America, the Ugly

As an American living in Europe, I am often asked whether I miss the States and whether I will return there.  The answer I give is that I miss my family and friends living there, but that I have no plans to return to the States.  In fact, in the current environment, I would find America a disagreeable place to live.

Those of you who visit this blog on the expectation of stimulating thoughts from an author’s point of view I ask your indulgence that I might – just this once? – enlarge the topic.

My impression of America today, based in the voices I hear from across the Atlantic – the formal media, social media, politicians, commentators, activists and private individuals – is that it has become a violent, racist, and un-educated country, and my impression is that this is a view shared by many non-Americans.  To be clear, I’m not focusing on the President; to my mind, he is only the cheerleader of a violent, racist, un-educated minority, a minority that is attempting to dominate the discourse on issues with a stridency which seems to seek a change in the culture of America.  The desired culture appears to be more fragmented, more ‘them-and-us’, less orderly, and more beneficial to the loudest.

When I mention an ‘un-educated minority’, I am not speaking of Americans who have only a high school or secondary school education.  For me, it’s not about the number of years of education one has; rather it’s about how one behaves.  There are Americans with graduate degrees who are behaving like cretins and high school drop-outs who display considerable wisdom.

I believe that there are two vital behaviours which the ‘un-educated’  are neglecting: the systematic collection of reliable, non-business-related information, and the deliberate, dispassionate analysis of this information.  These two behaviours, taken together, are the foundations of good citizenship.  What kind of information am I talking about?  General, wide-ranging information on subjects including history, social science, physical science, theology, sports, finance, psychology, art and politics.  If one doesn’t have at least an understanding of the trends in these areas, how can can one call oneself a knowledgeable citizen?  And it isn’t just a question of having ‘facts’ at one’s disposal: the ‘facts’ can be wrong or misleading.  Trust only sources of information that are reliable and have no incentive to bend the truth.  It takes time, attention and effort to become half-educated.

And the other half of being ‘educated’ is perhaps more difficult: it involves setting aside one’s personal agenda and biases (my, particular religion/political beliefs/economic circumstances/social standing/etc.) in order to understand alternative viewpoints and to analyse dispassionately the pros and cons.  (Nothing other than arithmetic is always right.)

It seems to me that the ‘uneducatedness’ of some Americans, who have insufficient or wrong information and analyze it superficially, is what leads to racism and violence.  Racism (and other forms of intolerance) cannot stand up to the ‘educated citizenship’ approach.

By ‘violence’, I’m not just referring to gun violence, but to abuse of all kinds, and to the desire to disrupt the status quo just to ‘punish the system’.  The latter two forms of violence are invalidated by informed analysis.

Gun violence is a particular issue for me, as a resident of England, where reliable adults can have rifles and shotguns, subject to certification and safe storage, and where handguns and automatic weapons are proscribed.  Does this handicap the British population, many of whom are keen hunters?  No.  Gun violence is a tiny fraction of what it is in the US.  Apart from this, the major difference between the two countries is that there is no ‘constitutional right’ in the UK to bear arms.  But, the Second Amendment was based partially on the right to keep and bear arms in English common law and was influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689.  Yet, there is no ‘constitutional right’ in the UK.

As I think about the causes of ‘uneducatedness’, two things come to mind: laziness – unwillingness to take the time and effort to inform oneself and to think clearly – and discontentment with one’s situation in life, which, while sometimes justified, can lead to the the blaming of others or the ‘system’.  Laziness is, of course, self-inflicted, and if one is discontented, the best remedy is action, not blame.


The Espresso Book Machine

There is an article in the September, 2017 issue of the IBPA Independent magazine, ‘Can the Espresso Book Machine Save the Indie Publisher?’  It is written by Peter Goodman, the publisher of Stone Bridge Press in Berkeley, California, and a member of the IBPA Independent Editorial Advisory Committee.

The article tells us that “the EBM is a self-contained, on-demand printing and binding machine that can produce a single perfect-bound book from a digital file in 5-8 minutes.  A product of On Demand Books in New York City, the EBM promises ‘Books Printed in Minutes at Point of Sale for immediate Pick-up and Delivery’.

“Currently there are about a hundred EBM’s installed in stores and libraries, mostly in the US and Canada, but in other countries, as well.  Through On Demand Books’ own servers and tie-ups with other publishers and with Google and Lightning Source, over 7 million titles are currently available in multiple languages for on-demand printing at these locations. ”

The article also mentions that the machine can be promoted to anyone who simply wants to get unpublished written material into a printed and bound format: family cookbooks, memoirs, school projects first novels, etc.

“An EBM prints books – perfectly bound only – one at a time on an integrated Xerox D95 toner-based printer.  Available formats range from 4.5″ x 5.0″ to 8.25″ x 10.75″ with page counts from 40 to 830 pages.   Covers are produced on heavier tabloid-size stock using four-colour digital printing.  As the book pages print, the cover is output and positioned below the book block.  The EBM then scrapes and applies glue to the spine of the block and presses the  block down onto the back surface of the cover.  The book is finished as soon as the block and its attached cover are turned and trimmed on the side and front edges.”

Espresso Book Machine

“Publishers contract with On Demand to make books available through the EBM network database.  The finances are straight forward: the EBM operator arranges with On Demand  for leasing and maintenance, and then pays a licensing fee for each book printed.  The publisher receives 25% of the price of the book to the customer; the publisher sets the price, as long as it exceeds a calculated amount to cover production costs, licensing and profit to the bookseller.”

Turning now to an article from Publishers Weekly, On Demand Books emphasize that the EBM is “not a POD ( print on demand) solution: it is a sales solution”

“Another reason that book machines have started to come into their own is that publishers are looking for ways to support bricks-and-mortar stores. Publishers cannot afford to lose retail distribution. So they also see this as a mechanism for the distribution model.  The desire to keep indies in business is translating to a new willingness to make content available. To date, most of the books that the machine can print have come from deep backlists.  Most frontlist titles are from smaller presses and open source publishers.

“A question put to attendees at Xerox’s first Thought Leadership Workshop about the EBM in Rochester, N.Y., last month indicates another possibility for the machine’s growing popularity: Amazon. “We need to compete with Amazon,” says Linda Gregory, who handles Web site and order fulfillment for Colgate Bookstore in Hamilton, N.Y.

“Statistics from On Demand are tantalizing: within the first three months of having a machine McNally Jackson Books in New York City has gone from zero to 1,000 books a month. At Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., which added a machine in October 2009, owner Jeffrey Mayersohn expects to surpass 2,000 books a month this summer. “Digitalization is the salvation of the neighborhood bookstore,” he declares. He regards Amazon’s infrastructure as “20th-century” and believes that the key competitive issue is inventory, not price. With the EMB, Mayersohn says, “The store becomes a well-curated showroom with books published to specification—and a manufacturing operation in the backroom.”

In doing some research for this post, I found that the price of an EBM is $185,000, but I feel sure that On Demand’s preference is to enter into lease and maintenance agreements.