The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Something for the Weekend


Pushing Paper — Ben Kafka asks why is there no Norton Anthology of Paperwork?:

My Norton Anthology of Paperwork would include some of the finest historical examples of boilerplate, alongside selections of letterhead, fill-in-the-blank forms, fine print, and the history of that wonderfully poetic instruction, “last name, first.” Indeed, the boilerplate metaphor could itself be a metaphor for a larger transformation, two centuries in the making, that has taken many of us away from extracting coal and forging iron and assembling boilers toward waiting for an inspector to come sign off on a certificate that needs to be filed with the local Department of Buildings. Paperwork occupies us and preoccupies us, whether we are maritime lawyers or nail-salon owners, congressional aides or human-resource managers, college professors or freelance web designers.

Hard Times Sam Jordison on the EU investigation into the agency model of e-book pricing and what it means for publishers in The Guardian:

The customer may be unpleasant, but he or she is always right. It’s clear that publishers do need to up their game to accommodate the new demands. There’s also the fact that they’ve been pretty dreadful at digitising the backlists of their living authors, while those of dead authors are widely — and often freely — available. Publishers have to do something to win over…pretty much everyone.

The trouble is that… digital editions still cost money to produce (and indeed that the physical costs of a printed book are only a small percentage of their price), that rights are hellishly complicated, and that authors fear losing out hugely if publishers start putting up their backlist digitally (since they would never go out of print and so never be able to escape their contracts).

And on a related note…

Tearing Their Hair Out — Margaret Atwood discusses e-books with Rosalind Porter in The Globe & Mail:

[P]eople sit there putting words on the page, and some of them make a lot of money for their publishers and others create huge losses because the publishers placed their bets wrong. When people say publishing is a business – actually it’s not quite a business. It’s part gambling and part arts and crafts, with a business component. It’s not like any other business, and that’s why when standard businessmen go into publishing and think, “Right, I’m going to clean this up, rationalize it and make it work like a real business,” two years later you find they’re bald because they’ve torn out all their hair. And then you say to them, “It’s not like selling beer. It’s not like selling a case of this and a case of that and doing a campaign that works for all of the beer.” You’re selling one book – not even one author any more. Those days are gone, when you sold, let’s say, “Graham Greene” almost like a brand. You’re selling one book, and each copy of that book has to be bought by one reader and each reading of that book is by one unique individual. It’s very specific.

See also: Margaret Atwood’s keynote speech at TOC.

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