A Great Sorting

“…we are witnessing a Great Sorting within the library, a matching of different kinds of scholarly uses with the right media, formats, and locations. Books that are in high demand; or that benefit from physical manifestations, such as art books and musical scores; or that are rare or require careful, full engagement, might be better off in centralized places on campus. But multiple copies of common books, those that can be consulted quickly online or are needed only once a decade, or that are now largely replaced by digital forms, can be stored off site and made available quickly on demand, which reduces costs for libraries and also allows them to more easily share books among institutions in a network. Importantly, this also closes the gap between elite institutions such as Yale and the much larger number of colleges with more modest collections.”

-Dan Cohen, “The Books of College Libraries Are Turning Into Wallpaper.” The Atlantic. May 26, 2019.

37 Difficult Questions From My Mixed-Race Son

“Mommy, I have changed my name to “The Sixth Jackson.”

Wait, really? I’m supposed to say, ‘This in my son, ‘The Sixth Jackson.’?’

No. You are supposed to say, “This is the Sixth Jackson.” And then I will show them my moves. And then they will understand.

Damn.”

—Mira Jacob. “37 Difficult Questions From My Mixed-Race Son.” Buzzfeed. June 8, 2015.

New to me. Mentioned as part of Mira Jacob’s just released, “Good Talk,” which is a graphic memoir of conversations that have this quote at their heart:

“I can’t protect you from spending a lifetime caught between the beautiful dream of a diverse nation and the complicated reality of one.”

h/t Longreads.

Book of Kells

“The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland and may have had contributions from various Columban institutions from both Britain and Ireland. It is believed to have been created c. 800 AD. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.”

—s.v. “Book of Kells,” Wikipedia.

Images of the Book of Kells have recently been rescanned.

Amazon & The Cultural Landscape of Books

The small print publisher 404 Ink’s discussion of their finances, particularly the portion on the cost to small press publishers to have their books sold via Amazon, is a bit of an eye-opener. On some level, I was aware that the discounts that Amazon is able to offer on books had to be squeezed from authors and publishers (but apparently not distributors). But, I was not sure of the exact scope.

I’m imagining a publisher like Dorothy selling Sabrina Orah Mark’s Wild Milk. On the publisher’s website, it is $16.00. On Amazon, it is being sold for $14.87. If we assume a similar distribution like 404 Ink’s, then:

  • Printing cost (9%): $1.44
  • Royalty to author (12%): $1.60
  • Share to distributor (12%): $1.92
  • Share to publisher (9%): $1.44
  • Share to Amazon (60%): $8.48

So, the $1.13 difference between Amazon and Publisher prices is 7%, which Amazon offers as part of a package with Amazon Prime, free delivery and so forth to create a price sensitive, captive book market that buys primarily through them. But, even with the 7% off they are still making 13%, or $2.08, more on a $16 book than a traditional book seller.

And let’s be real about mom and pop book shops. Books selling have been dominated by the likes of Walden’s, Borders, Books-a-Million and other chain book stores for decades. I don’t really care if Amazon puts them out of business. But, there are still independent shops that are trying to carve out space in the cracks, promoting books that are not in the cultural mainstream. The problem is that there are not many cracks that Amazon isn’t in.

There’s also a large question about our cultural output. If there is no room for an independent publisher or book store to make a living doing that kind of work, and publishing houses like Dorothy are doing vital cultural work in promoting emerging women writers, what happens to those writers? Do they stay at their technical writing jobs, in the corporate cubicle, etc. and never produce any work? Or, do they end up channelling their creative energy to generate page views, followers and what not, hoping there’s a life to be found, like salt sprinkled in a wound?

There’s an argument here, beyond the standard argument about the feudal internet, the Rating Rabbit Hole, and so forth that we should pay the extra $1.13, buy directly from publishers, and consider this a tax to support diversity in our cultural landscape. Because every time we buy from Amazon rather than directly from these small publishing houses, we are voting with our dollars to essentially destroy the very stories we are showing we are willing to buy, just to save a small fraction of the cost. It’s a tragedy.

Of course, you could argue that if there is no money to be made on Amazon, then these small publishers will turn to alternatives, such as print on demand, and they will develop a market outside of Amazon. This is true, and it is happening. But, relegating a large portion of our cultural output to the long tail is also an exercise in diminishment. The diversity of the long tail will be a function of the amount of effort we put into creating it, and the first step is to stop using Amazon to buy books.

The Cost of Amazon to Small Publishers

“When someone buys a £8.99 book from us via our website…

Printing cost: 80p
Royalty to author: £1.35
Share to 404 Ink: £6.84

WE LOVE IT WHEN PEOPLE BUY DIRECTLY. It also means the author gets more…

When someone buys a £8.99 book from a bookshop…

Printing cost: 80p
Royalty to author: £1.08
Share to distributor: £1.08
Share to bookshop: £3.60
Share to 404 Ink: £2.43…

When someone buys a £8.99 book from Amazon…

Printing cost: 80p
Royalty to author: 90p
Share to distributor: £1.08
Share to Amazon: £5.40
Share to 404 Ink: 81p

It’s fairly self-explanatory that sales via Amazon really hurt. For some titles we practically make a loss on sales so we have to reassess some of our RRPs in future to balance this issue.”

—Laura Jones, “Money, money, money.” 404 Ink. March 1, 2019.

50 Watts

“Originally called Journey Around My Skull [and now called 50 Watts], the site started as an old-fashioned book blog, what Schofield calls an ‘I like this book and you should read it’ blog. From the beginning he included the book covers, so it had a visual component. ‘Sometime in 2008 I trash-picked Biology Today, an early-1970s textbook with fantastically strange illustrations,’ he says. ‘I featured the book and got a lot of positive feedback. Soon I started to collect illustrated books and to contact artists about showcasing their work, and the blog morphed into its graphic-intensive state.'”

—Steven Heller, “Design Blogs: The New Museums.” The Atlantic. May 19, 2011.