I find intellectual property a rather offensive term. Maybe because it always sounds a tiny bit boastful, but perhaps also because I’d prefer not to have to think of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck as intellectuals! Of course under copyright, the IP law we principally deal with, it’s not the ideas that are protected, just the tangible expression of the ideas, the form of words in which they are expressed. Apparently I’m not alone in this unease about the term: the Wikipedia article outlines the arguments. Intellectual property is protected by three main legal maneuvers — copyright, patents and trademarks, though there are other less obvious methods including trade secrets law, industrial design rights, and trade dress.

The Scholarly Kitchen brings us a thoughtful review by Karin Wulf of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction. VSIs live in bookshops in their own spinners, replenished on an ongoing basis. However the spinner in the New York store where I eventually got hold of the book a couple of weeks ago doesn’t seem to be being replenished by anyone. I went into one branch or other of Book Culture’s three outlets over a period of four months or so, only to be told thrice that the book was out of stock at the publisher. (Maybe they just said “out of stock”, and cynic that I am, I assumed this meant a screw up at the publisher. I knew that the books in this series are printed in England, so delays might be possible.) On my fourth visit the indiscrete assistant told me they’d actually never received their first order into the store, and that if I wanted to order it I could have it in a day or two as the books had been lying in their warehouse since March. I did, and 24 hours later, there it was. And Book Culture is one of New York’s more successful book chains! Of course this isn’t an expensive book, but what bookstore can afford to ignore a well-reviewed $11.95 book, one that is getting customer enquiries, and especially one where the spinner merchandising format is intended to make customers pick up more than the single volume they’d come looking for?

Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions is a successful series of brief authoritative introductions to a wide variety of (serious) topics. The VSI site suggests there are 533 of them, while the OUP site listed in the book yields  a count of 577. The book itself claims 508. Either way it’s a lot, and the number is growing rapidly. The series is clearly modeled on the Que sais-je series published by les presses universitaires de France. To me, it’s an obvious idea for a university press with good trade distribution. I floated the idea of just such a Que sais-je knockoff series when I was a junior editor in Cambridge 45 or so years ago — I clearly didn’t pursue it with sufficient energy! More fool me.

Professor Vaidhyanathan emphasizes that it was the development of search engines and the internet which turned the rather quiet world of intellectual property protection into the frenzied money business it is now. Suddenly it looked like everything was about to leak away, and suddenly we all realized how valuable it all might be. Copyright was quickly transformed from individual right into corporate asset. He uses the concept of paracopyright to describe the erosion of our rights under copyright. Of course we all tend now to copy and paste with gay abandon, working on the assumption that if someone put it up without any protective notice they must be willing to see it reused. It’s like a Creative Commons license without any acknowledgment thereof — at least I hope so!

The author writes in an easy style including lots of anecdotes. He reveals that the story of the loss of copyright in the song “Happy Birthday to You” has a kicker, in that Warner/Chappell were adjudged by a US court in 2015 never to have held copyright at all in the song on which they’d been cleaning up permissions fees for decades. They have already settled for $14 million to people wrongly charged for using the song.

We need to remember that IP laws tend to vary from nation to nation. Professor Vaidhyanathan tells us how Angelica Huston was able to prevent the colorization of her father’s film The Asphalt Jungle — but in France only, not USA. Under US copyright law John Huston was regarded as having made the work for hire, and thus to have owned no rights in the movie. His daughter thus didn’t inherit any rights, but in France the force of the “right of paternity”, a moral right under le droit d’auteur, enabled her to assert creative control on her father’s behalf.

Professor Vaidhyanathan’s book is a notable achievement of compression, and anyone involved in the media will benefit from reading it. Maybe you’ll even be able to find it on Book Culture’s spinner now.



This is the “Library” in the Raeburn Hotel in Edinburgh.

But it’s actually just a thin folding screen incorporating the sawn-off spines of a bunch of dismembered books. As a proud employee explained to me, we just fold it back and there’s a bar behind it! You can see the hinges.

It’s really a very nice hotel.

Humidity alone is responsible for this curling. There’s a matte lamination on the outside of the cover which is printed on cover 2 and 3 as you can see. The lamination is doubtless involved; the interior color isn’t. The dampness has to go somewhere, and it can’t go through the matte lam which holds the fibers together on one side while they can relax and swell on the other.

Humidity. No real antidote . . . what more can you say? You can say that now, after a three months on a shelf under a couple of other books, this cover is pretty much back to normal (as thank goodness is the humidity).

See also Warping boards

The Cloisters is an odd phenomenon. It’s a sort of medieval monastery building sitting in a park in northern Manhattan. It actually consists of bits of several medieval buildings from Europe most shipped over between 1934 and 1939 by John D. Rockefeller so that we benighted Murcans could get a bit of kulchur. At the same time Rockefeller bought up the real estate across the Hudson River in New Jersey, so that the view could remain perpetually pristine. In the picture above the Cloisters is that building in the middle distance showing its tower amidst all the trees in Fort Tryon Park. The buildings behind it are in the Bronx, and the cluster of buildings running down to the river in the far distance is downtown Yonkers.

The Cloisters is the medieval department of the Metropolitan Museum and houses their famous unicorn tapestry series along with a whole lot of other material, including four important illuminated manuscripts. The basis of the collection was the work of George Grey Barnard, acquired by John D. Rockefeller for the Met in 1925. (if you go to the Metropolitan Museum site linked to above, scroll down to the bottom and click on the link “History of the Met Cloisters” you’ll find a couple of videos, one showing workers building the Cloisters and the other, a fascinating 28-minute film showing the history and the demolition of the Fuentidueña apse.)

The exterior includes limestone and granite from a several European structures. There are in fact four complete cloisters in The Cloisters — from Saint Michel de Cuxa, Trie sur Baïse, Saint-Guilhem le Désert, and (probably) Bonnefont en Comminges. There are four Gothic windows from the refectory at Sens, and three chapels, including the apse from Fuentidueña — which is the museum’s largest room. Wikipedia gives an exhaustive listing. 

Apse from San Martin, Fuentidueña. This apse is on loan from the Spanish government and was not installed in New York till 1958-60









Jeff Peachey, a local bookbinder, has a blog on which he has posted about the 34 books and representations of books in the Cloisters.

Detail, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish. Photo Jeff Peachey

I’ve never noticed this, but apparently there’s also a library at the Cloisters (you need to make an appointment to visit) containing more than 15,000 volumes) used by museum staff for research.

Detail, The Dormition of the Virgin, Oak, German, Cologne, late 15th C. Photo Jeff Peachey


Mental Floss gives a list of ten phrases which they claim originate in the print industry.

  • out of sorts
  • mind your p’s and q’s
  • upper case
  • lower case
  • hot off the press
  • stereotype
  • cliché
  • typecasting
  • make an impression
  • ditto

There must be others, mustn’t there? Can’t think of any right now though. Most of what comes up are words which apply to print only, though in common use, like galley, pica.

I have a post from a couple of years ago called Mind your ps and qs

Etherington & Robert (see the Print Glossaries tab above) define remboîtage as “A French term applied to the process of transferring a book, i.e., text block and endpapers, from its original binding to another. The new binding may be more luxurious, more nearly contemporary, or simply more appropriate, than the original. The term also refers to the process of transferring a superior text of a work into a better binding than the one originally made for it. There is not a comparable English word for this expression*, recasing being the closest; however, in craft bookbinding, “recasing” connotes a book that has been removed from its covers, repaired and/or resewn, and then returned to the original covers, while in library binding, it indicates a new, but usually just ordinary, case.”

Early book cloths, in the 1820s and 30s were only a marginal upgrade on the paper-over-boards style of temporary binding that publishers had been purveying for a few years. Temporary because it was still assumed that everyone would get their books rebound in leather, so these covers were merely a protection to ensure the sheets got to the bindery in good shape. From about 1850 onward it became usual for the publisher to assume the cost of final binding — i.e. the temporary cloth binding evolved into a permanent gold foil stamped hardback book intended to remain that way for ever. Of course there remained traditionalists who’d take that hardback and subject it to remboîtage.

Jeff Peachey has a post about his attempts to replicate this early temporary book cloth in which he says:

Publishers’ book cloth started in the 1820s.  Originally it was undecorated, faded quickly, attracted dirt, and over time became brittle. The book structures it was used on were traditionally considered “temporary”, were cheap and insubstantial, and as a result many examples have been rebound. Most studies of nineteenth century bookbinding focus on attractive and visually interesting aspects of book cloth that begin in the 1840, such as gold stamping and cloth grain patterns. Until recently, these early cloths have been overlooked by historians. It is doubtful that three piece adhesive case binding (aka. the hardcover) would have become the dominate rigid board book structure without book cloth.

Many examples of early cloth, searchable by year, can be found at The Library Company of Philadelphia’s wonderful online database of nineteenth century cloth bindings.  Another easy to use visual resource is The Publishers’ Binding Online, where you can browse by the decade. But the best thing is to get to the nearest library and examine some actual books. Images cannot substitute for this.

John Carter, in his classic essay, “Origins of Cloth Bindings” recounts the moment of the innovation: a conversation in the 1820s between Mr. Pickering (the publisher) and Mr. Sully (the binder), with Mr. Pickering expressing a desire to cover a boards binding with something a little “neater”, like a blue calico window curtain that was hanging in the room. Since this event was recalled and recorded first in the 1850s, some leeway should be ascribed as to the details of this encounter. But it’s a good read.”


* Any implication that this is what remboîtage means in French should be resisted. This adopting of the fancy foreign word to designate a special instance of something for we have a perfectly normal word is not that unusual — cow/beef, sheep/mutton, pig/pork. In French remboîtage means recasing tout court. Who knows, the French may call rebinding into a superior cover “recasing”! As well as its book binding sense, the French word in general means putting something back together, including that jerking of an arm to get a dislocated shoulder back into place which is (maybe used to be) such a highlight of the rugby field.

Teleread reports on Baen’s selling EARCs for $15. An EARC is an e-ARC.

The innovative part of this story is not the idea of creating a digital proof — lots of (maybe all) publishers offer this sort of proof nowadays. There is still a significant reluctance on the part of review media to accept this format: lots of reviewers just want to read a paper book, so publishers have to create both digital and paper ARCs . The innovation is the offering such a prepublication proof for sale to the general public.

Not sure whether I think this is a great idea: no doubt Baen are in a better position than I am to analyze the results of the policy. It just seems to me that selling an uncorrected proof for $15 is going to cannibalize your final sale. I think it’s great to offer your books at different price/format points, but why not do that later, after the book’s in its final form? Does anyone who buys the EARC come back and buy the final book? Well, of course you could respond, does anyone who buys the hardback come back later on and buy the paperback — and of course the answer’s no. Maybe $15 is more than/the same as their regular ebook edition’s price, in which case they are just letting fans buy sooner (and raising earlier revenue). But does your author really want his/her readers to be getting a provisional version of the book?

Cambridge University Press is not the only one to tangle with the forces of regression in China’s literary marketplace.


Jifeng, an underground bookstore (literally — it’s in a subway station below the main public library) in Shanghai is to shut down at the end of January. Their persistent selection of books too liberal-minded for the authorities seems finally to have brought them to grief. Enough is enough: their lease from the library will not be renewed. The library says they have no choice in the matter.

Obviously anyone seeking to keep a lid on any kind of materials available to their citizens is likely to keep an eye on bookshops. Book selection is an even more challenging problem for Chinese booksellers than it is elsewhere. However, as The Economist relates politically risqué books and Western literature in general can often be offered in stores which purvey clothing or café service. The vigilant authorities will probably catch up with many of these, but in the meantime others will open. Whac-a-mole lives. (The Economist piece on-line doesn’t actually show a picture of Jifeng at the top, as their print edition did. Their picture is of the café named 1984 which displays various editions of the Orwell novel, but carefully displays a sign stating “None of the books in this shop is for sale”.)

Brodart is a library services company: a big one. It was founded in 1939 by Arthur Brody, and is headquartered in Williamsport, PA.

Library services consist of things like creating catalog records and the cards carrying them, putting shelf labels onto books, sticking in the loan record pouch, barcoding, and often protecting the jacket and sticking it to the book — all the sorts of things a library will have to do to a book before they make it available to their patrons. Some companies will even rebind a paperback into hard covers so that it’ll stand up to more library lendings. Unsurprisingly over the years librarians have found it more efficient to subcontract these mundane operations to companies who relive them of the hassles. (As I suggested in a recent post reference publishers have also provided many of these services — buying them from the same set of library services companies.)

In the same way (though perhaps on a slightly smaller scale) that xeroxing has come to mean photocopying, so brodarting has come to mean covering a library book in a plastic cover which incorporates and protects the jacket.

You can see in the second picture that the plastic-wrapped jacket is taped to the case with a bit of Scotch Tape (Sellotape) top and bottom.

For those obsessed with protection, finding themselves stymied by the fact that their book has no jacket Brodart has this reassuring message: “No problem! With Brodart Econo-Fold Book Jacket Covers, you can cover any book!”

Messy-fingered boys used to protect their books by wrapping a plain paper cover around them. I remember doing this: what I can’t remember is why, as a messy-fingered boy, I cared.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You kind of trust the author to write the sort of book you signed up for. But sometimes you get surprised. And sometimes circumstances change and what looked like a perfectly decent project becomes “indecent” because the world’s conversation has moved on. What do you do when you get a manuscript that you cannot approve of? You can suggest changes, but sometimes the trouble is too fundamental for that to be an option.

Now of course any publisher has the right not to publish any book they don’t want to. Usually nobody is aware of this refusal taking place — the publisher just doesn’t make an offer for a book of a type they don’t want to be seen as supporting. However, it occasionally comes to pass that a contract for a book does exist, and when it’s finally written the publisher wants to back out for one reason or another. Depending on the terms of the contract a publisher may have to have very good and specific reasons for refusing to publish a manuscript, but the contract language is probably a bit too vague to cover lots of instances. The commonest excuses are that the manuscript has been delivered later than specified in the contract, or is much longer than the book contracted. In the absence of contractual outs the publisher can probably find arguments to justify publishing most “unacceptable” manuscripts. At the most anodyne level imagine that you decide to abandon your publishing program in computational linguistics. Professor X delivers his computational linguistics manuscript a year later, there being no delivery date specified in the contract. It may actually be in the author’s best interest to have a more committed publisher take on the book, and probably some sort of separation can be arranged. But if Prof. X wants to enforce the terms of his contract, the publisher would no doubt find no great difficulty in publishing the book; or just printing it and “making it available”. Computational linguistics is (no doubt unless you are a linguist) a relatively uncontroversial subject area: when you get into politics and social hot-button topics, the temperature rises.

The Passive Voice certainly makes it sound like HarperCollins acted prejudicially in the case of a sci-fi novel, CTRL ALT Revolt!, which involves the controversial topic of abortion. I think Nick Cole’s post shows an author desperately seeking reasons why what he wrote didn’t please. The author’s complaint is that the publishers “were attempting to effectively ban a book because they felt the ideas and concepts I was writing about were dangerous and more importantly, not in keeping with their philosophical ideals”. Despite the Passive Guy’s habitual animus against New York publishers, there appears to be no reason to think HarperCollins rejected the novel simply because it incorporated something about abortion. (We do only get to see one side of the argument of course.) Does it not remain possible that the book wasn’t as good as Mr Cole’s previous one? Indeed his claim that his use of abortion is merely “a very small background justification for global homicide” sounds like a conclusion way beyond what AI-enabled robots watching one woman on a reality TV show would ever come up with: they’re meant to be intelligent after all! One suspects that the book was rejected not because of its attitude towards abortion, but because abortion was an insufficient motivator for the entire action. Now he’s published it himself one could judge for oneself.

In any case, what law (beyond the author’s contract: and that can be settled by money) can be said to force HarperCollins to publish books which are “not in keeping with their philosophical ideals”?

Simon & Schuster must of course have known how much Milo Yiannopoulos’s book would or would not be “in keeping with their philosophical ideals” when they contracted it. It was their conservative imprint which signed it up after all. Yet after they saw the manuscript they decided to back out. Despite Mr Yiannopoulos’ legal threats he has apparently decided to self-publish his book Dangerous. Prior restraint ain’t what it used to be, now the author can just do it himself. Despite reports of slow sales, Milo Inc.’s CEO Alexander Macris claims “We printed 105,000 books and every single one has been ordered.” Nevertheless Mr Yiannopoulos has filed suit against S&S: oral arguments are scheduled to start 8 October unless the publisher’s lawyers succeed in dodging the bullet.

Cambridge University Press’ current problems in China are of a slightly different nature — here it’s not the publisher who’s objecting to the content, but a foreign government, but the debates caused by the event are likely to be fairly similar to earlier instances where books were withdrawn because of political or legal circumstances. I wrote a couple of years ago about Karen Dawisha’s book, Putin’s Kleptocracy dropped by CUP for fear of libel implications. I suppose fear of expensive law suits is less dramatic than fear of polonium poisoning, but surely a publisher must have the right to decide whether they want to expose themselves to any kind of risk. Libel laws are less plaintiff-friendly in USA, and as far as I know Simon & Schuster have not suffered from publishing Professor Dawisha’s book. (Nor has presumably the author, nor the potential audience for the book. The only sufferer is the original publisher, who presumably will never be getting another manuscript from this author and no doubt many of her friends.)

An earlier Cambridge case, the withdrawal in 1996 of Anastasia Karakasidou’s Fields of Wheat, because of warnings from the British Embassy that staff might be in danger, drew a snotty note from Misha Glenny in the London Review of Books. The same parenthetical comment at the end of the previous paragraph no doubt applies in this instance too. But, Mr Glenny, and other barrackers, if you were warned that writing this or that might put your employees at risk . . . — oh, but of course, you don’t have any employees to worry about, do you? Consider how the commentariat would instantly change their tune if, disregarding such a warning, a publisher had gone ahead and an employee had been killed, maimed, injured — the sanctimony would be overwhelming.

In earlier times, in the 1970s, Cambridge University Press did refuse to withdraw Stanford Shaw’s History of the Ottoman Empire, despite bomb threats because of its treatment of Armenian history. A bomb did explode, without injuring anyone, on Professor Shaw’s doorstep. Staff were just told to be vigilant and careful.

At an even earlier time, as a carefree junior editor in 1972 or 1973, I pooh-poohed the subeditor’s query as to whether it was a problem that a linguistics text used as example sentences often employing names from the Kennedy White House. Only first names were used, but cumulatively readers might well have thought “Camelot”. The sort of thing was “John earned a bad name for himself by swearing a lot.”, “Walt gave Ted the finger”. The book was printed, and after it arrived in USA was promptly withdrawn and pulped. I still have a copy, and still cannot see the problem. (It is true that W. W. Rostow was at that time a best-selling author for CUP in USA — was he maybe the one giving the finger?) The book was subsequently published by Indiana University Press; whether names were revised or not I don’t know. To my unrepentant mind an excess of caution was applied in this instance.

Why is it that these people insist of maintaining that publishers have some sort of moral obligation to publish books which they don’t want to? Publishers are free agents and can decide to do whatever they want. If you are making investments, you get to chose what you invest in. You may not personally like romance novels or want to publish them (even though they apparently sell like hot cakes) but Mills and Boon have every right to publish as many as they want. Nobody should (or does) think of criticizing them for not publishing exposés of the administration of the National Health Service, or analyses of Korean diplomacy.

In the absence of a contractual restriction, publisher whim, while not perhaps the greatest business strategy, cannot be disregarded. After all, if you are going to invest your money to fund the printing of the book, you surely ought not to be forced to do something you’d rather not, whether your reasons are good or bad. I can already hear the purists screaming about social responsibility and so on. Publishers may indeed claim some sort of social virtue when it suits them to do so, but when all’s said and done there’s no law enforcing it. Publishers are free to allocate their capital wherever they choose to.