Saturday, 8 August 2009

Online publications...

Here's something that needs a real study when it comes to publishing and spreading literature:
Thanks to Fr Julian Fox and austraLasia...
First volume of Cimatti's 'Autobiografia' now available

TOKYO: 8th August 2009 -- The first volume of the Autobiografia dalle lettere di Don Cimatti (Autobiography of Don Cimatti, from his letters), edited by Fr Gaetano Compri, vice postulator for the Cimatti Cause, curator of the Cimatti Museum at Chofu, Tokyo, is now available. The tome (there is no other way to describe it!) is 421 pages, a case-wrap hardcover edition with full colour cover, replete with photos, all originals from the Cimatti era. The book costs €18 plus postage. It is in Italian.
The publication of this book, via Lulu.com (the link will take you directly to the book but it is publicly available through search and browse on Lulu.com's website) is something of a first, and raises a number of important questions - possibly also providing some important answers! Pardon me if from here on I speak in first person, because I believe it is important to raise these questions. I have waited, very much with heart in mouth, until Fr Compri purchased and perused a copy of the 'Autobiografia' to determine whether this experiment was indeed successful. It would appear that it is. His comments in an email read, in translated version: "It is an excellent work. Everyone here is in admiration of it. I did not believe it could come out so well. The photos, too, are beautiful".
Why publish a book this way - and how? As always, these things start with personal experience. I am in a position where I daily receive books published, often for academic purposes, by Salesian Publishing Houses around the world. I also, from time to time, visit the Salesian Central Library and the 'Posta' at the Pisana. I see literally hundreds of these books, in multiple copies, come in and languish in these places, so I ask - where does the money come from for all these? Is there another way of doing this? Could Salesian Publishing in fact be moving ahead with the 'digital continent' it lives within, doing what some others are doing? So I set about the task of trying to discover if there are other ways. Some readers will know that I have already published two of my own works, Digital Virtues, and Hacking the Way to Heaven, via Lulu. They were experimental efforts meant to seek answers to the above questions. I won't dwell on the results and discoveries except to say they have been most pleasantly surprising!
So when Fr Compri, such an ardent and determined man when it comes to the Cimatti Cause, approached me with a view to putting Cimatti's letters on SDL, some years back now (SDL came about largely because of this, you need to know), I also put it to him that as well as asking Elledici (LDC) to publish a Teresio Bosco style 'popular' life of Cimatti - which was just recently published - he might take another approach to his proposed 'Autobiography', which would be a running compilation drawn from the 6,000 plus letters in the SDL collection. I argued that the readership of such a biography, at least initially, would be limited, and that no publishing house would tackle the project unless it could guarantee a substantial print-run. I put it to him that I could publish it for him - for nothing! Now who would not accept such an offer?
Nothing does not mean no effort - on his or my part. But given that he had put in the several year's of effort to produce this 'autobiography' (the only non-autobiographical parts are from Compri's own extensive explanatory footnotes) I felt I could at least offer a month's effort to prepare the text for publishing. Let me tell you that the task was not difficult, merely time-consuming. I use a relatively simple program called Lyx, which is not WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) but WYSIWYM (what you see is what you mean). In other words I tell it I want a heading or a title or a list or whatever, and it gives it to me - already formatted as if it were a professional printing agency at work, then it gives the whole box and dice to me in a print-ready professional quality PDF. Why waste time formatting when professionals can do it for you? Then let me tell you it took just one half hour to publish the book!
From several year's experience now I see no disadvantages to this form of publishing for an instance like this. It is print-on-demand. I have paid not one cent (unless you regard half an hour online as costly!) because there is no print run. In fact the base cost of production of this book is €18. 'We' (the spine tells us 'SDB' are the publishers) have chosen to add no royalty - this time. WYSIWYG costwise, that is! If 5 people are interested in it, they produce their credit card and pay up and get the book in the mail a week later. If 500,000 people do similarly they get the same result. If we thought 500,000 would buy the book we would put a royalty on it!! Incidentally, if I buy the book in Europe, it will be printed in Europe. If someone buys it in Japan it will almost certainly be printed in Asia - that's using globalisation to advantage. Could not Salesian Publishers do similarly?
And the postage cost? It won't be cheap - let's say it might be almost as much as the book. But go to any store and buy a 421 page hardcover book and tell me you paid less than the equivalent of €36. I realise that this argument may not apply in places like India, but then I would have another question for our Salesian Publishers there......

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