Jason Epstein has a review of John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century in the current New York Review of Books: “Books: Onward to the Digital Revolution.” The book is published by Polity Press and seems to be an important snapshot of the publishing industry in its current (but familiar) state of crisis. The reviewer is a longtime editor at Random House.
If you want to buy ebooks from Google Ebooks, you can now find our publications there. Library Juice Press and Litwin Books…
Just a brief item of interest. West Publishing is being forced to pay $2.5 million in damages to two authors who had stopped updating their legal treatise, but were named by West as authors of a new update that contained virtually no new material. Sounds like an example of a business practice that could be called “slazy,” if you get my drift. Personally, I find it encouraging that the courts are taking questions of authorship as seriously as this.
Lincoln Cushing wrote this cool article on old school (mid-20th century) printing technology: Cranking It Out, Old-School Style: Art of the Gestetner”. Lincoln is a librarian who had a previous career doing printing and graphic design for community groups.
Every society has its pecking order, and printing is no exception. Equipment matters. At the top of the heap are the big presses—the giant Goss web machines that churn out daily newspapers, the high-speed Solna sheetfeds for beautiful color posters, the elegant Heidelberg Windmill letterpresses for art prints. At the bottom are the lowly duplicators—not even called presses—that are the Volkswagen Bugs of the reproduction world. People of a certain age might remember the two offset workhorses of this stratum, the A.B. Dick 360 and the Multilith 1250. But even below these machines, at the very dark recesses of the reproduction food chain, lie the spirit duplicators and mimeographs… [more]
I am always on the lookout for reviews of books that we have published, and am usually gratified to read them. If there is a complaint in the review, it is most often that the book has typos or needed better copy editing. One recent review of one of our books, and I will not name its author, stated that the book “appeared to have been put together quickly.” I have a comment about that judgment, in that particular review and possibly in others.
First, that reviewer wrote the review already aware that the book was published by my press and that I operate my business as a sideline to my job as a librarian. Other reviewers, though they may not know that I am a librarian, know that Library Juice Press and Litwin Books are very small and new imprints. It strikes me that with this in mind, these reviewers are inspecting the books for signs that they were put together quickly, with less attention to detail than a dedicated publishing house would give it. I suspect this because I happen to know that in the publishing industry as a whole, publishers have cut back their expenses wherever possible and are attempting to reduce their overhead in order to stay alive, and as a result are now allowing typos and proofreading errors to reach the final published editions of their books. Anyone who reads new books is aware of this. Yet reviews of books from major publishers that suffer the same imperfections seldom mention it. It seems to me that reviewers are assuming that I am rushing books to press much faster than a traditional publisher, and that I should therefore not be given a “pass” when it comes to typos. I think it is selective scrutiny.
The error is in the assumption that I am rushing books to press faster than a traditional publisher. I know some things about one academic publisher in particular, whom I will not name, because he has given me a lot of very helpful information and advice. They are publishing approximately 300 books per year, with an editorial staff of nine. That works out to 33 books per year per editor. I think that kind of a ratio between the number of books published annually and the editorial staff may be representative of the industry. I am publishing between five and ten books per year, admittedly on top of a full time job as a librarian. Those numbers indicate that despite operating with a lower overhead, I am not rushing books to press faster than a traditional publisher. In fact, some authors have been disappointed with the fact that the process of getting their book to press has taken such a long time. (One of the reasons it takes a long time is that the books are copy-edited multiple times.)
So, what I am asserting is that the reason a reviewer says one of our books “appears to have been put together quickly” has more to do with a desire to indicate our shoe-string nature than it is a fair judgment in relative terms. Though there may be typographical errors, reviewers should show an awareness of current industry standards if they choose to focus on them in a review of a book published by an upstart press. In fact, a book that it is claimed “appears to have been put together quickly” might not strike a reader that way if she is not already motivated to draw that conclusion. (I think the book reviewed in this particular case looks very good.)
Ralph Shaw was an academic librarian, an educator, and in 1950, the founder of Scarecrow press. He was known as an outspoken guy who forged his career more on the basis of saying what he thought than making friends. I first read about him in Ken Kister’s biography of Eric Moon, which is a great book for learning about the library scene of the mid-20th century. Ralph Shaw’s efforts have inspired me as I have been building up Library Juice Press and Litwin Books along some of the same lines. The barriers to publishing were higher then, and came down most significantly around 1990, when the cost of printing dramatically dropped and many small presses such as mind sprouted up. The way he did it at that time though, as an academic librarian jumping into the scholarly book market, was a method that still applies in my case: operating on extremely low overhead and hustling to find good books that major publisher either miss or don’t want to risk their less-efficient money on. (Don’t read into that that Library Juice Press has lower standards than other publishers in the field. On the contrary, we have directed several projects to better-known publishers over quality concerns, who have taken them on.)
All of this is to introduce a link to an old article that is now freely available on the web: “To Remember Ralph Shaw,” from Current Contents #23, June 5, 1978. I am not sure why the library at U Penn has posted the article, but I’m glad that they did. The article is from Eugene Garfield’s regular column, titled, “Essays of an Information Scientist.” (Eugene Garfield founded ISI.)
New Book: Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age
Authors: Michael Bugeja and Daniela Dimitrova
Published: Summer 2010
Printed on acid-free paper
A decade ago, most research was done in the library rather than through its Web site, and scholars, editors, graduate directors and librarians were meticulous about the integrity of footnotes. They knew that citation was the backbone of research, from agronomy to zoology in the sciences and from art history to Zen studies in the humanities. The footnote upheld standards because it allowed others to test hypotheses or replicate experiments. In sum, the footnote safeguarded scientific method and peer review upon which academe is based, from papers by first-year and transfer students to books by postdoc and professor.
Since 2003, authors Michael Bugeja and Daniela Dimitrova (Iowa State University of Science and Technology) have been at the forefront of research on the erosion of online footnotes and its implication for scholarship. Their research has been showcased in The Chronicle of Higher Education and a number of academic journals, including The Serials Librarian, portal: Libraries and the Academy, New Media and Society and Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, among others. Their book documents the vanishing act in flagship communication journals and provides readers with methods to mitigate the effect.
Michael Bugeja is director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University where he also serves on the board of the Institute of Science and Society. He is the author of 20 books, including the acclaimed Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age (Oxford Univ. Press, 2005) and Living Ethics across media platforms, and writes for several magazines, including The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. His comments about ethics appear in Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, Quill, Editor & Publisher and other publications.
Dr. Dimitrova’s research focuses on Information and Communication Technologies, Internet Diffusion, and Political Communication (ICTs). Her dissertation examined Internet adoption in the post-communist countries and proposed a multidimensional framework to predict Internet diffusion globally. Another interest is online news coverage of conflict (wars and terrorist attacks).
Editors: Toni Samek, Moyra Lang and K.R. Roberto
Published: June 2010
Printed on acid-free paper
She Was a Booklegger: Remembering Celeste West is a compilation of reflections and tales from friends and other admirers who were influenced and inspired by this larger than life feminist librarian, lesbian, publisher, and activist. Celeste passed away in San Francisco on January 3, 2008 at the age of 65. She was a pioneering progressive librarian and one of the founders of the Bay Area Reference Center (BARC), Booklegger Press, Synergy [Magazine], and Booklegger Magazine. She was also co-editor of the now classic title Revolting Librarians. From 1989 until 2006, Celeste worked as the library director at the San Francisco Zen Center. She was a radical library worker whose practice challenged established library traditions by encouraging librarians to speak up about the need for systematic change. West initiated questions and challenged assumptions (such as library neutrality) that continue to be central issues examined in critical librarianship today. However, while Celeste released a lot of work to the world as author and editor, not much was ever shared about her as subject. This memorial volume provides a written record for those who wish to learn about this remarkable woman.
The publishing industry has some very separate parts to it. Trade publishing is the biggest, and is what most people think of when they think of “book publishing.” In the trade book market, quantity is everything. The price point for a book is low and the profit margins are very small. Publishers often pay authors large advances, try to sell a lot of copies in bookstores, and spend a lot on advertising. It is a big business and one that has not been faring well of late, as competition for readers’ eyeballs has been increasing. (I am not looking at ebooks as a separate sector in competition with trade books, but as a part of the publishing industry in each of its sectors.)
Scholarly and professional publishing is a bit different. Quantities of books sold are much lower. Where a trade book may need to sell 10,000 copies to be worth the publisher’s time, academic publishers use a business model wherein sales of 500 copies are often sufficient for profitability. That means that prices are much higher. Usually, scholarly books are priced for a customer base of libraries rather than individuals. The same is true for professional books published by the likes of Neal-Schuman. Where a trade book can be had for $12, a scholarly or professional book is going to cost $50 to $100 in hardcover, and $30 to $60 in paperback. With such small and specialized audiences, those kind of prices are a necessity for most scholarly publishers. Some university presses have begun publishing trade-like titles in order to reach out to a bigger market, and set prices closer to trade book prices for the paperback editions of those titles, but seldom less than $25. Another aspect of the difference between trade publishing and scholarly publishing is that bookstores typically get a discount from publishers of 45%, where vendors of scholarly books typically only get a 20% discount.
At Litwin Books and Library Juice Press we are publishing scholarly and professional books, but we’re doing it with a low overhead in our operations, which enables us to set prices that are affordable to individuals, and not just libraries. In this way we are mirroring what Scarecrow Press did in their early days. Our prices are not as low as trade book prices, and we are not spending money on a lot of advertising or giving big discounts in the hope of bookstore sales, so our business model is more like that of other academic publishers. But we want our titles to be titles that you can go and buy. All of our books have been paperbacks so far, with prices ranging from $12 for our tiniest book to $45 for the longest one.
We change our pricing policy a bit for ebook titles sold to libraries through ebrary. Those books are for a library market only, so the prices reflect what the hardcover prices would be if we published hardcover editions. In the future we will also be offering ebooks to consumers on a number of platforms. We anticipate that the prices of those ebooks will be lower than our current paper book prices.
We are having a busy Spring, getting a handfull of books ready for publication. Take a look at our books on offer to see what we have been doing.
Today’s New York Times has an informative little item comparing the environmental impact of producing an ipad versus that of a paper book: “How Green is My iPad?“
ebrary (lower case like bell hooks) is one of the major ebook vendors, and has a tight relationship with YBP, being integrated into their Gobi acquisitions platform. We are very happy to be working with them and getting our books out to libraries in ebook form.
Personally, I’m not crazy about web-based ebooks for sustained reading, but find they work well for looking up information on a few pages. As a publisher though (business owner) I am very glad to be able to sell ebooks to libraries, because I know many libraries have a mandate to spend a certain (growing) amount on ebooks.
As a small publisher in the library field I take inspiration from the history of Scarecrow Press, which I first learned about in Ken Kister’s biography of Eric Moon (Eric Moon: The Life and Library Times, McFarland Publishers, 2002). I’ve just dug up a 1985 article about the history of Scarecrow Press, written by Moon (who joined the press as its President when it was bought by Grolier) and published in Libraries Unlimited’s Library Science Annual. I am sharing an excerpt here so that you will understand why I feel that Library Juice Press is part of a tradition, and to share a bit of information about a hero of mine in library history.
The Scarecrow Press crept quietly onto the publishing scene over three decades ago [article copyright 1985 -RL], its first book emerging in 1950 from the basement of the founder’s home. That first book, appropriately, was Hessel’s History of Libraries, translated by Reuben Peiss. It was appropriate because the founder and first president of the Press was himself a major figure in the history of libraries: Ralph R. Shaw, a brilliant, contentious dynamo of a man, “a sometimes iconoclast,” and an original thinker who left his imprint on libraries, library education and theory, the profession, and publishing so indelibly that there are few, before or since, who could be said to have matched his contributions.
Shaw started Scarecrow as a hobby, but also, as was the case with many of his ventures, to prove a point. One only had to describe something as impossible to launch Shaw into action. In an RQ article in 1966 he said: “If there is a single thing upon which the publishing fraternity is in agreement it is that the scholarly book of limited distribution cannot be published without subsidy.” Scarecrow was his way of proving, once again, that the impossible could be accomplished.
Robert C. Binkley, in what Shaw considered a classic work, had concluded, “… under present publishing practices … no book can be expected to get the publisher out of the red until sales have passed well beyond the 1,000 mark.” (And this judgment was made during the depths of the Depression!) The essence of Binkley’s argument was that there are certain fixed coasts – editorial, composition, overhead, etc. – that do not vary with the size of the edition, and that these costs must be distributed over the total number of copies sold. If a book sells 50,000 copies, the fixed costs are spread so widely as to be negligible; if the edition sells 250 copies, the part of the fixed costs that must be charged against each copy becomes prohibitive.
Shaw set out to attack what he called the “villain of the piece”: those fixed costs. Before his first book was published he was talking one day with his friend and colleague, author-editor Earl Schenk Miers, who had been associated with the Rutgers University Press. Describing his new venture, Shaw detailed how he intended to avoid “excessive office costs, excessive editorial costs, general trade advertising and the building up of staff, which would then continue to have to be supported.” Miers broke in, “You’re talking about a scarecrow: it has no overhead, it pays no rent, it is not responsible for anybody’s future clothing or shelter. It’s a scarecrow.” And thus was Shaw’s new baby christened.
My friend Ramona Islam shared with me an interesting blog post by chemist Jean-Claude Bradley, discussing the reliability (or non-reliability) of scientific reference sources that are considered trusted within the discipline. I find it especially interesting in terms of implications for projects like Wolfram Alpha and other attempts to build automated reasoning systems around inconsistently-defined and questionable data.
Byron Anderson’s Bibliographic and Web Tools for Alternative Media has just been updated.
This is a good collection development resource for librarians and others who want tools for going beyond the usual lists and collection development resources, especially for finding books on the political fringes or otherwise outside of the usual academic or corporate channels.
For fun on a Friday, a couple of recent New Yorker “Shouts and Murmurs” columns related to our world: