This is the blog of a company that fell into the publishing industry through the love of feeling an ink-and-paper book in your hands.

We don't pretend to know what we're doing, leaving us dealing with the realities of the modern publishing industry, harboring numerous iconoclastic ideas, and having an internet-sized repository of information at our fingertips. The blog is here to let us express our ideas, communicate among members across long distances, and act like we're an authority on something we know little about...and isn't that exactly what blogging is all about?

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Book Scanning For The Masses
22 Feb 2006, 9:50:25 pm

An innovative person has developed, with the ubiquitously useful LEGO system, an automated book scanner. The article is translated from Japanese, so there's some lovely broken english to read, but the pictures do well.

Book scanning is heavy in the news, mostly about businesses scanning texts and making portions available for free, but if Dover has taught the book world anything, it's that reprints are good money. Lightning Source is a POD printer who, for a fee, will scan your book and prepare it for printing -- with no effort whatsoever. Their market seems primarily to be the reprint market (long-tail sales without the overhead of on-hand stock), but they require cutting off the spines -- something terrible to do if the book is rare or valuable. The pro book scanners that operate without damaging the book (we hope) are quite expensive, but as the Lego project above shows, an innovative person can do well. One huge shortcoming of the one above is that the pages aren't scanned completely flat or square -- but that's fixable, and no doubt some hacker is working on it right now.

I was disappointed with this month's Electronic Publishing magazine -- it was much thinner than I expected, and the letter from the editor seemed to indicate that there weren't enough advertisers to do a full issue. So, entrepeneur, here's an idea, some improvements, and a place to find customers. The book-world isn't a fading industry -- people are willing to put their Legos and imagination together to build something that they can't easily buy on their own. Mixing technology and books -- but not as the obvious 'e-book' route -- may be a market that is underappreciated but populated by tech-savvy customers with money in their pockets.

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Before Harry Potter...
16 Feb 2006, 5:17:18 pm

In the 1920's and 30's, a boy dreamed of owning a horse, and of being a writer. Encouraged by his high school teacher, he wrote every night after dinner for an hour. He worked on his book through high school and continued as an undergrad at college.

In 1940, his book was finished, and Random House was going to publish it. The editor told the author, "Donít figure on making any money writing childrenís books." The author disagreed, saying "If you can write a book that will interest children you can make a living."

His first book was an instant hit when it appeared in 1941, and it developed it into a series -- even a fan club. This series has sold over a hundred million copies in the last 60 years, and even inspired several feature length films in recent years. The author had proved his point well.

The author was Walter Farley, and that first book was The Black Stallion.

The Black Stallion was so successful, that Farley had enough financial security to quit school and travel around the world. Though flooded with an avalanche of requests for sequels to his book, being drafted into the service during WWII to work as a government reporter during the war, prevented the release of the next book. A few years later, he met & married his wife, and he settled down. Because of the success with the first book, Farley wanted to write full time, and told his editor of his desire. This was the response from Louise Bonino, Farley's editor, in a letter dated February 8, 1945:

"Your desire to devote yourself exclusively to writing after the war is perfectly natural, but I know of only one writer of teenage books who has managed to come pretty close to what you're after. Even he admitted to me once that if he were to depend on book royalties alone, he wouldn't be able to support his family. The last thing in the world I'd want to do would be to crush an extremely worthwhile ambition, but I would feel remiss both as a friend and as a publisher if I didn't caution you to do some careful arithmetic before you decide to burn your bridges."

In October of 1945 the war time restrictions on publishing were lifted and Farley released his second book, The Black Stallion Returns, to immediate success. Soon the royalties were enough that the Farleys had no concerns about making ends meet.

I have no doubts about the editors' sincerity in their cautious statements -- I've made similar statements myself to authors from time to time. (Heck, I've even pondered if we'll make a living being publishers.) But Farley is an inspiration.

When speaking in classrooms, libraries & at book fairs, Farley often shared his philosophy that you can make a living doing what you love best, or doing something related to it. He took his two loves, writing & horses, and put them together with hard work, making his dreams a reality. Along the way, he inspired countless readers, certainly some horse owners, many authors, more than a few film makers -- and he inspired this publisher.

At the time of his death, Farley had received over 500,000 letters from fans, and his books remain popular generations later. It's a wonderful legacy for an author. But Waler Farley the man has an even larger legacy: one of imagination and inspiration for all.

"I don't think kids are encouraged to use their imaginations," said Farley. "Imagination can help you reach into the heavens to grasp an idea, bring it down to earth, and make it work."

Now those are words to live by, to write by, and yes, to publish by.

Thanks, Walter.

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