Book Biz: The Culture of Good Enough, Google Scans Everything, Rejecting New Money

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I’m sorry that I come off as a Luddite curmudgeon. I’m just a curmudgeon.

My Luddite defense is that my house has four working networked PCs, two smart phones, two digital cameras, a Netbook and a tablet. I’m not resisting life in the digital age.

But back when I had a regular old cell phone I remember reading about all the wonderful things you could do with a smart phone: read books and magazines, map your way to your destination, even watch television and movies.

Are you nuts? What kind of a masochist would put himself through all that? Reading a book on a 4 inch screen is not something a person with options would do. I downloaded Alice in Wonderland to my smart phone and thought I would try reading it again as I waited for my number to be called at the local Secretary of State office. Really? Some of you folks do that?

Watching Netflix on a smart phone reminded me of that ad with Shaquille O’Neal sitting in a Buick with the driver’s seat leaned so far back it was almost flat. In the next camera shot he’s towering over the front fender. I’d pay to see the video of him getting in to and out of that car. You can fit big things into small things but that doesn’t mean that it’s a great idea.

And I understand the Apple television ad with everyone in the big city desperately trying to drown out the world around them by having white earbuds surgically implanted in their head. I can understand wanting to block out the sounds of the city.

But I also like to eavesdrop on the subway, hear the hubbub of the restaurants, and listen to all the families and lovers stroll through Central Park. I mean, I have a large music collection, but dear lord, I don’t need to listen to it 24/7.

I do have a few thousand .mp3s (compressed files) stored on various devices around the house. I know the quality of sound is determined by the quality of the recording and the ability of the output device to accurately deliver the sound. Earbuds are nice, very convenient, perfect for .mp3s. I have portable radios with CD players in my garage and basement. Mp3s sound as good on those implements as they’re capable of sounding. But I also have my old component stereo system. Many, many years ago I assembled the best components I could afford, and I still like listening to vinyl records.

And I do love the convenience of always having a camera in hand as long as I have my smartphone with me. But I’ve probably shot over 1,000 rolls of 35mm over the past forty five years. I still have my old 35mm SLRs, a good collection of lenses and a few rolls of Fuji film around. I know that my smartphone camera has a bazillion mega pixels and 64 million colors. But film has infinite megapixels and color that falls outside the RGB and CMYK spectrums.

Add to that the lens on my phone camera is molded plastic and the images are saved as .jpg files (compressed images) and the attendant pictures are to film pictures as .mp3s are to vinyl.

And that means that they’re just good enough.

And for many instances they are good enough. They’re just Woman_reading_a_book_on_an_eReadernot as good as possible. Carrying a book on your Kindle is not the same thing as carrying a book, at least to me. It’s good enough. I often read the newspaper on our tablet, and that’s good enough, but we still subscribe to three newspapers.

I have listened to Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk through earbuds while walking down the street and I’ve played it on my home stereo. The .mp3 was my only option while walking and that was good enough, but quality wise…

Smartphones, .mp3 players, digital cameras, and ereaders expand our ability to bring what we love along with us, to easily carry ten books on vacation, to quickly snap a picture in your yard of a deer grazing forty feet away from you, to dull the hum of the jet engines as you fly across country.

They’re all handy and they each have their place. They’re less expensive and generally more portable. But they don’t represent the apex of anything except the technology that created them.

And I suppose that’s just going to have to be good enough.


Google and CopyrightsGoogle book scanning

In a bid to narrow the definition of piracy, Google claims that book scanning falls under the definition of fair use and so doesn’t violate copyrights. Why didn’t the guy who started Napster think of this?

What Kids Read

An interesting survey about what our children are reading has just been released. This graphic from the report shows the differences in required school reading over the past century.

Borders Renaissance (in Asia)

borders singaporeThe question, “What’s in a name?” has been answered by Popular Holdings purchase of all names and intellectual property of the bankrupt Borders Singapore for $100,000. Once the leading bookseller in Singapore, new Borders’ stores hope to be open by 2014. Unfortunately, Amazon just announced free shipping to Singapore.

Paper & Ink College Textbooks Sales Collapse

Both of my children have graduated from college in the past 10 years so I learned first hand how bizarre textbook pricing has become and understand why students are hijacking the system. To my mind, it’s the only group of publishers that deserve the pain they’re experiencing.

Resurgent Indies

It seems every month there are news stories describing a resurgent independent bookstore marketplace. This story interviews some store owners who discovered that it takes more than espresso machines and sofas to build a profitable niche in the 21st century.

…and Burying Indies

Acolyte of the ebook industry Seth Godin has declared that the death of independent bookstores at the hands of Amazon should make book lovers weep for joy.

Saving Bookstores in Quebec

While appreciating the experience of shopping in an independent bookstore is something many of us enjoy, I’m not sure Quebec’s plan to raise book prices to save their indies is a very good idea…unless Amazon is also banned from their province.

Saving the Stacks on Manhattan

Plans to modernize and consolidate Manhattan’s public libraries Library stacks - nyplare on hold after prominent scholars objected to removing the stacks to an off-site storage facility. A short history of the library and the stacks can be found here.

A Downside to Printing Money

No matter what one prints or the process used, stuff happens, like the 30 million $100 bills rejected by the New York Fed for a “lack of crispness”. Disposal and reprinting costs are said to be around $3.75 million.

More Government Printing Woes

A phone number on the back of Oklahoma’s lottery tickets carried a telephone number that now belongs to a sex fantasy hotline . Officials said they retired the telephone number some years ago but had preprinted it on rolls of paper that went unused and were thought to have been destroyed.

1,000 Best Public Domain Novels

The top 1,000 novels have been identified based on a formula using metadata, Project Gutenberg downloads and available Goodreads rankings.The top 100 from the list are shown here, sorted so that only an author’s highest ranked book is included.

Memorable BookstoresSeattle Bookstore 2

I remember bookstores that I’ve visited in cities across the country and hope you get the chance to visit some of these community bookstores as you travel.

Punctuation and All That

There seems to be more spelling and grammar errors in our area’s local papers now that bloggers are in and reporters are out. Here are the magazines with the fewest gaffes, including Playboy and GQ.

Banned Books

Each September, Banned Book Week is observed at the end of the month. Best selling author Judy Bloom helped one book stay on the library shelves.

Final Thought

Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” Carlos Ruiz Zafón *************************************** ***** Past newsletters can be found at


About Wayne Johnson 69 Articles
I've worked in book manufacturing for over 30 years, closing my company Baker Johnson, Inc. in 2005. Currently I work freelance with a large group of publishers, advising them on the printing options available to them as the book industry endures major restructuring. My wife Cathy is a retired psychologist and spent most of her career working with the youth at Maxey Boys Training School. She is a small mammal rehabilitator with Friends of Wildlife. Our daughter Whitney is a PharmD working in the Denver area evaluating the pharmaceutical requirements of nursing homes. Our son Eliot lives in Waterloo and is an editor at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor.