Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti; the Unicorn; Librarians

Catching up on the events of the past week, I need to mention that Third Place Press (along with the University of Washington Bookstore, Harvard Bookstore, and Schuler Books and Music) was commissioned by On Demand Books to contribute a unique piece of humanitarian aid:

Each of us was asked by a medical organization to contribute this book "Haitan Creole (Kreyol)-English Pocket medical dictionary" to redistribute to all the aid-workers and medical professionals helping save lives.The whole process to less that 5 days from the initial email requests!
It's and odd project; one that 5 years ago you wouldn't be able to wrap your mind around, but exciting nevertheless. To be able to print books through the EBM is a joy; to do so and help (in a small way) save the lives of others is astounding. I'm hoping the books get into the right hands. And I know that if they need more, we're ready.

The Apple iPad (heretofore dubbed 'the Unicorn' by me) caused quite a tizzy throughout the internet mid-week with Steve Jobs' presentation. I've been thinking about this device since the first rumors surfaced several years ago (relating to an order placed for 10 inch touch-screens from the Chinese manufacturer). When I saw the Unicorn unveiled, I wasn't surprised, wasn't disappointed, but was rather, quietly pleased. It's exactly as I'd imagined. No more, no less. And I know it'll evolve; all Apple products do. I know the main thing Apple did with its release was to force its competitors to rethink their concept of a netbook, much like they caused a philosophical shift in the evolution of smart phones. 
The haters pounced immediately, whining about lack oh multi-tasking, this, and double-dipping wireless that-- which just made me roll my eyes. I remember the reactions when the iphone came out, I remember the reactions when the macbook Air debuted. Words were flowing viciously back and forth on the web, but I found Stephen Fry's post about seeing the Unicorn up close and personal, with his criticism of the knee-jerkers and haing a healthy skepticism as an Apple fan, to be the most rounded analysis. And best written. I can't wait to use the Brushes App on it... mmmm.

Hosted a small group of Librarians from Bainbridge Island, and it was fun. They watched Ginger go through her paces and thoroughly grilled me on the EBM's promise to books, retailing, and libraries. Unfortunately they ran out of time (it was quite a long way to travel!), and I could tell they had more to ask. They all have my card, so they know they can pepper me with questions whenever they like.

The week ends, with the promise of rest, and some mindless diversions. 
Perhaps some sketching. 
I hope it's a placid weekend for us all, a moment to recharge as we face the constantly mutating future beneath our every step...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Whirlwind

Another one of those weeks that seemed to have landed like that tornado that swept away Dorothy to OZ.
Beginning with The Everett Herald's article on Third Place Press, that exposed our endeavor to the upper northern suburbs. It was a great piece, though it was originally started in December (but not to gripe--I'd rather they take their time and fact-check than do a rush piece).

So most of the week was spent relying to emails, fielding phone calls, talking to curious bystanders. Most of it was in regards to self-publishing. It seems that with every new piece written about the EBM, more and more people are coming out of the wood work to try and publish some long-anguished, hidden manuscript; be it fiction, memoir, or, say, knife collecting. The publishing landscape, and the subjects published therein is getting interesting.

Finished the project with the estimable Bruce Taylor. "Mountains of the Night" just finished it's first batch printing today, and Bruce had sold a copy even before he left Lake Forest Park. The bookstore is doing a book event with Bruce on March 12th, so it'll be exciting to see the whole book writing-producing-marketing-touring cycle so intimately engaged.

We've also lined something up (details to be finalized) with Steve Almond. Partially based on his excellent essay about self-publishing with the EBM. I especially liked how he made the connection between small bands selling their own CDs on tour; that's a similar analogy I've made about the potential of the EBM to assist all writers, not just writers who can't get 'big publishing' contracts.

Kassia Krozser makes some great statements about the whole e-book 'revolution'. I'm not against e-books, but they are not the savior the publishing industry is looking for. Especially since the writer says that e-books themselves are sorely lacking in any kind of innovative thinking. Not gussying up an e-book with multi-media, but simple typographical choices, for starters.

For part of the week I was following the hullabaloo over at the Digital Book World twitter trend feed. Wish I could've been there to see what these free(er) thinkers on the publishing industry had to say.

A terrible week for the literary world, with JD Salinger, Howard Zinn and Louis Auchincloss moving on into larger spheres of the imagination. One commenter on Twitter said that while Salinger died, since he was 91, it wasn't that surprising, or shocking. But I think the point they are missing (especially coming from me, a person who has only read 1 Salinger short story--to the chagrin of many close friends. I do plan to change that, honestly I do) is that these writers wove tendrils of emotion into our lives and in passing, they get tugged, and we as a culture feel something, a loss, but also the collective memory of reading each author for the first time; of discussing their works with friends; of the joy when we convince someone we like to read these authors; how they all helped us become a tiny bit closer to the rest of the world. Even if one of them was one of the world's most famous literary recluses. Has anyone checked Pynchon's pulse lately?

Frivolities: Tiny Tiny Books; and not-so-frivolous: Book piracy.

I've more to write about, but the day has just imploded (in a good way). Onto and into another night, with another day of book making to follow it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Biblio-deer; Mountainous; Google quirks; Starship Captains

First off, a bit of fun:

Somewhere someone said (Joyce Carol Oates, maybe) " In books, as in life, we are often surprised by what others choose."

I'd like to officially congratulate Bruce Taylor for the publication (Landis Review Press) and printing (Third Place Press-- us!) of his newest book "Mountains of the Night".
Bruce came to us with his book and worked with me on the design of the cover and the interiors.He's had full input on every aspect of his book's production. I'm pretty proud of the final product and glad I can finally tell the world it's here.

 So while the KOMO people filmed and asked questions, I posed in front of Ginger's console pretending to be 'book-making'. My default behavior is to search the database with a random word, in this case 'circus', and see what pops up. I looked intense, thoughtful, masterly, printerly...constipated?
I came across "Fighting the Flying Circus" By Eddie Rickenbacker, a memoir by the WWI flying Ace. Reading parts, while KOMO went about its business, I found his prose to be quite warm and inviting, very down-to-earth. It could almost be read by Young Adults interested in personal accounts of the Great War.

Another gem was "Amateur Circus Life: a New Method of Physical Development for Boys and Girls, Based on the Ten Elements of Simple Tumbling and Adapted from the Practice of Professional Acrobats" by Ernest Berkeley Balch. It was, as the lengthy title suggests, a new exercise regimen for youth based on circus performers. I'm assuming that it was written at the height of the popularity of circuses.
Sort of like someone publishing a book called "The Survivor Diet: ways to lose weight and defeat your enemies, based on the hit reality series." I think someone has published a book like that...

As of this writing, our friends over at the University Bookstore, in the U-District, should be elbow-deep in the installation of their own EBM. Last week we hosted them here at Third Place Press for a tour and a chance to meet Ginger. It was interesting seeing how they processed watching Ginger go through her paces.
It was also nice to meet my counterpart who will be dealing with the subtle movements and moods of their EBM.
Days later I felt that we were part of an exclusive club; not elitist, but more like individuals who have seen and understood things few have.
Like Starship Captains.
Maybe with my counterparts across the US and the globe we'll form a special club, get badges, secret handshakes, meet once a year in a secret chalet in the Alps (or a moon orbiting a Gas Giant in some nearby galaxy)... One can dream right? Anyhow, I wish them luck and look forward to meeting their EBM, "_____".

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sketchy; Frenzy; Future Jobs; Video killed the paperback star.

By accident, The Seattle Times' resident artist, Gabriel Campanario, wandered into the commons area of Lake Forest Park and spotted Ginger across the dance-floor. It was love at first sight... We no, not really, but he was curious and for the next 45 minutes grilled me on the ins-and-outs of the Espresso Book Machine, Third Place Press, and all things publishy (yes, I invented that word, got a problem?). During the discussion he had his moleskin open and sketched away. At the end he had a nice illustration:

It ran on his blog on Thursday, and the above image ended up in the Saturday edition of the Seattle Times.
He's also part of a blog collective that staggers the mind in its global scope: Urban Sketchers. They're like Joe Sacco; artists who also report on their environment.

Boy. Did we have a reaction!
All weekend customers came in wanting to see the machine, but unfortunately, Ginger's not awake on weekends, so many left disappointed. A special group, pre-arranged, received a private tour from me; all were publishing industry professionals: editors, writers, publishers, librarians (yes, they count). It was a heady evening. We had great discussions about the industry implications for the EBM, and came up with some cool ideas (Can't tell you-- I'm such a tease!). Afterwards, we had dinner at the delightful and filling Chiang's Gourmet in Lake City.

Getting people in the industry is paramount to getting the EBM to be successful. Sure, everybody's doing Self-publishing to make ends meet with their machines, but wouldn't it be great to change the paradigm as well? Especially in light of Amazon's latest unabashed Godzilla-stomping maneuvers, which I don't trust one bit and may serve to explain my dilemma in my previous post. And speaking of posts, Paul Constant's on The Stranger Blog, SLOG is insightful as to what this means to Indie bookstores.

We had several orders for books (which I've started chronicling on occasion at my Twitter feed), many more self-publishing queries--some from out of state!--, and curious onlookers. Our Tuesday open hours (4-6pm) saw a steady stream of people wandering in to take a peek. One of them had even worked for Xerox since the 1970s. Which gave me some perspective.

And I came across a great article talking about the job trends of the coming decades, like Nano-medic, Climate change reversal specialist, Social 'networking' worker, and Quarantine enforcer (that last one is pretty kick-ass. I wonder if it comes with a stun gun?). But I didn't see one for Literature Delivery Specialist... Hmmm.

Finally, this morning, A reporter from KOMO showed up (and me in t-shirt, no button up! Poo!), and filmed and interviewed me with Ginger. It was cool. It was weird. And should be airing on TV as I type these words. They told me that it'll be on their website in a few hours so you all can see exactly how (un)photogenic this paperback maker is.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rare & Collectible Offcuts; Amazon, do I see your hand in the Cookie jar?; Googlicious

So being a press, you generate excess paper, right? This I quickly picked up and I've been religiously setting aside pieces of cut paper for reuse as scrap paper at all the areas of the bookstore. We now have more paper than we can doodle on in 3 months.

But we also ended up with these weird remnants that were glued together. Within the first few days I thought they'd make a great little notepad for myself. I didn't think further than that because, frankly, I'm an odd duck and what pleases me doesn't necessarily please others... So weeks went by and one day this excited lady knocked on my glass door. I was thinking "yes m'am, the machine prints books, in blah, blah...", but when I opened the door she exclaimed "Where did you get that notepad!?" I laughed and gave her a free one, and she said "You should sell those, they'd be popular." And so I did; and so they are. And we have trouble keeping them in stock.

C'mon on people, order books so I can put more offcuts out for sale!

I'm not sure I'm ok with this. There are many things that should be looked at. Firstly, if I've already purchased, say 1984 (yes, that choice is on purpose), Amazon now says that I can 'upgrade' my physical copy to be used on the Amazon Online Reader. I can search it, I can annotate, I can print from it. Wow. And Amazon keeps track of all of that. For one thing, privacy is a thing of the past. Of course if I'm anal, it means I can keep all my first editions clear of marks and write up all my insights on my' UPbook' (and all that content will be mine to own, right?).
Secondly, is Amazon cutting the publisher and author into any of the '$3.99' fee? Surely they can't justify not paying royalties simply because the customer bought a physical copy. Because if that's the case I have some Kindle titles I'd like to 'downgrade' for my bookshelves. That should only cost me $4, right? Right? Is shipping extra?

An interesting day here in Ginger land, with an another round of Google editions: A Ex-Michgander's nostalgia for his home state had produced "Early Mackinac: an Historical and Descriptive Sketch" ; two university students shyly approached my office, and I asked them if they had questions. After a moment I discovered that they'd already searched the online database and wanted a book. I invited them in (during non-public hours-GASP!) and we found their book, which I printed before their very eyes. The book "The Iliad" edited by Walter Leaf, is over 400 pages of the epic in greek with copious english notations. It was pretty cool to flip through. It was even better to see the look on their eyes as Ginger worked her magic. Stuff like that will keep me from getting jaded. And finally, I actually printed a book for myself! In my non-Press downtime I do freelance design and illustration. One project is for a child's version of the Hindu Epic, The Ramayana, written by the delightful Janet Brown. In the process of creating the illustrations I've been researching the artistic history of the legend, and while I've found great images online and in books for costuming and design, I haven't found consistency about the weapons and armor used by warriors. Until now. "The Art of the Attack: Being a Study in the Development of Weapons and Appliances of Offence, From the Earliest Days to the Age of Gunpowder". It has lots of information and illustrations. Hooray for Google Editions!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Twit; the Afterlife of Journalism; I can see all the way to your underpants, Publishing Industry.

So the Press now Twitters...and shudders & convulses. Visit @3rdplacepress for witty 140 character-or-less asides. Feel free to heckle.

This remarkable journalist, after pain-staking research and interviews, was rejected by various magazines, and in frustration took matters into her own hands. What I find fascinating is that in this era of the 'death' of newspapers, and preceding it, the 'death' of real journalism, here's a solution that benefits not Newspapers or the corporations that run them, but the reason why News matters: the journalist.

Freelancing is tough, and in this case the writer put a lot of  her own money into the article, for potentially no return at all. So there is a wealth of writing that sits in the hard drives & desk drawers of journalists that the world can't read because some Magazine or Newspaper didn't think it had a broad enough appeal. But in this global age, there's no such thing as a piece of journalism that doesn't have an audience receptive to it. I salute this writer and hope that she makes all her money back and inspires a legion of journalists... or wait, would the grouping be a bullpen of journalists? Just like the grouping a conspiracy of booksellers...

Over at Galleycat they have a poll going for the publishing insider with the most accurate view for how publishing will change over the next 10 years.
It's fascinating. And I don't agree with some of the predictions, but there are some astute views:

"Most authors will be indie authors" (Mark Coker)
" publishing will (finally) be transformed from a business that chops down trees and puts returnable books into bookstores... into one that finds ideas, funds the writers that need it, and uses their (authors' and publishers') leverage and skills to promote those ideas to people willing to pay for them, in whatever format is the most efficient way to get that transaction to occur." (Seth Godin)
" Amazon, now a de facto publisher, would throw off the cloak and come out as a full competitor with traditional publishers." (Richard Curtis)
" Territory will become a bone of contention as e-readers and e-book smart phone apps become available more widely." (Jane Dystel)
"A new breed of author rises, buoyed on a cult of Internet celebrity, fueled by their ability to quickly churn out opinionated/compelling content on a consistent basis, stay in constant communication with fans, deliver custom pieces directly targeted to audience requests, and generate works consumable in brief bursts that fit better with readers' increasingly hectic lifestyles... I suspect we'll eventually see the rise of ultra-prolific penmen that take advantage of electronic publishing (the main costs being associated with researching, writing, laying out and possibly digitally delivering books - not dealing with physical goods, storage, distribution, ongoing overhead, sales staff, etc.) to - regardless of actual writing experience or talent - powerhouse players in the industry." (Scott Steinberg)
And I Link to the whole of Richard Nash's piece, because it just kicks ass.

I take issue with Jane Dystel's predictions, mostly because they are too Agent-centric. She's ok with divisions at publishing houses shrink, jettisoning editors, lines, consolidating--all things that have put the industry in this mess. Less quality control from the editorial staff and more from the marketing departments. " Outrageous advances for "big" names will get even larger while those for others will continue to decrease"-- what she's describing there is the Publishing Industry careening drunk off a cliff, and while it may be a prediction it shouldn't happen. Huge advances need to come down in order to save the industry.

From Scott Steinberg we have this gem: "Today's books are basically passive, one-way transfers of information in which the reader willingly digests an author's words and views with no expectation of having a say within the context of the given dialogue."-- which is essentially the most Corporate-Speak souless thing anybody has ever said about the intrinsic nature of the book. I'm less likely to pay attention to his other predictions for the book, since I don't feel he respects it.

Richard Curtis says ""1. First and foremost I predict that the size and price of Espresso print on demand will come down to the point where POD kiosks will be installed in non-bookstores like supermarkets, libraries, pharmacies and the like. Which means that...2. The grip of Barnes & Noble as the go-to bookseller will be loosened. You'll be able to buy a book at Publix, Duane Reade, or Starbucks. You'll have a selection of millions of titles, not just what can be packed into the shelves and tables of a brick and mortar bookstore." It already exists with the mass market racks at such non-book places. But what Curtis doesn't figure is that people buying books at those places don't want to browse, they don't want too many choices, so while the customer may have access to millions of titles, they'll only buy from the 10 books highlighted on the main screen. Bookstores exist for the browsing experience, the happy accident, the ability to take 2 books (about blogging, say) and compare them.

Mark Coker: "95% of all reading will be on screens." This from an ebook company owner. "There will be fewer bookstores, though books will be more plentiful than ever before." But will he be happy about it when indie bookstores merge ebook sales with the walk-in experience (hurry up ABA)?

Ultimately, it's an interesting array of predictions and, whether they end up being right or wrong, worth your time to explore them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Live from Lake Forest Park; Gettin' Medieval on your food; Ginger saves Polar Bears...

The above video was shot to quickly convey the elegance of Ginger's book-making and binding process. The hillbilly in the Video is now a little better manicured. Oy vey, looking at video of myself is weird.

Anyhow, enjoy and share with your friends.

A burst of orders out of the gate today ensured that half my day was spent happily making books and doing book layout. One customer requested two truly obscure cook books: "Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery, Compiled about A.D. 1390, by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II, presented Afterwards to Queen Elizabeth, by Edward Lord Stafford, and now in the Possession of Gustavus Brander, Esq." (fourth from the top in the link); "Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books". Which made me think of a piece Jim Harrison wrote for the food issue of The New Yorker one year. A friend of his was a gourmand of gourmands: He organized a dinner, with over a dozen courses, from recipes drawn from 500 years of cook books. Jim Harrison thought he was going to die. It's brilliant and supremely funny.

Printed "The Jacobite Relics of Scotland" by James Hogg, for an old music enthusiast. I was informed that Hogg initially passed all the songs and verses as being of Jacobite origin, but eventually it was revealed he's written them all himself. Cheeky.

And during the open hours (Tuesdays 4-6pm; Thursdays 10am-noon) I printed a book for a walk-in customer from beginning to end, he was out of the store with his new book "A Presidential Energy Policy" by Michael Ruppert, whose publisher encouraged him to distribute his book via POD and Ondemandbooks; the book's printing is a direct testament to the contents of it: rescuing the environment in whatever manner we can. Through Ginger, we saved, fuel, paper, and electricity that otherwise would've gone into shipping the book to us. More publishers should do this.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Great News from Another Star; You Gotta Hustle; Enjoy the Silence

My morning started out with 2 items of exquisite joy, both from the same link.

I'm a huge David Mitchell fan, and I was delighted to read his short story for The Guardian . It made me happy, reminding me of what a great writer he is; he can be funny, profound, complex, experimental, and simply direct.  Some samples:
"When you're a guy, and a dad," I told Freddy's scarecrow, "and you have to ask your wife to put £5,000 of her bonus into the joint account so that the garage won't refuse your card, and all the jokes about being a Kept Man are worn away, the word is 'vasectomising'..."
We agreed, but the stove, when it arrived, had only half the depth of the fireplace. This would create a gap between the back of the stove and the bricks of the hearth, but with Rumsfeldian [bold italics, mine] clarity our builder assured us, If a thing can get in, a thing can get out.
I paid, put my purchases in a box, and left 1-Stop taking a last backward glance, which is why I failed to notice the BlackBerry-wielding meteor hurtling down the pavement until it was too late.

The other news was the immanent release of Mitchell's next book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet  in June. Such a fine start to the year...

In the January 4, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, there was a profile of the band Vampire Weekend. It was a sunny, entertaining profile, following them on their tour of California for their new album. What I found interesting was the following scene, wherein they are talking to Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 at his rehearsal studio (hand transcribing due to the Subscription wall):

After the interview, he led the band into a conference room with a flat-screen TV and launched into a long pitch for an Internet project he was working on--"a prepackaged Web site" for bands, called Modlife."I term it an 'operating system,'" DeLonge said. "You could sell advance tickets, you could do advertising, you could do authomate V.I.P. parties. We're gonna be putting live auctions, e-commerce." he continued, "We're doing it with the White Stripes." He said Vampire Weekend could do all of its business through Modlife, with the Web site taking twenty-five per cent of the profits. He demonstrated a video chat-room function by talking to a group of his fans: "Hey, everybody, I'm doing a demonstration with Vampire Weekend. If you want Vampire Weekend to join Modlife, say 'Yes!'" The Chat-room users started responding "Yes!" "Yes!" "Yes!" One wrote "No!"
 A bit later:
DeLonge shook his head. "I don't want to be freaking on the money part," he said "But you guys know and I know that you're trying to live in an industry that's dying. And so Modlife is trying to give you the chance to survive."

And after:
The Band members seemed rattled. "I started thinking about all kinds of things while he was talking," Batmangli said. "Like what it means to be in a band. Tom DeLonge is not that old. He's thirty-three. Seven years older than me--that's crazy." Tomson said, "You gotta hustle." No one spoke for a while.

(all copyright is The New Yorker and Lizzie Widdicombe. And if you don't have a subscription to the magazine, you really should. It's amazing.)

The reason I quoted this article is that it speaks volumes about how the music industry is reinventing itself, so fast and varied, like an evolutionary spike, a pre-Cambrian explosion. Who's to say that Modlife won't be a hit? There are so many variables and serendipities that go into the success of businesses, especially on the Internet.
I feel the same thing is happening in the book industry, with the whole Google rights issues, the e-book debacle with Amazon, and beneath it all-- the Espresso Book Machine model. Another time I'll devote a post that solely adresses those ideas, but for now it's fascinating to see how everyone's hustling.

Finally: It's been a quiet few days with Ginger. not that many books, most of them Google editions; I've been emailing with several people about projects and obscure book queries. I've taken the slower pace to work on one of the two author projects I mentioned before; it's nice, book layout and design is oddly calming, very zen for me.
And so it goes...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Less Free, Punchy & Bookish

I have to start off this post with this link.

Copyright is an elaborate beast that can be used by both sides of the argument to great effect. The link above talks about Public Domain, and the recent laws have extended the 'rights' of the creator of a work to 70 years after death. Think about it: That's almost 3 generations of a creative person's descendants controlling something they might not care about at all. At the link they argue against the new copyright laws from the point of view of how it affects culture, and that's an important issue to discuss.
They're not talking about pirating books, or taking your ownership of a creative work; free access to the thoughts and imaginations of those who helped shape our modern culture is paramount.

I mentioned in an earlier post about Alan Lomax and his books on music ethnography; well, all his books are out of print, and his estate may be having trouble republishing the books (or they might not care)-- our culture definitely needs access to his work, and if publishers aren't going to take a chance on it, how are we to explore his work without buying expensive out-of-print editions? And one generation from now, when the mantle is passed on, will the next generation care about keeping his books in print? If he were Stephen King, maybe, but an author with a limited (but active) readership, probably not. And yet his writings would be locked up in copyright for another 50 years, regardless.

Book production-wise, Ginger's printed out a couple of interesting ones "Punch and Judy" which is a history of the reviled/loved puppet character and archetype. With illustrations, and footnotes, like the one that quotes Milton saying that fame is "That last infirmity of the mind". Ha!

And in another batch of Google Editions, the delightfully titled "Walking: a fine art as practiced by Naturalists and explained by Original Contributions to this Volume, and by Quotations from the published works of those who Love to Dally Along Country Lanes". Why don't authors choose long titles like this anymore, there was a time when " title, or blah blah blah, etc. etc" was common-place. Nowadays books published have 1 word, or a combination like "archaeological mystery/artifact/scientific discovery blah blah". "The Derringer Gut-Punch", "The Icoseles Expedition", "The Quantum Slippers"...

And finally, I'm having a great time designing books for two authors I've known for long time, who want books published through Third Place Press & Ginger. I can't share details yet, but I'll talk more about the projects as they near completion.

Oh. And Happy New Year!