Monday, October 10, 2011
Historical perspectives on books and publishing: a review essay.
Historical perspectives on books and publishing: a review essay. The Case For Books. Past, Present, and Future BY ROBERT DARNTON Robert Darnton (born May 10, 1939) is an American cultural historian, recognized as a leading expert on eighteenth century France.He graduated from Harvard University in 1960, attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship, and earned a Ph.D. (D. Phil. New York New York, state, United StatesNew York,Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Public Affairs Those public information, command information, and community relations activities directed toward both the external and internal publics with interest in the Department of Defense. Also called PA. See also command information; community relations; public information. , 2009.214 pp. A$48.00 hard cover ISBN ISBNabbr.International Standard Book NumberISBNInternational Standard Book NumberISBNn abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m9781586488260 The British Book Trade: An Oral History ED. BY SUE BRADLEY London: The British Library British Library,national library of Great Britain, located in London. Long a part of the British Museum, the library collection originated in 1753 when the government purchased the Harleian Library, the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, and groups of manuscripts. . 2008.328 pp. 25.00 [pounds sterling]hard cover ISBN 9780712349574 Doing Something for Australia: George Robertson and the Early Yearsof Angus and Robertson, Publishers, 1888-1900 BY JENNIFER ALLISON Melbourne: Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand New Zealand(zē`lənd), island country (2005 est. pop. 4,035,000), 104,454 sq mi (270,534 sq km), in the S Pacific Ocean, over 1,000 mi (1,600 km) SE of Australia. The capital is Wellington; the largest city and leading port is Auckland. ,2009.332 pp. A$49.50 hard cover ISBN 9780975150030 Professor Robert Darnton in The Case for Books writes, 'welive in a world where information is power; it's a real force insociety'. Historically, whoever dominated the trade routesdominated the world, as exemplified by the Dutch, French and Britishempires. In the 20th century control of natural resources, such as oiland gas, emerged as major factors in global power structures. Who ownsand controls information in the digital world of the 21st century isincreasingly important, as the China-Google dispute and the RupertMurdoch news paywall debate illustrate. Darnton, now Director of the Harvard University Library The Harvard University Library system comprises about 90 libraries, with more than 15 million volumes. It is the oldest library system in the United States and the largest academic library system in the world. , has spentmost of his academic life as a historian of the Enlightenment. Hewrites, ... while confronting the problems of the present, I often find myself thinking back to the world of books as it was experienced by the founding fathers and the philosophers of the Enlightenment.... Today, however, we have the means to make that utopia a reality. In many societies, despite enormous inequalities, ordinary people not only read but have access to a huge quantity of reading matter through the Internet.... And I believe that if we can resolve the current challenges facing books in ways that favor ordinary citizens, we can create a digital republic of letters. Much of my book is devoted to this premise and can be summarized in two words: digitize and democratize. That said, Darnton nevertheless has major reservations aboutGoogle's digitisation programme, which he believes ... represents not just a monopoly but a new kind of monopoly, a monopoly of access to information.... I would want to insist that there are controls, that Google be restrained from using its power and that it be directed towards the public good.... There's no real authority to enforce fair pricing ... I'm worried that Google will be the Elsevier of the future, but magnified by a hundred times. Reed Elsevier is one of the giants of the academic publishingworld, who make, to many library commentators, excessive profits fromthe work of researchers who give away their largely publicly-fundedresearch output to Elsevier and several other multinational publishers,only for universities to have to buy back the published research at everincreasing cost. Universities and funding councils need to help theirauthors/grant recipients by implementing Creative Commons An organization that has defined an alternative to copyrights by filling in the gap between full copyright, in which no use is permitted without permission, and public domain, where permission is not required at all. or similarlicences, which allow them much more flexibility in authorial ownershipof content. Similarly, the illogicalities of territorial copyright arebeing exposed in a digital world, with Amazon's Kindle A portable e-book device from Amazon.com that provides wireless connectivity to Amazon for e-book downloads as well as Wikipedia and search engines. Using Sprint's EV-DO cellphone network, dubbed WhisperNet, wireless access is free. It also includes a built-in dictionary. oftenrestricting content access to geographical boundaries. Another Harvard Professor, Lawrence Lessig Not to be confused with Lawrence Lessing.Lawrence Lessig (born June 3, 1961) is an American academic. He is currently professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society. , reflects in his recentlengthy article, 'For the Love of Culture: Google, Copyright, andour Future', in The New Republic that the Google settlement is a'path to insanity' that could prove 'culturallyasphyxiating'. Darnton acknowledges, 'The people at Googlesay: "We are good people, we do no evil, we just want to spreadinformation." I think they're genuine; I don't thinkthey're cynical. But who is going to own Google 10 years from now?Corporations come and go.' Google founders Larry Page For the music producer/manager, see .Lawrence Edward "Larry" Page (born March 26 1973 in Lansing, Michigan) is an American entrepreneur who co-founded the Google internet search engine, now Google Inc., with Sergey Brin. and SergeyBrin's announcement in late January 2010 that between them theyintend to sell 10 million shares of Google stock over the next fiveyears may be a portent of Darnton's fears. The Case for Books brings together 11 of Darnton's essays,reviews and scholarly articles published over the last three decades. Itis not, however, a coherent whole. Darnton admits, some of the pieceswere 'fired off, scattershot', while his long piece 'Whatis the History of Books?' has already appeared in a previouscollection, The Kiss of Lamourette (1990). Essays on the 'historyof the commonplace book' and the intricacies of Shakespeareanbibliography sit somewhat uneasily in the overall subject framework. Oneis left with the view that Darnton and his publishers have tried tocapitalise on his recent stimulating essays in The New York Review ofBooks and the ensuing debate with Google. Darnton is far from a digital luddite. While he recognises theimportance of traditional books, he acknowledges the future is digital.The problem, he argues, is not the book, but the book industry's'very flawed' business model. This reviewer would agree thatthe book distribution chain must change from historical models toincorporate a global 'green' digital distribution of books.While increasingly access will be screen based, continuing print accesswill remain through increasing print on demand (POD) facilities. Sue Bradley has assembled, in the 19 chapters of The British BookTrade, memories of many figures in British publishing and bookselling,ranging from CEOs to bookshop assistants. They provide individualperspectives on the massive changes, especially over the last 20 years,with 'the gentleman's profession' of publishing beingwiped away by global consolidations, the Internet and, in Britain, theabolition of the Net Book Agreement, leading, for better or for worse,to massive discounting of bestsellers. The British Book Trade, a fascinating oral history compilation,reaffirms that Britain's book publishing book publishing.The term publishing means, in the broadest sense, making something publicly known. Usually it refers to the issuing of printed materials, such as books, magazines, periodicals, and the like. was, in part, undeniablyimperialistic in motivation. While the global distribution of Britishbooks undoubtedly accelerated educational enlightment, it alsoengendered huge profits for the British book trade and often adiminution in local publishing. Penelope Lively, in her Foreword notesthat 'the story of a nation's books is an aspect of itshistory.., changing attitudes and practices in the book business mirrorin many ways changes in wider social mores'. Bradley's chapters are organised around themes such asThroughout the British Empire British Empire,overseas territories linked to Great Britain in a variety of constitutional relationships, established over a period of three centuries. The establishment of the empire resulted primarily from commercial and political motives and emigration movements , Lunch, and Readers and Writers. Theseprovide a focus for the narrative recollections but necessarily overlapin chronological overviews. The patrician male world of publishers andbooksellers has thankfully disappeared. This was a world whereemployees, particularly women, had to know their place. Faber'syoung ladies, wearing 'jerseys and pearls', often went home tothe country for the weekend, while Tim Rix recalls that, when he was atLongmans and received phone calls from the Managing Director, heautomatically reached to don his jacket. Christina Foyle, of Foyle's famous bookshop in Charing CrossRoad Charing Cross Road is a London street which runs north from Trafalgar Square to St Giles' Circus (the intersection with Oxford Street) and then becomes Tottenham Court Road. It is so called because it leads from Charing Cross. , founded her famous series of literary luncheons, which attracted'the ladies of Mayfair, Belgravia and Kensington', eventhough, as Ian Norrie remembers 'the meal used to be atrocious;really poor food and indifferent white wine'. Foyle herself was amartinet mar��ti��net?n.1. A rigid military disciplinarian.2. One who demands absolute adherence to forms and rules.[After Jean Martinet (died 1672), French army officer. , who 'tended to model herself on the Queen inappearance'. Publishers such as John Murray Not to be confused with John Murry.There have been several important people by the name of John Murray (roughly in chronological order): John Murray of Falahill, a Scottish outlaw John Murray, 1st Duke of Atholl (1660-1724) , Butterworths and Macmillan, andbookshops such as Heifer's in Cambridge and Blackwell's inOxford, were often kept in the family, where upheavals had often as muchto do with family deaths and disputes as to industry changes. TheBritish book world so well documented by Bradley has largelydisappeared, with gentlemen publishers replaced by bottom lineaccountant CEOs; Internet providers have accelerated the demise of highstreet bookshops, while e-books and e-readers would have seemed likescience fiction in the middle of the last century. The early days of Angus and Robertson (A&R hereafter) may alsonow seem like a golden age, even though it probably didn't at thetime. Jennifer Alison's Doing Something for Australia is areworking of her UNSW UNSW University of New South Wales (Australia)UNSW Unidentified SwallowUNSW United Nations Scholars' Workstation (Yale University)doctoral thesis, based on her analysis of theA&R archives held at the Mitchell Library. She reflects, there is a tendency for publishing to be regarded in a romantic light, something in the manner of Frederic Warburg's 'occupation for gentleman', leaving the business aspect of the undertaking unacknowledged. There have been other books covering A&R, such as A.W.Barker's Dear Robertson (1982), but Alison focuses on the detail ofthe business side to provide an original perspective of a colonialpublisher and bookseller. George Robertson, rather than David Angus, wasthe key publishing figure. Alison's analysis of the A&Rarchives shows how George Robertson not only established a successfulbusiness but also ensured A&R became an Australian cultural iconwith authors such as Henry Lawson and A.B. Paterson. Between 1888 and1900 A&R published about 140 separate titles, although Alison arguesthat the 'serious publishing' only began in 1894/95. Whilepaper and cloth were imported, Robertson wanted to ensure that printingand binding were undertaken locally to help develop the Australiantrade. Robert Darnton comments on the perennial problems of selling books,as it helps to put the book's current challenges in perspective. For example, I'm now editing the diary of a sales rep who spent five months on the road in France in 1778, flogging books from horseback. George Robertson was particularly ingenious in developing marketingstrategies. Robertson often harassed booksellers who placed small ordersand offered discounts for really large ones - not so different from someoperations today. Robertson also engaged in 'inertial selling'-sendingbooksellers more copies than they had ordered or even books that had notbeen ordered at all. Thus, a bookseller ordering 35 copies of SnowyRiver was sent 50, 'lest you run short during the Christmasrush'. The first print run of The Man from Snowy River totalled1250 copies, of which 500 were destined for London. By the end of 1896,11,140 copies were in print. Robertson called it 'a regularmountain pony for staying power'. Robertson showed that books couldbe successfully published in Australia instead of the authors having toseek an English publisher. 'If Australian writers do not becomefamous', said one reviewer, 'it will not be the fault of theirpublishers.' Now we come full circle, as publishers of Australian authors needto find their place in the global e-book market in terms of theiravailability through digitisation and to be able to compete in a worldcurrently dominated by Google and Amazon. Plus ca change, plusc'est la meme chose, except perhaps in the medium involved. Colin Steele. is Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University,where he was University Librarian 1980-2002 and Director of ScholarlyInformation Strategies 2002-2003.
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