Tuesday, May 27, 2014

story papers as model for 21st century books

 21st century U-print 'story papers'

I worked long enough in bookstores to realize that our current book publishing system is very badly broken and probably the most climate-destroying of all the culture industries.
Its sins are many: 'bulk up' the contents of books to be far bigger than necessary ,  print far too many copies, send them out and back in gas-guzzling trucks and then end up pulping most of them anyway.

Luckily I am in the periodical end , not the book end, of the word business.

It is true that the magazine trade , floppy covers aside, differ little from the book trade.

Magazines too have the wasteful practises of 'ship too many and pulp too many' --- in fact, the magazine business invented this method and then taught it to the book trade.

But one part of the periodical trade has always hinted at a better way : thestory-paper.

What really makes newspapers unique from books and magazines is that they are not bound - not secured by staples or sewing or glued cloth.

Instead each newsprint sheet is merely folded into one another and the whole thing holds together by the cumulative friction of rough paper on rough paper.

This system is low tech , trouble free, very fast - and very cheap.

It obviously works - the vast percentage of words printed throughout history have ended up on unbound but folded sheets of newsprint , not on bound book paper.

Some canny publishers in the 19th century  decided to kick the news out of the newspaper format and replace them with stories - anything fact or fiction that was not time-sensitive , anything from short essays to long novels.

It thus became the content of a typical magazine , but in the format of a newspaper.

The story paper was far and away the cheapest form of literature for more than a century until steady book trade propaganda killed it.

I have merely brought it back for the frugal and green-minded 21st century.

Most readers will prefer to read my short articles (about 600 words each) online in The Mills of Nature blog.

Some will even wish to read the longer articles (about 6000 words) online in The Mills of Nature website.

But for many others, a quarterly print version (of about 60,000 words) of The Mills of  Nature that combines the best of both the short and long articles would be nice.

But not via the typically messy collection of letter sized pages printed off the web, with lines of print far too wide for easy comprehension.

Today all home computer printers can print professional quality fonts legibly and do 'double- sided printing' - some by design, others by an easy workaround.

The only thing holding them back from printing unbound magazines of about 60 to 80 pages in length from online PDFs is the fact those PDFs are not normally imposed.

Imposing is what  magazine printers do to ensure that the first printed sheet of a 60 page book has on one side has the back cover to the left and the front cover to the right, while on the back side, page 2 is on the left and page 59 is on the right and so on right through the entire magazine.

Once printed and folded into each other, all the pages end up right reading automatically.

Today this slog can be very easily done by quite reasonable priced software (I use and recommend Cheap Imposter if you own a Mac).

So I will provide online a pre-imposed PDF file for each quarterly issue ofThe Mills of Nature so you can, if you wish , download and print out on your work or home printer, fold and read.

A magazine delivered to your door electronically night or day and around the world, but only if you want it.

Now I can imagine others selling their version of a pre-imposed PDF , but in my case, the file is totally free - in fact totally in the Public Domain.

As the file is free, the only cost for a sixty page magazine delivered to your home printer is about sixty cents in your paper and ink.

In a sense it is the 21st century system of distance manufacturing, but applied to the word business.

I'd hate to claim that I am the first to come up with this - my local library already prints off every morning selected out-of-town newspapers on a cheap tabloid sized computer printer for its patrons.

The result is a side stapled 11 x 17 page sized broadsheet newspaper that actually reads quite conventionally despite being almost laughing low tech.

 The book trade , together with its spawn the bookseller and book reviewer , always claims that anything but a big fat hardbound book, with fully-justified paragraphs and evenly trimmed pages and published by a big publisher from New York, Toronto or London , simple isn't a 'real book'.

Who cares ?

Not if they don't go on to claim that only literature and  academic/scientific knowledge that is to be found in a hardcover book is actually real.

In the past most literature began in periodicals (think of Dickens' novels or of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novellas) .

Even today, most academic work is first published in periodicals.

No, the big city centred book trade merely made their claims that the only acceptable model of a book was something that had to be printed, bound and cut by huge highly expensive and highly complicated equipment, to virtually ensure that none of the legions of small town job printers, editors and authors could become their competition.

Just because a cartel says something doesn't make it true : do you believe everything Big Pharma or the Big Telecoms tell you ?

In fact, in terms of handling and readability , any aging reader with weak hands and fading eyes will tell you that the easiest book to read by far is a relatively thin (and hence light) paperback or magazine, stapled in the middle so it opens fully and can't 'break its back' and with left justified type so there is no unnatural word spacing.

This is why magazine readership remains high in the over fifty set even as they bail out from horrible-to-read 'mass paperbacks'.

Most children with small hands also agree and children's books reflect this.

In short, in no other culture industry is there quite as much cant and humbuggery about their main product as in the book trade - even Hollywood can't come close.

As a periodical publisher , I  don't intend to be part of this scam.

But since my magazine work is all in the Public Domain, others are perfectly free to perpetuate the book trade's wasteful and distorted standards by getting it published by one of the remaining Big Five FourThree Publishers.....

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