concept to publication

Month: November 2007

Mainstream and alternative book publishing

Five publishing conglomerates now control 80 percent of book publishing industry sales. The big fish are Bertelsmann, Viacom, Longman-Pearson, News Corporation, and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck. Bertelsmann, based in Gütersloh, Germany, reported a net income of a net income of € 2.4 billion in 2006.

But this 80 percent of sales comes from less than 5 percent of the total number of book titles published. In fact, if you go deeper into the statistics, you discover that only a thousand titles, or a bit more, are selling better than 50,000 copies, and the remainder — well over 90 percent of the total number of titles published — are averaging fewer than a thousand copies total sales each. In a previous post I reported that the Booker Prize finalists (leaving aside the overrated Ian McEwan) were likely averaging fewer than 800 copies each.

It’s tempting to see this as analogous to the widening gap between the rich and the poor on the social level; however that might be, it’s clear that the book industry is really two different industries, and this accounts in large part for its disfunctional quality. On the one hand there is an industry that is similar to Hollywood (and in fact is controled by the same conglomerates) and then there is a much larger yet more marginal industry that is more similar to YouTube.

“Alternative” publishers and authors — who really produce the bulk of all books published — need to free themselves from the mindset of traditional mainstream publishing. The Hollywoodization of publishing has created an arena in which they mostly can’t compete. Instead they need to turn their backs on the blockbuster mentality and embrace alternative marketing, new technologies, and original distribution avenues. The challenge has always been to put books together with the appropriate readers. Thanks to new social web applications such as Facebook we now know exactly what kinds of things many people are interested in — information that used to come only from expensive market research. Publishers need to find ways of using this information to market books more efficiently to audiences that will produce a good return within the economies of scale of nonblockbuster publishing.


some book publishing statistics

X-Rite and Pantone

pantone color swatches for graphic design and printingX-Rite acquired Pantone several days ago for $180 million. Panton has been the leader for print color matching for decades. X-Rite produces a variety of color calibration software and hardware (including, apparently, something called the Munsell Frozen French Fry Color Standard). The acquisition has been pretty widely reported, though without much commentary. So what does it mean to users of the Pantone system?

It’s hard to be sure. Certainly it means that X-Rite has a virtual monopoly on the world of color matching. But really, as far as print is concerned, Pantone was already the only significant player. But Pantone was not a very innovative or collaborative company (as Walter Zacharias reports in a Friesens newletter) — their color swatches, for example, were printed on nonstandard paper under atypical conditions. Rather than cooperating with printers and others who wanted to improve color definition and integration, they protected their systems with very aggressive legal action. So there is reason to hope that X-Rite will be more open to new technologies and collaborative activities, and that this purchase will be a positive development for graphic designers.

Extended Live Archives and WordPress 2.3

The Extended Live Archives plug-in for WordPress that I mentioned in a previous post is not compatible with WP 2.3, because the WP file structure was changed to accommodate its new tags feature. Fortunately, there is a fix.

Digital humor

There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t.

Friday Roundup

A week of landmarks and landmines.

New Worlds / New Words book launch

I don’t think I’ve mentioned here the book launch that will be held tonight at 6:30 for our new anthology of Latin American literature. The venue is Chronicle Books, 680 Second Street. You can read about it here.

Book Design: Persian Ceramics

I’m in the beginning stages of designing a new book about Persian ceramics. It will be a small book (for an art book), at 9.5 x 10 inches the closest to square I have ever done. This is the proportion known as the “turned pentagram” because it is the shape of a rectangle drawn around the five corners of an equal-sided pentagram. I still have a bunch of work to do, but an essay spread will probably look something like this:

persian ceramics essay spread

For entry pages I’m planning on putting the tombstone information at the bottom facing the large recto images. The chat retains the decorative initial (from the Poetica font set; the main text is a form of Garamond). Does this look okay?

persian ceramics entry spread

Here are the underlying page guides. The magenta area is the main text block — a four column block, although I may only use two columns for text.

persian ceramics design guides

The cover would use the same page design elements.

persian ceramics cover

Here’s a closer view of the type treatment.

title type treatment

Again, this is all a little preliminary, but it reflects my plans at this stage. I am trying, of course, to match the design to the content. You may be able to see from the first couple of spreads the sort of proportions that are typical of Persian ceramics. If anyone has any suggestions I would be happy to hear them.

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