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Should publishing be open?

Tim O’Reilly makes some points in its favor.


Another independent publishing company bites the dust

10 speed soldTen Speed Press, a mainstay of Bay Area Book Publishing for nearly forty years, has been sold to Random House, which means it is now part of the Germany-based megacorporation Bertelsmann AG, which is the world’s single largest owner of book publishing companies. This continues the long trend of independents getting swallowed by international entertainment conglomerates.

Ten Speed’s most popular titles include What Color Is Your Parachute and The Moosewood Cookbook. According to a report in the NYT, Ten Speed will retain its editorial staff — Phil Wood will be publisher emeritus — but there will be layoffs in the warehousing and distribution operations. If past experience with such sales is any predictor, for a while the company’s editorial program may seem little changed, but sooner or later it will lose its distinctive character.

Phil Wood says, “I am confident Ten Speed Press, the Company I founded and have owned for almost four decades, will thrive under Random House, whose highly professional people are committed to, and fully understand, publishing.”


Codex Book Fair

codex foundation blog

The second biennial CODEX Book Fair will be held this weekend, February 8-11 in Berkeley. The Codex Foundation promotes the art and craft of the book and strives to increase awareness of the book arts.

For those unable to attend in person, Codex now maintains a blog.


What are the components of a well-made book?

india, ink

Over at India, Ink., the redoubtable India is thinking about “what materials and processes and vendors to use to make books that will last a hundred years.”

I think traditional books will survive the digital revolution but that their role will change. They will become luxury items, keepsakes, so whoever still knows how to make the nicest books will win. But I’ll bet that a lot of well-meaning production people don’t even know how to spec well-made books, because all they’ve ever been asked to do at their jobs is make everything cheaper and faster. And as the vendors that excel at quality work die off—Stinehour comes to mind—it will become even more difficult to acquire that kind of experience.

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Northern California Book Reviewers Translation Award

I’ll be on the road for a while, and posting could continue to be light until mid January.

Meanwhile, I’ve agreed to be a reader for this translation award. Books translated in calendar 2008 by writers based anywhere  between Fresno and the Oregon border are eligible. So far these are on my reading list:

  • Castellanos Moya, Horacio, Senselessness, translated by Katherine Silver (New Directions)
  • Do, Nguyen, and Paul Hoover, eds., trans., Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed)
  • Holderlin, Friedrich, Odes and Elegies, translated by Nick Hoff (Wesleyan)
  • Holderlin, Friedrich, Selected Poems, translated by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover (Omnidawn)
  • Nobuo, Ayukawa, America and Other Poems, translated by Shogo Oketani and Lez Lowitz (Kaya)
  • Peri Rossi, Christina, State of Exile, translated by Marylin Buck (City Lights)
  • Rodamor, William and Anna Livia, eds., trans., France: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (Whereabouts)
  • Rojas, Gonzalo, From the Lightning: Selected Poems, translated by John Oliver Simon (Green Integer)
  • Saba, Umberto, Songbook, translated by George Hochfield and Leonard Nathan (Yale)
  • Talebi, Niloufar, ed., trans., Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians around the World (North Atlantic)
  • Toussaint, Jean-Philippe, Camera, translated by Matthew B. Smith (Dalkey Archive)
  • Zambra, Alejandro, Bonzai, translated by Carolina de Robertis (Melville House)

This is a pretty strong group of candidates. It makes me feel encouraged about the state of literary book publishing today (but notice all were published by independents or university presses — corporate publishers have abandoned the the kind of publishing that built houses like Knopf).


On the devaluation of editors

Pat Holt’s take on this topic is worth reading. Here are some excerpts:

I think the saddest thing that ever happened in the book industry was the gradual devaluing of editors and all they stand for – their high standards, their belief in readers, their ability to nurture authors, their love of language, their patience, their dedication, their eye.And most of all, their power….

As I recall, the ganging up against editors started in the 1970s, when Michael Korda of Simon & Schuster said that editorial workers should acquire marketing savvy so they’d get out of their ivory towers and stop mumbling about literary values at sales conference. Until then there was at least an attempt to separate Editorial from Sales & Marketing so that acquisition decisions wouldn’t be tainted by commercial concerns. The editors acquired the books independently; they told the marketing people what to sell. Sales and Marketing got to decide how to sell them, but there was no backing-and-forthing, no suggestions made to editors, no intrusion into the editorial process….

I can’t think of anything harder today than being an editor for a mainstream publishing house in New York. Now the horror stories are even worse, coming from the authors’ point of view. Acquisitions editors are pushed so hard to get out there and compete that they often leave the actual reading and editing to assistants who don’t know enough yet to bring the manuscript to its highest level….

I don’t think it’s healthy for editors to be ignorant of the marketplace and marketing. Editors since before the time of Aldus Manutius have had their finger on that pulse. It’s not realistic, or even desirable, to expect editors not to be “tainted by commercial concerns.” But I agree that in large commercial publishing today the shift of power to the marketers has not resulted in a superior product, and that for the most part neither readers nor authors are well served by it.

Read the whole article here.


Is print dying?

tibetan book of the deadSteve Rubel, one of the sharpest web marketers (and a prolific tweeter) claims that  “five years from now all media will either be completely digital or well on its way to becoming intangible.”

I’ve had a website since 1994. I’m glad content is being digitized. I love being able to find stuff I don’t have in my own library without even having to leave the house. Sometimes I wonder how we ever even did research before the internet.

But I don’t believe that print is dying.

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Ten Independent Bay Area Book Publishers, part 2

Yesterday I began a list of ten independent Bay Area book publishing companies, all of which are producing interesting work, though each has its own unique personality and focus. Today I continue with nos. 6-10.

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Ten Independent Bay Area Book Publishers, part 1

<em>The Ohlone Way</em> by Malcolm Margolin. Heyday Press, Berkeley

The Ohlone Way by Malcolm Margolin. Heyday Press, Berkeley.

Following the example of Kyle Semmel, I offer here ten independent presses (five today and another five tomorrow) based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Compared to the corporate multinational companies that have swallowed up the traditional New York publishing houses, independents tend to be devoted to the content of the books they publish and not just to their sales; in many cases their books are lovingly produced. These presses would be good places to look for holiday gifts.

Of course the Bay Area has many more than just ten worth independent presses. Apologies to those I have not listed, and feel free to use the comments section to list omissions. (Remember too that Small Press Distribution in Berkeley is a good place to find interesting books.) The ten presses are listed alphabetically.

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Progress on library

Getting Settled

Back in September I mentioned that I was working on a couple of outbuildings that will house much of my library. I’ve been progressing on this pretty steadily, and now I’ve moved in my desk and am starting to move in books.

I still have to frame the window, install a threshold, put up the siding, etc. But the building is functional and watertight.


Shepard Fairey at Gingko Press

Here’s a familiar image:

barack obama by shepard fairey

It’s by Shepard Fairey. My friend Ellen, who works at Gingko Press (currently located in Marin County but soon to move to Berkeley), informs me that the press has reprinted a choice selection of Fairey’s work that is selling so fast they can’t keep it on the shelves. The monograph was originally published in a limited edition paperback in Japan. According to the Gingko site, the book “documents Shepard Fairey’s career from his creation of the Giant phenomenon [THE GIANT HAS A POSSE] up to and including the advent of Black Market, a San Diego design agency Fairey formed with Dave Kinsey and Philip Dewolff.”

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Ubu Roi, book binding by Marcel Duchamp and Mary Reynolds

ubu roi binding

Mary Reynolds (1891-1950) was an innovative book binder who for three decades enjoyed a relationship with Marcel Duchamp described by friends as “happier than most marriages.” Susan Glover Godlewski has written about her life and career, and examples of her work can be seen at the Mary Reynolds Collection (affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago).

A post at Ordinary finds called this extraordinary binding for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (Ubu the King) to my attention. It quotes the Reynolds Collection:

This binding is perhaps the best known and most successful of the collaborations between Reynolds and Duchamp. On November 26, 1934, Duchamp visited his close friend Henri-Pierre Roché in Arago and excitedly reported on a binding that he had just designed for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi that Mary Reynolds was going to execute. Reynolds and Duchamp created out of the binding itself an extraordinarily clever pun. Both the front and back covers are cut-out “U’s” covered in rich earth tones; the spine is a soft caramel B. The endpapers are made of black moiré silk. A gold crown, signifying the puppet king, is imprinted on the front flyleaf and visible through the front cut-out “U”. The author’s name is imprinted in gold on the back flyleaf and is similarly visible through the back U. The binding spread open spells “UBU.” Reynolds must have spent considerable time executing this binding. We know from a letter from Duchamp, responding to a question from Katharine Kuh, that the binding was not completed until 1935. It is expertly and lovingly crafted. Both Duchamp and Reynolds were so pleased with the final work, that another copy was bound identically for the American collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

ubu roi


Paris: Librairie Charpentier et Fasquele, 1921. Binding: morocco, levant, and niger (goatskins) with silk and glassine endpapers. Mary Reynolds Collection, MR 253.


Ordinary Finds – Book binding for Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry


Doubleday Publishing announces big layoffs

The NYT is reporting that Doubleday Publishing will lay off 10 percent of its employees. The company denies the move is related to delays in the delivery of a new novel by Dan Brown, the author of the DaVinci Code. I hope that’s true because I don’t care how popular that book was, if ten percent of your staff is depending on the writing of Dan Brown, you are already in trouble.


The Island at the End of the World

Penguin Books and Creativity magazine recently ran a Hearts and Minds Talent Competition for which entrants designed the cover of a book by Sam Taylor, described as “a chilling novel about the near future, where most of the world has been destroyed by catastrophic floods.” There were many strong entries. Shown below are four of the twenty-five finalists. At lower right is the winning entry by Matt Taylor. At upper left is the first runner up by Pillow Fort. The one at lower left was designed by Alan Vladusic and the one at upper right by John Rice.

island at the end of the world penguing book cover design competition


My Bookhouse


Call me Kirk: my house is being overrun with tribbles. Well not tribbles really, but books, which amounts to much the same thing. They seem charming at first — each one is unique — but they show up in every corner and never give you a moment’s peace.

To address this we are putting up two outbuildings, each 10 x 12 feet, partway down our fairly steep south-facing hill; they are separated by a small deck. (I’ve got the roof rafters up but still need to do the doors and windows, sheathing, and roofing.)  Much of the library will move out here.

Over the years I have made a lot of bookcases like the one shown above. Four of them can line each wall, so the two buildings can hold 16 bookcases on the long dimension (and still have some room left over). Each bookcase is about eight feet high and about 32 inches wide; most provide about 20 linear feet of shelf, so that’s 320 feet in all (about a tenth of a kilometer), not counting the top, which is in effect another shelf and provides pretty much additional space at the high end.

I still want to go through the library and cull many of the books. I see no virtue in hoarding. The problem is that each one requires individual review. I will do that at my leisure as I finish this up.

Below is a view of the first bookhouse in progress, looking past the garden that used to be a swimming pool.



More bookhouse photos at Flickr.


Two covers, one image

It’s not unusual to see two or more books that use the same image. After all, professional designers tend to sample from the same stock image pools. What I find interesting about these two is the way the different crops and tones seem to adjust the dynamic between the figures.

two book covers that use the same image

Would you be more likely to pick one up than the other?


via Book Design Review


American and European dust jackets, 1926-1947

queer books

The New York Public Library’s amazing and ever-expanding digital collections includes more than two thousand book jackets from 1926 through 1947. The library routinely removed jackets from books in its collection– no doubt because they quickly would become damaged or lost — but during those years some of its librarians kept interesting examples in a collection of scrapbooks. As the library website notes, “Ranged side-by-side within years, the dust jackets provide an overview of the graphic design taste and trends of the time, while helping to reconstruct the atmosphere of the annual panoply of an era’s published works, with classic titles alongside their less enduring contemporaries”


Palin and book banning

According to the NYT today:

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”


Friday roundup | Duly quoted

If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which … – William Butler Yeats

Duly quoted

  • Cuil is “a great search engine if you’re not interested in finding what you’re looking for.” —lardvark

World’s largest publishers

Some time ago I wrote about consolidation in publishing and the challenges facing independent book publishers. One result of this consolidation has been the transfer of ownership from the U.S. to other countries. In its July 14 issue, Publishers Weekly lists the world’s fifty largest publishers, based on dollar sales in fiscal or calendar 2007. How many of these fifty publishers are headquartered in the U.S.?

___ 7
___ 17
___ 27
___ 37

Answer after the jump.

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