about everything, which he was able to present in clear elegant prose. He did also write good poetry. Quiet, gracious and generous — would there were more like that.

The penultimate piece in the book, “The Jail” is the prologue to Act III of Requiem for a Nun (1951). Earlier in that work Gavin Stevens, no doubt speaking for the author, says “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Faulkner’s reaction to this perpetual potentially explanatory presence of the past was a wish to include everything in a single sentence. “My ambition is to put everything into one sentence — not only the present but the whole past on which it depends and which keeps overtaking the present, second by second.” This piece, at bottom a riff on the name engraved into the glass of the window of the Jefferson jailhouse, Cecilia Farmer April 16th 1861 — though of course also a history of everything — is 39 pages long in this edition and consists of two sentences. The first is 32 words long. When one reaches the end the effect of the final words “Listen, stranger; this was myself; this was I” is heart wrenching. You look over your shoulder to see Walt Whitman watching you on the Brooklyn ferry.


Faber & Faber is* celebrating its ninetieth anniversary with the publication of a book by Toby Faber, grandson of the founder, entitled Faber & Faber: The Untold Story. The book is reviewed in The New Yorker by Jonathan Galassi of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (who owned Faber’s US operations from 1998 to 2015).

It all started with a magazine, The Nursing Mirror which was originally published by The Scientific Press owned by the Gwyer family. In 1925 the company recruited Geoffrey Faber who had been working at Oxford University Press, and had like Maurice Gwyer become a Fellow of All Souls. The company was renamed Faber & Gwyer but in 1929 the The Nursing Mirror was sold and the Gwyers moved on, leaving Geoffrey Faber on his own. He chose to call the company Faber & Faber although he was the only Faber involved — maybe he was hoping his 2-year-old son Tom would come in too — but he became a don at Cambridge University. Tom’s major gift to the company’s success may have been as the intended first audience for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats whose author was his godfather and had been a director of the company since its 1925 inception. A share of the sub-rights and royalty income generated by Cats was to say the least helpful to the company in staying independent while no longer small.

See the Faber blog for links to a decade by decade history of the company. These eight pieces are all extracts from the essay “A History of Faber” by John Mullan.

Robert McCrum remembers his time at Faber in this piece at The Guardian. His article is stimulated by publication of some of the correspondence conducted at the company. Samples may be found here. (Link via Book Business Magazine.) Pete Townshend, another Faber celeb editor, recalls his time there.

That Faber & Faber has published many iconic books is beyond doubt. Their poetry list is especially strong, not perhaps too surprising in a company whose editorial director was for so long T. S. Eliot. On their blog they offer a selection of influential books selected by staff.


* Or should one write “Faber & Faber are celebrating their . . .”? I believe this is another of these British English/American English differences. I’m a bit confused about which way is which, though I think the UK goes for plural, US for singular. This UK tendency may be reinforced by the tendency to add an “s” to the end of a company name. Thus “Headspeaths are selling mince at £1 a lb this week”. To keep my confusion going though, you can find answers to a Google search on this singular/plural question which assert exactly the opposite. I think the long and the short of it all is that whether you are British or American you can write whichever you prefer, or better suits the rhythm of your sentence. Or even what is in your head: if you visualize Headspeaths as a bunch of members of the Headspeath family retailing meat in Galashiels then you’ll think of their business as plural. If you think of Faber & Faber as a place good books come from, then maybe you’ll be more inclined to refer to it in the singular.

“Let your favorite author read to you with JEM, the first hologram-based reader.” Who could resist? Unfortunately neither hBooks nor the JEM reader exists. It was all just an April fool’s gag.

This is sad, because this does seem like a technology that could be really interesting. The idea comes from Quirk Books of Philadelphia who do not disclose just how they’d get Jane Austen to pose for a hologram, or indeed record her reading of Emma etc. Still, it’s a nice dream. Please, someone, get to work on this.

Quirk Books have a nice blog too.

Now, it is true that holograms have featured in books before April 1st of this year. Inevitably the word gets stretched to cover a variety of techniques to create an apparently shifting image. Holographic foil has been available for a few years, but I don’t count that as truly holographic: it just looks a bit different when viewed from different angles. It’s like lenticular printing: lenticular images originate from several pictures taken from slightly different angles. When combined they give the impression of movement. A holographic image originates from a 3D scan, allowing you to see the object from different angles. Most of the books made with a “holographic cover” actually have a bit of lenticular printing. The same would be true of that gigantic Jesus whose eyes would follow you around the CBA exhibition many years ago.

Here’s a link to German book-manufacturing company Brandbook showing a large variety of cover embellishment techniques. As always, the trouble with most of these is that they cost a fortune.


John Conley ruminates at Book Business Magazine on the changes occurring under our eyes in the book manufacturing industry. Not sure I’m entirely comfortable with calling that “the book value chain”, but there’s no pressure on me to sound like I’m up-to-date and tuned in.

Consolidation continues — though we should note that LSI and Quad Graphics have just agreed to stop their merger, mainly I guess because of government objections. Book Business Magazine has this story too. A small dip in print sales for books can’t really have anything to do with it, though The Bookseller‘s article is linked to in the same issue of the magazine.

So we just won’t be quite as consolidated as we might have been, though there are undoubtedly fewer book manufacturers out there. Publishers are now looking at forging ever closer relationships with their suppliers, rather than playing one off against the other as we used cavalierly to do. It’s also a matter of concern that book papers continue to be in short supply. If paper mills can really make more money manufacturing other grades that’s of course what they should do. Nobody’s in business to save the book.

There does seem to be no doubt that as far as book manufacturing’s concerned, the education market (schoolbooks and college textbooks) is withering away. This should help other publishing companies who have been used to planning around the capacity crunch occasioned at printers by the approach of back-to-school, and will now perhaps find press time more available.

Mr Conley lists five strategic threats to the book business which he claims are not being addressed:

  1. changes in retail distribution
  2. paper shortages
  3. clunky distribution (from the bindery to the publisher)
  4. shortages of skilled labor
  5. the fact that book manufacturing is not located where the population is.

While I can’t disagree with Mr Conley’s analysis, my divergence from this sort of plaint is that I don’t think strategic changes in direction in any given business usually come about because people working in the business plan for the change. Change happens more randomly, and managers tend only to be able to react to what just happened rather than to make preemptory moves. And this is fine, because by and large we are pretty smart, and can react to events in fairly smart ways. If we do make huge bets on future outcomes we run the risk of being wrong just as often as we are right. Building these levees in New Orleans looked like a really smart idea in the early 20th century. As long as people want books we’ll find ways to make them. For the immediate future print-on-demand seems to me to provide a survival bolt hole. Now of course for those who say that POD books are not good enough for them, there’s the option of small press letterpress printing, and hand binding. And paper can of course be made by hand. Just needs people willing to pay the price.

Shelf Awareness of June 28, 2019 included a column by Robert Gray under this title, now archived at his site, Fresh Eyes Now.

Mr Gray has been reading H. A. Pavey’s 1905 piece from the Chicago Daily Tribune exploring the question “Why Novel is a Success” [sic].

Mr Pavey basically ascribes the fog of uncertainty surrounding this question to the illogicality of women who make up the majority of buyers of novels! (He was writing in 1905.) He goes on, quietly changing to the masculine pronoun, describing a reader going into a bookshop and picking up a novel:  “Instinctively he opens it at the first touch. Type and paper will be expected to make the first appeal in the physical makeup. An attractive frontispiece and title page will be convincing, as will possibly well done illustrations. Then the scrutiny of the cover will follow.” This is all very flattering to those of us who have toiled on the physical side of the book business, but unfortunately it isn’t enough to seal Mr Pavey’s deal. “In the meantime the salesmanship of the salesman will be called upon as it so seldom is at the average department store’s general counters. For any book that is in demand, the salesman will have had his own brief lesson. He will have read the reviews of the book as far as possible; he will have run through it himself perhaps as closely as does the average reviewer; he has at his tongue’s end a striking situation or two of the situations needed to have made the work talked about and favorably reviewed.”

However Mr Gray concludes, along with Mr Pavey, that the reason for buying a book is different in each instance, and impossible to discover. “So, what’s the magic key to discovering why readers buy particular novels? . . . there is none.” If only we did know why people buy books we’d be in a much easier business: we could promote the books directly to the people who we know want them, and as a result we’d be able to judge ahead of time how many copies we ought to print in order to fulfill demand. (Certain types of academic publishing already approach this condition.)

Ultimately the ability to fulfill exact demand by print-on-demand will bring us close to this situation. This doesn’t mean that we’ll do it though. The temptation to get a lower unit cost of production (to increase your profit margin at a given retail price) will make publishers continue to gamble by filling warehouses with speculative stock. The best we can anticipate, at least until the book manufacturing industry withers away, is that we’ll use POD to fill the inventory needs of that famous long tail — the last few copies which dribble out over the years when the book has substantially been forgotten. Being able to fill demand exactly won’t, of course, tell us why this or that novel is a success, but as long as we can sell as many copies as possible publishers will perhaps not be altogether concerned with retail customer motives.

Two university press editors, Jennifer Crewe and Greg Britton, discuss what it is to work as an editor at this Public Books piece.

Their metaphor of choice for the editorial function is that of the hunter-gatherer. I’ve always preferred the idea of a kind of editorial Queequeg, fishing net in hand, standing at the bow of the boat, scooping up the flotsam — having judged at a distance whether it’s worth the effort of retrieving that particular pile of paper. Rather than the idea of editors wandering off into the bush turning over stones in the hope of finding something nourishing, I’ve always liked to think of them as being propelled through the water by the rather unheralded activities of the rest of the crew of the good ship “Publisher”.

Whichever image you chose, it almost goes without saying that we all rely on the success of our editors.

Mental Floss is careful to exclude religious texts (the Bible presumably wins hands down) though some might argue that their #1 bestseller of all time, Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book should be read with a dose of faith.

This example will cost you $750. Damn: where did I put my copy?

You can find Mental Floss’ carefully named list, Ten of the Best-Selling Books in History, here.

See also: 100 Years of bestsellers.

Well, here we go? Or is this just a desperation ploy? I suspect it may be the former: college education, certainly in the early years, seems to have jumped the barrier and gone pretty much fully digital. Pearson certainly hopes so, as reported in Publishers Weekly. “All future releases of Pearson’s 1,500 current U.S. textbook titles will be updated in digital versions only rather than in print”. This chimes with Pearson’s recent digital courseware moves. Apparently 62% of their higher education revenue now comes from “digital or digitally-enabled products and services”. Perhaps slightly ominous for the education purist is their claim that this’ll make their publishing program “more like apps, professional software, or the gaming industry.”

For Luddite students Pearson say they’ll be willing to rent a print book for about $60. It’s not clear how this assorts with their statement that they’ll update only their digital versions. I’d image the print version they offer to rent would be a print-on-demand edition made (one hopes) from the most recent set of files. But if so, why wouldn’t they want to sell the book rather than rent it?

Still, let’s look again in another five years. The market is no doubt big enough that Pearson can probably survive on a part of it even if their bet proves off the mark.

See also my rather dyspeptic Digital textbooks post from 2014.

CabbieBlog has a nice story about the original Highway Code published in 1931 at a price of 1d (one penny) net.* Wikisource has an online version of it for those who want to bathe in nostalgia.

CabbieBlog points out that “When it was introduced in response to the high number of deaths on Britain’s roads, 7,000 a year were being killed despite there only being 2.3 million vehicles – a figure not helped by there being no compulsory driving test. Today with more than 30 million vehicles on Britain’s roads fatalities are closer to 2,000.”

My mother never had to take a driving test: she like everyone else who was driving in 1935 when the test was introduced was grandfathered in. Given the death rate CabbieBlog mentions, maybe it would be fairer to say that any drivers left alive were grandfathered in. Now her great granddaughters are dealing with the driving test.

The current version of The Highway Code is available online. CabbieBlog emphasizes the politeness of the fist 18-page edition. The current edition doesn’t altogether abandon this aim, telling us “The most vulnerable road users are pedestrians, particularly children, older or disabled people, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. It is important that all road users are aware of the Code and are considerate towards each other. This applies to pedestrians as much as to drivers and riders.”


* Fascinating that they made it a net book. The Net Book Agreement meant that booksellers couldn’t discount the price of a book with a net price. How was anyone going to give a discount on a book costing a penny? Well, today’s big spenders may be surprised to know that during my childhood we still had two coins smaller than the penny. The ha’penny (½) and the farthing (¼).

Inflation takes care of everything: Diary of an ADI tells us that in 2011 The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency offered us a 80-year anniversary copy of this 1931 Highway Code for £4.99.