Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Autumns of our Days; TAB, TAB, TAB, link, link, link

Why is it that as the days go by I feel guilty if I don't post at least once a week? I mean, it's not like you're all perched on the edge of your seat, waiting for my next ramblings, like some lovelorn soul waiting for that 'call', are you?
Anyhow, once again the Press has been in full production mode, and a good chunk of my casual time during office hours has been to train the indefatigable Autumn, who is now my most able and very welcome assistant. She runs the machine while I work on design, talk to clients,etc. She also helps coordinate the Press, clean up after my messy self, and is a great sounding board for design ideas. It was interesting to train Autumn, as I've been running the Press solo since we set up on November last year. When the technician was here, I was the only one fully trained and it was necessary-- there's so much to watch for, so many variable, that if two people were to train neither one would've absorbed the totality of what it takes to run the machine-- the technician would've had to cater to more than one learning style, speed-- meaning that they would have to backtrack often. When we created the Press, we envisioned a time when it would be running seven days a week, but to do that we'd have to train people. And I didn't know exactly how the structure of training would look like. Fortunately, Autumn is a quick study, and didn't laugh at me when I'd say things like "I want you to watch every book closely. Every book. Watch every part of the machine as it moves. Ask yourself why that part does what it does. Again and again. So that eventually, you'll be able to turn your back on the machine and you'll hear when something goes awry." Like some deranged Jedi, me.
So now Autumn runs the Press on at least one weekend day, and sometimes, later in the evening. And so we can meet our client's print runs in a timely fashion. And besides, it's nice to have another human around sometimes. It gets a bit lonely in this glass menagerie...

As I go about my day here at the Press, I come across articles either sent to me or through blogs I follow, or, the Hyperspace of the internet otherwise known as Twitter. I open a new tab for each of these, digest the information, and if it might stimulate a topic for a blog post I leave it up.
I'm currently looking at over 20 tabs in 2 windows. And that's after some culling and one brief mishap with firefox (I'm now using Chrome to spur my forays into the digi-aether). Don't worry, I'm not going to dump them all on you (that is what Twitter is for). I'll have lots more to say about recent developments with the Press, the books we've published, and other book-related events and concerns. For now, I'll run through a few that are important to share.

I remember when news that "Hapworth 16, 1924" by J. D. Salinger, was to be published in book form. It was 1997, and I was still at The Elliott Bay Book Company; we had an ancient and cluttered computer inventory system, and all our special orders were carefully and copiously handwritten. I remember being shown the fistful of orders waiting for the book (which was originally printed in The New Yorker)--sadly, the book never came out, but those orders stayed active for years, symbol of blind hope. Now, the true story of the books (non) publication has been written by the man who tried to publish it. I'm sure he dutifully and respectfully waited until Salinger's death to write about it. It's fascinating, and heartbreaking, especially from the point of view of someone like me who loves to design books, and loves seeing them get printed, and loves scooping some unique project. You should read it.

The Unicorn has landed. Ok, not a real unicorn, but the iPad. Sure, you're sick of hearing about it by now, but I move at a snail's pace with the bloggery so you have to be patient with me. First, this excellent article by Stephen Fry, on interviewing Steve Jobs, and Fry's first moment with an iPad. What is unique about this article over the glut out there is he mentions the sorely-missed Douglas Adams, who was, more that a great novelist, an advocate of Apple from its inception, and fiercely curious about the potential of multi-media and technology in terms of storytelling possibilities (I fondly recall the Hitchhiker's text-based game)... And the very weekend of the iPad's release, this bit of 'performance art' --teens destroy an iPad in front of a Best Buy. On one level, it's a brilliant piece of social statement--about consumerism, about technology overwhelming our lives and becoming fetishized--but I was bothered by some of what one teen said: it's not that he wanted to 'do it first', but when asked whether he hated Apple, he responding by citing all the Apple machines his family owned already including 2 other iPads.... Cory Doctorow, author of the amazing "Little Brother", an outspoken proponent of open source philosophy, flexible copyright laws, has written about his distaste for the iPad & its 'closed system' and dumbing down of computer literacy in the masses. I'm not sure I entirely agree with his statements, but he's an agile thinker and always stimulates healthy debate.

E-madness! So Amazon continues to sulk, albeit more surreptitiously. Moby Lives blog writes about Amazon's latest move- blaming the price of an e-book in the publisher right on the webpage. I know Amazon's probably doing the "wha? me? huh?" shrug about the intentions of such a maneuver, but it's clear to me (and Moby Lives) that Amazon's attempting to cause a customer uprising. Take to the digital streets, rebels! Sing with me now: 'let Amazon run the publishing industry--er. Cheaper books now!'. yes Amazon. I'm watching you. ::does the fingers to eyes gesture:: ...This interesting post from Publishing Perspectives asks the question of bundling--e-book and physical book. You buy the physical book, you get a free (or at least highly reduced in price) download. All these arguments about e-book pricing would fade quickly if a bundling system was created. Say 'Book X' is 15.99, or 18.99 in a bundled edition. It works in the music industry where some albums are sold only as vinyl and come with a web-link and download code so you can get the digital versions of the songs. It's an idea worth resurrecting. Publishing industry, are you listening?... Over at the New York Times page, Randy Cohen, writing as The Ethicist has received flak over some advice about downloading a pirated version of a book they've already bought in physical form. Essentially, he didn't see an issue with downloading a copy of a book you've already paid for. The blogosphere is on fire about this, primarily because of the sensitive nature of the e-book industry right now, but John Scalzi has a beautifully apt post about the controversy from the author's perspective, and he's supporting Cohen's advice (so am I, see the 'bundled' link above), while carefully outlining the real issues at hand. I think the e-book debacle that's been growing is leading to the big elephant in the room: International Rights, and the growing awareness amongst authors about the minutiae in their contracts. Not everybody's happy with the control publishers have.

Retro in a Futuro way. So we run a Press, right? With this mechanical-thingy we've named 'Ginger' that makes insta-books. Physical books. eeeewwww! Ur bookz iz in my hans dirty! We should be hopping on this e-book bandwagon, yeah? And to top it off, we make broadsides to compliment the publication of certain books. Physical. Tangible. Using an actual letter press (independently run by Seattle Artist Amy Redmond). Argh! What are you, Luddites? I hear you scream. No. We just dig the spirit of creation that leads to writing books, to making them, to the art that goes on the covers, the tactile nature of the printed book. Over at the Third Place Books blog (New! Stop by and say hello!) there's a post about the most recent broadside for William Vollman's latest book "Kissing the Mask". I love the broadsides; running my hand lightly over the indentation of the text, the hand-made paper, the aesthetic elegance of the designs. While the purpose of broadsides is to get customers to buy the book from us, we hope that people also appreciate the quality and resonance of such an item in the daily life of a book lover. If you're ever at the store, check out our previous broadsides hanging on the walls of the Rare and Collectible area, and in some cases some of these pieces are still available for purchase (if you ask nicely).

My next post will be dedicated to the more SF&F side of things; the annual Seattle SF convention Norwescon, the Hugo Awards, and a special Third Place Press Project...

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