Archive for Publishing Innovations

Free E-Day

FreeedayI’m very late with this, so my apologies. Some of my Twitter acquaintances are staging Free E-Day tomorrow, December 1st. This is a day to celebrate Indie Culture, featuring plenty of  art that will be given away for free.

So you’ll find free images there, free music, and lots of free writing to download. Also check out the schedule of events, to find web chats, online workshops and other special things that will be going on. It’s a little more formalized in this Bookbuzzr Free E-day brochure.

Here’s where to go if you’re interested in these areas:

  1. free designs
  2. free music
  3. free writing

I have a feeling this isn’t going to be the last we see of this sort of thing, especially from Dan Holloway. He’s the one I wrote about in an earlier post, Can you write a peaceful novel with no conflict at all? He’s got a lot of different ideas about things, and is very busy exploring the concepts of self-publishing, independent writing, free writing, and so many other things.

Anyway, if you’re interested in any of these things, rush over there and partake of all the festivities.

Book Review – The Case for Books, by Robert Darnton

Case for BooksA few weeks ago, I was involved in an extensive Twitter chat with several authors and editors, and discovered that a great many of them were all for taking every book digital and doing away with physical books altogether.

I have a feeling that Robert Darnton would say to these people, “How admirably enthusiastic you are! But how very naïve.”

This is a man with one foot in each world, the physical and the digital. He founded the Gutenberg-e program that ran from 2000 to 2006, an attempt to turn selected PhD dissertations into digital books with multiple layers. He has aspirations to write his own multi-layered digital history ebook. And as Director of the Harvard University Library, he’s been instrumental in creating the program to digitize Harvard’s vast scholarly collections and make them accessible to everyone, rather than limit their availability just to that university’s closed community.

So the guy is no Luddite. He likes ebooks. Yet in The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (**), he argues that we should neither be in such a rush to eliminate physical paper books, nor should bookish people look down their noses at digitized books and e-readers. We are not confronted with an either-or situation, says Darnton, despite what people on both sides of the divide believe.

Darnton, a scholar as well as library director, advances arguments that will make each side both smile and weep. He was probably farther ahead in the late 1990s, with his ideas on where ebooks should go, than most people who are pushing ebooks so strongly today. Yet at the same time, he describes just how much published material there really is, and will be in the future, so that the complete digitization of all books and printed matter simply will never happen. He also argues that modern libraries, rather than doing away with physical books and going entirely digital, should stock even more books than ever before.

Darnton’s primary concern, through each essay in this book, is the wider public good. In this regard, while he admires Google’s goal of digitizing all books and making them accessible to everyone, he believes this should be done by a public non-profit consortium of libraries rather than a private corporation. The recent class action settlement with Google essentially gives it a monopoly, and while the current owners of the company appear to have only benevolent motives for what they’re doing, that guarantees nothing about what future owners will choose. In the end, the company’s main goal is not the public good, but the greatest monetary value for its own shareholders. So while Darnton loves the idea of everyone in the world having access to all books, he is convinced that handing ultimate ownership of every book ever published to Google is a very bad way of achieving this.

The Case for Books is a collection of essays about ebooks and the value of physical books, published by Darnton over the last decade. The essays are grouped into a Future, Present, and Past configuration, looking at where we might be going, where we are now, and what the previous history of books has been. It’s the last section that might give readers a bit of difficulty, depending on who Darnton’s audience is supposed to be. Those who aren’t used to scholarly analysis may find the final essay (“What is the History of Books?”) rather hard slogging, fascinating though it is. It’s a great demonstration of how books make history rather than just describe it, but as the end of this book, it concludes things rather quietly.

Indeed, the entire “Past” section is academic enough that it may bring some readers down with a bit of a thud, after the excitement and, occasionally, strong emotions of the first two sections. Perhaps it might have been better to arrange them Present-Past-Future, or perhaps to take the first essay (“Google and the Future of Books”) and make it the last one instead, to end this volume on a more powerful note.

However, on the whole, Darnton makes a very strong case for the crucial importance of physical books continuing to exist and be promoted alongside ebooks. Some of his views will make people on both sides gnash their teeth, but his suggested solutions may be the only way the two views can ever be reconciled, and books of any type be preserved.

(**Note: The Case for Books is published by PublicAffairs, whose goal is to publish “good books about things that matter.” My copy was an advanced reading copy, and there may be changes when the final version is published on October 27, 2009.)

(**Further Note: for Darnton’s own summary of his thoughts about the future of the book, you may be interested in an article he published on September 14, 2009, in Publishers Weekly: On the Ropes? Robert Darnton’s Case for Books.)

Manga promotes wine in a big way

A friend on Facebook linked to this newspaper article today: Manga manna for wine-grower. It’s about a Korean manga series, The Drops of God, that promotes the virtues of particular wines.

The whole plot of the manga revolves around two characters, Shizuku Kanzaki, the son of a famous wine critic, and his adoptive sommelier brother, Issey Tomine. Kanzaki’s father has died and in his will has left descriptions of twelve different wines that he considers the “Twelve Apostles. A thirteenth wine he calls the “Drops of God,” and he pits the two young men against each other in a contest to find all of these wines and thereby inherit the deceased father’s entire wine collection.

Previous issues talked about French wines, and now it seems that the latest wine taken up by the manga is The Laughing Magpie shiraz viognier from South Australian winemaker D’Arry Osborn, as described in the news article. And each time one of these wines is discussed in the manga, sales of that wine skyrocket both in Japan and throughout Asia.

The manga is created by a brother-sister team, Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, who write under the join name, “Tadashi Agi.” They don’t get any sponsorship from anyone, and all the wine choices in the manga are based on their own tastes and research.

The Baeutiful Youthful Joyful Journal (don’t you love that name?) has a much more detailed description of the story of the manga, and what’s happening in connection with it, taken from a Reuters article.

I love this idea so much! I may have to start nagging VIZ Media, the big manga distributor in North America, to get this thing translated into English and bring it here!

How far has Penguin come!

Penguin books

I’ve always thought of Penguin books as kind of elite books, or at least the sort of things that university students and intellectuals would buy. I had no idea that they actually started out as books designed to provide inexpensive, good quality fiction for the masses.

Penguin tweeted a link to their company history today, so I started reading. I didn’t know that in the beginning, they carried three genres: biography, fiction, and crime writing, with each genre having its own colour in a band on the cover. (Biography=dark blue, crime=green, fiction=orange)

I love some of the reactions to this new publishing venture, that they’ve quoted on the page. Take George Orwell, for example, in 1936:

if other publishers follow suit, the result may be a flood of cheap reprints which will cripple the lending libraries and check the output of new novels

Isn’t that a scream? The advent of Penguin was going to stop new novels! Of course, that was because the company was simply reprinting previously issued books, in the beginning. It wasn’t long, though, before the Pelican imprint appeared, which published books on important issues of the day, as well as original books.

And then came the line that I myself first associated with the publisher: Penguin Classics. I squealed when I read that the first title in this line was The Odyssey, translated by E.V. Rieu. I have that book! Not with that first cover, but I do have it. This gives me goosebumps.

Meanwhile, you don’t really think of Penguin as the poster boy for defying the authorities, do you? Yet in the 1960s, the publisher’s acquittal under Britain’s Obscene Publications Act, after they published an unabridged version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, helped alter censorship laws. Those rebels!

Give the article a read, if you’re interested in the history. I’d had no idea just how innovative Penguin really was over the years.

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