Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Primary source edition

A phrase that seems to have crept in to bookselling jargon recently is 'primary source edition'. I first noticed it when it was used to describe a book I bought on Ebay this week. I had assumed that it was just the seller's way of saying that it was the first edition or a very early reprint because I recognised the edition from his online image but when he later apologised for mis-describing the book I decided I must try and establish what the expression means.

In brief, it seems to have been adopted by the publishers of 'print-on-demand' books to indicate that they had scanned the original edition of the title. Thus a 'primary source edition' sounds rather better than it really is (and was fortunately not what I had bought on Ebay!). For full details of the brief research and some of the faults likely to be encountered with 'primary source editions' see the account on ABfaR's blog.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Booksellers in the Blogosphere

A quick round-up of recent blog posts by a range of booksellers:

Jane has been reviewing a selection of books by the Pullein-Thompson sisters amongst others. I Rode a Winner by Christine Pullein-Thompson  is a recent one. Jane describes is as, "probably my favourite Christine Pullein-Thompson". I'm always delighted by Jane's reviews as they evoke many childhood memories. As a child I wrote what was probably a very boring letter to Christine Pullein-Thompson and to my delight she very kindly wrote back telling me about her life in Suffolk and her dogs and horses. I treasured that letter and must have read it hundreds of times. It is sadly now lost in the land where things of one's childhood disappear to...

Marijana has been Finding Flegon, writing on the difficulties of dating a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s ‘A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ by the controversial publisher Alec Flegon. These little byways mean booksellers should never work out what they earn by hour as we can spend so long nailing down some aspect of bibliography for just one book, as Mike noted on his recent blog post.

Nigel has been hosting his daughter Alice (who more usually blogs on theatre here) as she reviews Flag Fen: a Concise Archæoguide. You can read Nigel's thoughts on getting this book, by the archaeologist Francis Pryor, out in e-book form here.

Barbara has been taking a break in the most charming way that only a specialist children's bookseller could manage.

And finally, I've written on the often missed delights of the village of Wycoller and its Brontë connection. When you're on your way to the honeypot attractions of the north of England slow down and give Wycoller a few hours of your attention.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Amazon shooting themselves in the foot?

Against a background today's news lead in Sheppards Newsletter and other press reports of the negotiations between the internet selling giant Amazon and the book publishers Hachette, a point has come to my mind of special interest to our end of the bookselling world.

My understanding is that Amazon proposes that they should be authorised to 'print on demand' any new title that they do not have on hand and which is not immediately available from the publisher.

Is the bookselling side of Amazon Marketplace worth so little to them? As a seller of secondhand books I have found no market for second-hand 'print-on-demand' books, it fact it seems that most of them only exist to cater for the instant need of the buyer and have no residual value. At a time when nearly everyone else is seeking to preserve scarce resources Amazon seems to be profligate in their aim of making a sale.

I don't sell on Amazon Marketplace but it strikes me that by fulfilling orders with a print-on-demand alternative when stocks of new books are low Amazon are removing the books that will become the stock-in-trade of their Marketplace sellers of the future.

Sources: Sheppards Newsletter, Bookseller, Guardian, Telegraph

Saturday, June 21, 2014


One of the hazards of cataloguing is to become too interested in your stock. If you take into account the financial value of your time, the value that you add by giving a good description of a book can be totally undermined if are drawn into reading it.

Mike Sims' latest post on his blog concerning 'The Time of my Life - A Frontier Doctor in Alaska' by Harry C. de Vighne is a case in point. At least he has turned a cautionary tale of cataloguing into a review of the book, where none existed amongst the currently available second-hand stock. A gap in the available information has thus been filled but he will never recover the cost and he hasn't the courage to work out his hourly rate even if the book sells immediately!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Publishing an ebook: a steep learning curve (Part 1)

A couple of years ago Francis Pryor: In the Long Run wrote an ebook, FlagFen: a Concise Archæoguide, but recently the publisher decided his company was moving on to new projects and so the book became unavailable. As Francis is my brother-in-law I offered to see whether it would be possible for me to make it available again, in my innocence thinking it might be a reasonably straightforward process. I had the original files available, but unfortunately the original copy was a Pages document, and I am Macless.
After pondering on how to convert this into a Word document I realised that Francis should have one. After a short hunt he emailed me his original, but unproof-read copy; I then had the task of bringing this text into line with the previously published ebook. Proof-reading is a thankless task: I had to go through the document twice, and then a third time using the function in Word’s Review menu which will compare two versions of a document, before I was happy with it.
Next I had to find out what format the text had to be: there are specific ways to show chapter breaks and titles, sizes of images and how to insert them and their captions, even how paragraph breaks are handled are important to how the book will display.
Once I had all this under my belt, and as I already have an Amazon seller account I decided to start there. The first thing I found was that it’s necessary to set up a separate KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account. The second thing I discovered was that to set up a KDP account it’s mandatory to complete an online tax interview with the American Internal Revenue Service.
With a little wider research it transpired that I needed a number called an EIN; this involves filling in Form SS4, which isn’t at all difficult, but for some bizarre reason, if you’re outside the US, it is only possible to do this over the phone to the IRS in Philadelphia.
I duly filled in a copy of the form and rang the number. After an initial little speech I was told I was in a queue of between 30 minutes and an hour, so I hung up. On reflection, I decided that ringing at 0905 EST wasn’t sensible, so the following day I tried again at just after 6am EST (mid-morning here) and the call was answered almost immediately. The call took 18 minutes, longer than one might expect to read off the answers on quite a short form, but having to spell out every word to the operator slowed things down a bit - and then at the end she had to read the whole form back to me, spelling out everything (yes, even U-N-I-T-E-D K-I-N-G-D-O-M). Once I had agreed that this was all correct I was issued with my EIN, the magic number that allows withholding of tax to the IRS under the relevant international treaties. I am still waiting for the letter which will include details of when and what sort of returns I will have to make, but I will worry about that (possibly quite a lot) when it arrives.
So, back to the KDP website to complete form W-8BEN, having looked up the bank account’s IBAN and BIC codes, and submit the form. I think it was once this was complete I was able to upload the Word document to be converted into a Mobi file.
Once that had uploaded and been accepted by Amazon (there was a short wait for that) the next stage was to decide on pricing and royalty levels. We’d decided to keep it the same price as previously. Amazon offer the choice of two royalty levels – 35% or 70%. Why, I thought, would someone choose to only get 35%? I read the ‘Pricing Page’, or as much as I could before my brain glazed over, and set the royalty rate at 70%. I still didn’t understand what benefit there could be in asking Amazon to give you only half as much money as you might get.
The next step was to set pricing for Amazon.com, .co.uk, .in, .fr, .de, .es, .it, .co.jp, .com.br, .ca, .com.mx, and .com.au, to be told when that was done that the American, Indian, Japanese, Brazilian and Mexican royalties are only 35% unless the book is enrolled in KDP Select. So on to look at the page explaining what that is, and where the main benefits of KDP Select became apparent. They seem to be threefold – to be able to offer your book for free, to enable people to borrow the book (for free), and to give KDP exclusive right to publish your book.
Deciding not to do enrol in KDP Select was the last step, I think. It took a little while (about twelve hours, or so) for the book to appear online. So that’s that, and now you can buy a mobi copy of Flag Fen: aConcise Archæoguide for your Kindle. If you want to find it in your own country’s Amazon site you can search for B00K6JD1Z6. It’s available on all of them except  for China.
Next was to investigate which platforms to sell the epub version on, and how. But that’s for Part 2.
This post was originally published on Bagotbooks's blog. You can follow the publisher of the ebook on Twitter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sochi for the Summer - and now the Winter, too - by Marijana Dworski

Sochi, Moscow 1959. Photos by Shagin

Summer playground for the Nomenklatura – now a winter playground too?

As all the world must know now, the Winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, a city in the province of Krasnodar Krai in Russia.  The Greater Sochi area sprawls along the Black Sea coast, Eastwards across the sea from the Danube, in that tiny part of Russia that lies to the south of the Great Caucasus range. The Caucasus watershed is some 60 km to the north-east and the border with Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia is only 30 km away to the south-east.

Perhaps fewer people know about the fashionable ... read more on Marijana's blog

Marijana Dworski Books specialises in language books and books on Eastern Europe, with competitively priced modern dictionaries and grammars on some 350 languages, and a wide selection of books on the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: Hideous Cambridge: a city mutilated, by David Jones

Hideous Cambridge: a city mutilated, by David Jones. Photographs by Ellis Hall. Published by Thirteen Eighty One. Paperback 210 x 210 mm, 282 pp 410 colour photographs. ISBN 978-0-9926073-0-2 £18.50

Towns are conglomerations of people, initially for trade and defence, subsequently for such additional human activities such as education and manufacture. What goes with the people is buildings - for dwellings, administration, shops, manufacturing, education - and the roads and lanes that get them between the buildings, and the means of transport - bikes, cars, lorries, buses etc.

Cambridge started as a small market town, but from around the thirteenth century it took on a rather different form from most other comparable places in England when it became the site of a university. From then until the middle of the nineteenth century it is best described as having been a nice little university with small town attached. Since then the University has grown, but so has the town, to the extent that the old central core, mostly college related, is now a small  percentage of a city which grows outwards in ever increasing circles.

David Jones, the author of this book, does not like what has happened architecturally, and what is likely to happen in the future. This book is a beautifully illustrated rant about inappropriate buildings, their size, their position, about traffic filled roads, about the loss of Cambridge's heart. Don't be put off by the description of it as a rant. This is a fun book to read. It is provocative, it is enjoyable.

If you know Cambridge at all you will be interested in the Jones's road by road, area by area, survey of the buildings that have gone up or are going up as Cambridge expands outwards and fills in empty spaces. The tone is often a sort of peevish waspishness that at times out-Pevsners Pevsner himself (does the voice of the retired schoolmaster echo here?). Jones is a good hater, which is one of the things that makes the book so enjoyable. The Castle Park complex of County Council offices on the corner of Huntingdon Road and Histon Road are "meretricious buildings of baffling silliness". The Marque, a new edifice being constructed on Hills Road , is "outrageous, vile, pretentious and a positive disgrace; a visual catastrophe of staggering proportions".

One of Jones's particular hates is the recent Botanic House on Hills Road by the entrance to the Botanic Gardens. It appears in at least seven of the illustrations dotted round the book and is mentioned on around twenty different pages (descriptions include lamentable, like a fat cuckoo, catastrophic, monster, self-serving). Let us hope the lawyers who commissioned and inhabit it are thick skinned enough not to take it all to heart too much.

What the author does not like is the tall and the ugly, though to this reader at least some of his judgements are perverse. Show him a nice bit a brickwork and he lies on his back and wags his tail however awful the building. So he likes the awful pastiche which is the nineteenth century Royal Albert Almshouses on the corner of Brooklands avenue and the brick box which used to house the Comet store on Newmarket Road ("very presentable").

However one of the things I really appreciated about the book is the snippets of history I learnt from it. Who knew that the ghastly Henry Giles House (Job Centre) on Chesterton Road opposite Jesus Lock was not actually built by the government but for the defunct Cambridge Instrument Company? (But it isn't on Victoria Road as the caption to the picture on page 168 avers.) Or that the vile (Jones's  description and one has to agree) Sally Ann's building on Mill Road was originally the Empire Cinema with a much more fun front?

Jones wants the development of Cambridge to stop. He fears that it will soon have swallowed so many outlying villages and fields that it will be the size of Birmingham. He suggests the idea of Listed Towns, where an optimum size would be set and not allowed to be exceeded. He's not going to win that one. For all sorts of reasons Cambridge is set to get bigger and bigger. Other places have coped. Think of Granada or Florence. Both are huge cities with a magical inner core surrounded by modern suburbs. They and Cambridge are lucky in that the good bits are more or less central. Cities like London have the good buildings or areas widely separated like sparse currants in a pudding.

He is right that tall buildings can spoil the character of the centre. The answer, if we grant the premise that the city will expand willy nilly, would be perhaps to have a moratorium on any buildings more than five storeys high within a radius of three miles round the historic centre. This would mean the removal, at the earliest opportunity, of such monsters as the University's own Arup Building (Materials Science and Metallurgy) behind the Corn Exchange. Jones mentions that there was much discussion at the size of St John's College chapel when it was built in the nineteenth century, but of course the rot had set in several centuries before when Henry VI plonked his enormous King's College Chapel right across one of the main streets of the town centre. We do seem to have learnt to cope with both these buildings.

Jones is also correct in identifying the motor vehicle as one of the main factors in spoiling the ambience of the historic centre of the city - "one of the biggest causes of ugliness in our environment."  He lists the proliferation of traffic signage, traffic lights, parking availability signs, roundabouts, pedestrian crossings, bollards, speed humps and road paint, to mention but a few of the uglifying additions to the visual environment. He complains of the noise and the noxious fumes. His answer - ban motor traffic, including buses, from the city centre, even as far out as Queens Road, leaving those roads to cyclists and pedestrians. He is right of course. And it will come. The impending imposition of 25mph speed limits on many (though not enough) of Cambridge's roads is a sign of things to come.

This is a fine book about what is happening to the built environment of Cambridge now and is of interest to all who work or live here. And in twenty-five or fifty years time it will be a book to look back at. When we do, I fear we may find that the architecture Jones complains about now will be positively beautiful compared with what's to come. In the meantime perhaps it will inspire our councillors to demand a bit more of developers and architects and planners so that Cambridge gets buildings more worthy of it than many of those erected in our recent past. And of course what he says applies to many towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom.

Philip Lund (Retired Cambridge Bookseller)

For more books on Cambridge you can try A Book for All Reasons, CL Hawley, or Plurabelle Books, and for books on architecture try The Amwell Book Company or CL Hawley.

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