The End.

We finished up the term with group project reports and finally a reception for final projects in the library that featured posters, cartoons, scrapbooks, poetry anthologies, amazing commonplace books, altered books, digital projects, musical performances of original songs, and homemade cinnamon buns. (Note to self: in future, don’t serve sticky buns at exhibits of book arts.)

Here are a couple of examples of student projects.

altered book bouquet

This altered book has a hand coming out of it holding a bouquet of flowers. We couldn’t figure out how it was engineered, but were impressed that it didn’t fall on its face. Notice the way it casts a shadow! very neat.

altered book exercise (brain) daily

This open book is carved to reveal colored plates and text within the book. It advises us to exercise daily – meaning by reading a book. (It’s a hard to see in this picture, but there’s a brain, there, peering into an open book.) Also hard to see how layered the whole effect is. Or to estimate the time required to clean up the dorm room in which it was constructed.

There were other great projects but my photos weren’t always up to the task. Thanks to all the students for a fun January.


The Future(s) of Books

cartoon by Bob Stein, courtesy of Annie Mole

Some people think Amazon will drive the future of books. They not only sell them (both new and used – in addition to what’s on their site, they own the largest used-book network online), but they encourage authors to bypass publishers and go straight to their site. They print books (using their own print-on-demand service) and wirelessly deliver them to a proprietary gadget (of which they have sold lots, but they aren’t saying how many). They have also provided channels for authors to blog, for readers to review, and even hold reader-rated contests to find out who will be the next American Idol of books. Though Amazon isn’t a monopoly – there are lots of other places to buy books, print books, or acquire digital books – they are building a vertically-integrated business that has a lot of people concerned. They may not be the only book business, but they may be developing an unhealthy level of clout.

Kevin Kelly presented a different, more open, yet radical vision of the future of books. Once books are digitized, they will join in a mass of digital material that will be all-encompassing and available to all. But more than simply making books available, it will erase the edges of books. They will connect in new ways, and every book will be continuously rewritten. They will spill into each other.  Books will become one very big book. (This vision seemed to John Updike a terrifying nightmare. You can listen to his speech made about this article just days after it was published.)

Mass digitization projects such as Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and the Hathi Trust, as well as proposals for a new National Digital Library like those that have been created in other developed nations are approaching the future of books from one direction: create a vast library of accessible books online and bring the riches of libraries to all via the Internet.

Publishing industry responses are taking a different approach. They look toward the future as an opportunity and a threat – an opportunity to sell more books with more control over the product and its use to more people, and the threat the digital texts might get loose and replicate without bringing in revenue. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has spelled out some concerns for consumers as they purchase digital books. Google is in an interesting middle place. They nudged publishers into the digital age by scanning the contents of libraries and making millions of texts available for searching and (for public domain titles) downloading. They have since become another e-book retailer. You can see their bifurcated identity in the two search boxes on the page. Two doors to the future: which one will we pick?

Whatever the future holds, technology is disruptive and copyright law is an attempt to regulate the sharing and use of texts that some argue does not serve innovation or readers. These short films offer some interesting perspectives:

What does the future hold for books? It’s an open question. The only thing I’m sure of is that they have a future, and probably several. It’s not going to look like this.


This Just In . . .

In the news:

Shelf Awareness this morning reports:

At, net sales in the fourth quarter ended December 31 rose 22%, to $21.3 billion, and net income dropped 45%, to $97 million. Some of the company’s results were below analysts’ expectations, but because operating income rose 56%, to $405 million, and because of aggressive growth in some high-margin businesses, including e-books, Wall Street was happy. In after-hours trading, Amazon rose 9%, to $284 a share, near its all-time high.

Although Amazon was cagey as always about statistics, it did say that “for the second year in a row, Amazon’s tablet was the most popular item for customers–Kindle Fire HD continued its run as the #1 best-selling, most gifted, and most wished for product across the millions of items available on Amazon worldwide.”

Commenting on the growth of digital books, CEO Jeff Bezos said, “We’re now seeing the transition we’ve been expecting. After five years, e-books is a multi-billion dollar category for us and growing fast–up approximately 70% last year. In contrast, our physical book sales experienced the lowest December growth rate in our 17 years as a bookseller, up just 5%. We’re excited and very grateful to our customers for their response to Kindle and our ever expanding ecosystem and selection.”

Amazon now stocks digitally more than 23 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, books, audiobooks and apps and games, up from 19 million a year ago.

Meanwhile, a recent statement by Barnes & Nobles anticipates the chain closing one third of their stores in the next ten years to focus on stores that are thriving. Until recently, expansion was the name of the game. (Does this remind you of a global economy you might know?)

The news from Timbuktu is ambiguous. After first reports of mass destruction of manuscripts, some locals say many were successfully hidden from rebels bent on destruction, as they were once hidden from colonial powers. Fingers crossed.

Finally, a bill has been introduced in the state of Connecticut to require publishers to sell ebooks to libraries at the same price as consumers. Something about this jogged my memory. It turns out publishers tried to charge libraries higher prices in the 1960s, and a hearing was held in the US Senate, leading to a handful of successful lawsuits against publishers and a chance for libraries to buy books without paying a premium. Hat tip to the HathiTrust for digitizing that document.

Inspiration for Final Projects

You can do any number of things for your final project – so long as it has some relationship to books (and culture). Zines, broadsheets, altered books, posters, digital projects – but all that freedom can be perplexing.  Here are some things students have done in the past:


A variation on “The Child that Books Built” reflecting on books that were important in the author’s life.


A collage-and-painted book that used class free writing material.


A children’s book based on free writing about early experiences of books, on card stock, bound with yarn.

More pictures on Flickr.

Ideas for final projects (from the syllabus):

  • Zine – a handmade photocopied book.
  • Broadside – a large sheet of paper with text
  • Commonplace book – a small book that is a curated collection of quotations and excerpts
  • Altered book – a book turned into a sculpture or someone reinvented by adding illustrations, text, or pictures.
  • Online project – lots of options. You could create a slideshow or Prezi about books, start a blog or Tumblr based on your class writing or experiment with Readlists or Pressbooks to create an ebook version of your writing.

This project counts as 30% of your grade and will be evaluated on three factors, roughly in these proportions:

  • the creativity of your ideas and how well they are expressed (50%)
  • the graphic design of the project (25%)
  • the technical execution of it, whether it requires a computer or scissors and glue(20%)
  • the thoughtfulness of your written reflection (5%)


Questions for Monday, January 27th

After reading “Digital Books and Your Rights,” which rights do you feel are most important? Are there ones you don’t mind giving up for convenience?

Questions about “Post-Artifact Books and Publishing“:

  • What do you think of the idea that books should never be finished but should continually be open to change (like Wikipedia)?
  • What does Craig Mod mean when he writes “digital removes isolation?” Do you agree that pre-digital books are isolated/isolating?
  • How accurate do you think it is it to project that our generation may be the last to picture a printed object when we hear the word “book”?
  • He mentions that we might want to not just reinvent books, but find new ways to make books, magazine articles, blogs, and other formats for content to be produced. Do you see books as being different than other things you might read? Does that affect how you prefer to read?
  • He predicts that in the future readers will not have to wait until after a book is published to engage with it, but will be part of the process as ideas are kicked around and will be in conversation, adding to the book over time. Do you like this idea? Are there books (or authors) with whom you would like to participate more?
  • Did you read the comments?


Questions for Tuesday, Jan. 22

1) Did anything in the article about James Patterson surprise you? As a reader, what do you think of his approach to the writing business? If you have read a James Patterson book in the past, did reading this article affect how you look back on that experience? Would this article make you want to read a book by Patterson? Or would it put you off? 

2) Co-authors Deberry and Grant have decided to end what had been a successful writing career after seven novels, saying the industry has changed. What are the changes they point out? Do you think these changes are good or bad for authors and readers?

3) Amanda Hocking has become a bestseller in a very different way than James Patterson. What are some of those differences? What do they have in common? Is her success mostly a matter of luck, business sense, or talent?



A Word from the Author

On Wednesday, we’ll hear from author Rebecca Fjelland Davis who will tell us about her books, her writing process, her road to publication, and what happens when you get a book accepted for publication.

Meanwhile, just for a bit of fun, here’s how some Macmillan employees decided to explain publishing. In case something about it seems off . . . uh, yes. It’s a spoof from beginning to end.

Uncovering Covers

Some cover art fun:

This Flavorwire post shows covers of Alice in Wonderland over the years and in different countries.

The Rap Sheet, a blog about the crime fiction genre, has tracked down many instances in which lazy cover designers have used the same stock photography over and over. Here are some examples of copycat covers discovered by the blog.




But using stock photography isn’t always a simple short-cut. This short video (which comes in at just under 2 minutes) shows how a cover was designed using stock photography and some designer skillz.

Finally, Jim Hines, a prolific author of science fiction, has been posing in gender-bending cover remakes, most recently doing so as a fund-raiser for medical research, but also to explore and critique gender stereotypes in the covers of his favorite genre. This one involves a number of authors and is pretty hilarious. More on this project from the BBC.

Images for Book Design

For two days, we’ll be designing real or imaginary books – both the jacket (which includes front and back, spine, and the two folding panels with information about the book) and the interior design (title page and a first chapter page, including chapter heading, whether to drop the first capital or emphasize first words of the chapter, and placement and look of the page number – and of course which font you feel is most appropriate and readable for the story).

These sites for royalty-free images might come in handy for covers. These may also be useful for your final projects.

  • Flickr – a social networking site for photos. To find photos you can use without violating copyright, use the advanced search option and select “creative commons” toward the bottom of the page.
  • Flickr Commons – a collection of mostly historical photos from libraries and museums that have no known copyright restrictions.
  • MorgueFile – a collection of royalty-free photos you can reuse.
  • Wikimedia Commons -over 7 million images you can freely use.

lt_coversA random selection of covers from our LibraryThing catalog of student recommendations.