Friday, January 25, 2008

Orwell's "Bookshop Memories," or a Cure for Bibliophilia

Recently the world's most popular blog, Boing Boing, pointed to a rather grumpy essay by George Orwell, entitled "Bookshop Memories." Alcuin Society members and other book lovers may be happy to know that there is a documented cure for their bibliophilia:
But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro. There was a time when I really did love books — loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies’ magazines of the sixties. For casual reading — in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch — there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl's Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can't borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.
For the full essay, check here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Print-on-Demand. It's Here.

Insofar as publishing is "the activity of making information available for public view," the internet has been democratizing publishing for some time now. These days, in Canada at least, anyone can go to a public library, access the Internet, and start a blog at Blogger, all for free. Put another way, with the World Wide Web the barrier to entry for publishing is almost nonexistent, requiring only basic computer skills.

Conversely, up until recently there's been a significant barrier to entry when it comes to good old fashioned ink on paper, especially in book form. Usually an author has to convince a publisher that a sufficient number of his or her books will sell to turn a profit, or failing at this an author could opt for so called vanity publishing, fronting the money to publish a run of their own book.

This is no longer the case. As this article suggests, print on demand technology is here:
New printing technologies are making published authors of legions of aspiring writers, a population that once toiled for years on tomes that might not see the light of day. The vast majority of today's instant authors may sell only a few dozen copies of their books, but on-demand publishing is letting thousands realize the ambitions of generations of would-be writers.
With this technology the economics of scale cease to apply: if all you want is one book, you can have it printed for you; if you have orders for 25 books the next day, you can have them printed... There's no limit and no significant price difference for volume.

The above quoted article links to three sites that offer print-on-demand: