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.

Photo: Boston Public Library

It’s no coincidence that paper mills are always next to a river or a lake. They need more water than anything else to make paper. The pulp released onto the moving belt in a paper making machine will be diluted to 97% water.

This Sappi diagram, which you can enlarge by clicking on it, claims that paper mills return 90% of the water they use to the rivers. In the olden days, before we got our legal ducks in a row, the effluent was heavily polluted, and living downstream from a paper mill demanded olfactory blindness.

Paper Online has a bit of detail They point out the thought-provoking idea that because the modern paper mill has to purify the water it takes in, the decontaminated outflow may well be improving the quality of water in the river.

The amount of water used in papermaking has been being steadily reduced. For those who want numbers, here’s a 2014 article from Professional Papermaking focussed on the German industry.

Of course the industry’s need for paper doesn’t begin when the wood reaches the mill. Water management is needed in their forestry divisions: trees need water to grow. The following video focuses on that part of the water budget.

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I’ve often claimed that entry into this business is so much more simple (less expensive) now than it was before the arrival of the internet, and am glad to see this report from Los Angeles Magazine about how this is playing out in LA. (Link via The Digital Reader.)

Turning a manuscript into a book is so laughably straightforward nowadays that it makes old guys like me, who spent a lifetime learning how to do exactly that, seem like simpletons. To “publish” an ebook may take about half an hour (the writing should take longer), and setting it up for print-on-demand manufacture will take an additional few minutes. Selling the damn thing is another story. Contrary to everyone’s assumption, the hard bit of publishing is getting rid of the product. Many authors conclude that traditional publishers abilities in this area are worthwhile, but as we all know many, many self-published authors have broken the barrier and have earned huge profits by figuring out how to reach their audience on their own.

I think the thing that guarantees the future of the book publishing industry is the fact that it is so much easier to publish a book than it is to write one. Thus people who’ve managed to publish their own books successfully will always be tempted to repeat the trick without waiting till they’ve written another decent sized manuscript. Get your friends to write the thing. Offer your expertise to all and sundry. Given time, you too may evolve into a More-or-less-Random House.

Quartz has a piece about how we publishing people don’t know very much about our customers because Amazon, which controls a vast segment of the industry, keeps almost all of its information private.

This is all true, but we work in an industry which is maybe three hundred years old, and for most of that time we managed to get by without the sort of data that Amazon collects. When your business is tiny, you may have excellent data on each of your customers: you know them all by sight after all. Insert middlemen (bookshops and even wholesalers) between you and your customers, and suddenly what you know about your readers is much less, amounting to little more than anecdotal evidence picked up by your sales reps.

Now it’s true that we don’t have clear knowledge of the sales numbers of Kindle and indie- and self-published ebooks, but so what? We know the numbers are large; or we keep being told that they are. Should this be anything other than good news? We work in a different — parallel but different — business. Publishers know how many ebooks they sell, just as they know how many hardbacks or paperbacks they sell. Not knowing the preferences of each and every one of these customers as to color of cover, choice of typeface, breakfast cereal, side of the bed on which to get out, makes no difference at all. If we knew more about our customers, would we sell more books? I doubt it, though I suppose we might find an aching void or two in the market for perhaps a volume of reminiscences of cats on keyboards, or exciting angles of sunshine on water. Knowledge is obviously good, but it can be overrated; or at least the consequences of a lack of it can be exaggerated. Publishing is doing just fine groping its way forward in the time-honored way.

OK, I suppose, but let’s hope nobody gets the idea of setting text in these characters. The Artphabet, each character based upon the work of a famous artist, is shown here at the website of CESS, the Madrid-based creator.

Can this really be true? Fast Company alleges that “scholars found that books by women authors are priced 45% less than those of their male counterparts”. It’s made a little stir in the book-industry-commentary universe-let.

“Scholars” is a term which can be deployed to convey apparent authority, but in this case it is genuine; the authors are from CUNY’s Queens College. Fast Company carries a link to the original paper at PLOS. The authors, one female, one male, one a sociologist, one a mathematician, analyzed the books in Books In Print 2002-12 and found that of the solo authors whose gender was identifiable, 26% were women and 45% were men. They didn’t use books by multiple authors and were up to the problem that Robert Galbraith might create as the only gender-identifiable name used by J. K. Rowling. One assumes some other such examples remained concealed. They assess the reasons for the gender/price difference under the headings Allocative Discrimination, Valuative Discrimination, and Within-job Discrimination. It’s all a bit too exhausting to consider more closely.

My take on this is that women, for whatever reasons, are less represented among the authors of expensive types of books — I don’t know which — say college textbooks, scientific monographs, medical texts, directories of the care and maintenance of a nuclear plant. Within types of book, I bet prices show no variance. A physics monograph by a woman will be priced on the same basis as a monograph by a male physicist. A less misleading line of research might have been a study of the reasons why fewer women write books in high-priced categories, doubtless at least in part related to their relative underrepresentation in such fields. I certainly don’t think that any part of the reason is, as the authors conclude, based upon discrimination by publishers. If the authors know of any female physicist who has just written a monograph, please tell them to send the manuscript along to any university press with a science list right away.

Whatever the merits of this research, you certainly shouldn’t rush out hoping to get the latest Danielle Steele at 55% of the price of the latest James Patterson.

Link via Lit Hub Daily.

Oh my God.

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Can we please put it all down to performance anxiety? Please. Please.

Link via Book Riot’s Today in Books email.