I have been trying to decide how to handle the photographs in my (long-delayed) translation of Hans Ostwald’s Moral History of the Inflation.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, photos taken before 1948 are in the public domain in Canada. If I were to print and ship every copy of the book from here, I would be able to include the original images without any concern.

The problem is that I have come to rely heavily on American and British distributors. Could some dormant copyright holders awaken and give my business partners grief for printing or carrying the title, clamoring for a fee on the grounds that they own the local rights to some of the pictures? In this litigious age one cannot be too careful.

My solution has been to register the Canadian domain weimar.ca, where I plan to post low resolution copies of the photographs from Ostwald’s book. The paperback translation will include a note, sending readers who wish to see the illustrations to this new, stand-alone web site.

Those who would like to have a copy of the translation with all of the images included will be able to purchase a hi-res, limited-edition hardcover (size of the print run still to be determined) directly from the Obolus Press web site.

I’ll post a note here when I begin to upload the images to weimar.ca

The money supply in Canada. If I weren’t posting pictures from Weimar Republic, I would put this chart up on weimar.ca

Buck You, Fezos

It took me three weeks to resolve a straightforward problem with an e-book on the Kindle store last month: There was some confusion at Amazon as to whether or not Camille Mauclair was truly dead, or if he might still be knocking around Paris and entitled to a cut of my profits. It’s enough to make a cat laugh.

Things were sorted out eventually, but during those three weeks the title was removed from Amazon’s catalogue of e-books. That’s three weeks it was hidden from the eyes of potential buyers. All seven of them, probably, mais quand même. The whole business left me wondering if it was wise to cede so much control to a third party, especially to a third party where this kind of bureaucratic torpor walks hand in hand with treachery and deceit.

Then there’s the Kindle payment scale, which is beyond my understanding. Why is it, exactly, that I should only receive a 35% royalty in Brazil, India, Japan, and Mexico but earn 70% everywhere else? I can find no clear answer to the question. My solution was to raise the price of Kindle books in those regions to compensate, but this is obviously unfair to readers in those countries. My production and delivery costs do not vary geographically. It’s a bloody e-book, not timber.

What’s more, I share Cory Doctorow’s dislike of monopolies and rentiers. I believe people should be free to download and read their e-books on whatever platform or device they please.

So, I’ve decided to stop selling e-books on Amazon and make them available on the Obolus Press web site instead. It is now possible to buy and download each title directly as a PDF. If you use a verified PayPal account to make the purchase, the order should be filled immediately by PayHip.

To deter piracy the buyer’s personal information is stamped — unobtrusively — at the top of each page but the files do not contain any Digital Rights Management (DRM) security measures. The PDF is a facsimile of the paper book, complete with the same illustrations, page numbers, and index if there is one. The electronic text can be searched and copied, and readers may print as much as they like for their personal, private use. Visit the catalogue to download the first few pages of any book to see what it looks like.

While I do have some experience coding ePubs, I deliberately chose to sell the books as PDFs because even the luddiest of Luddites can manage to download and open one. Grumpy old men are one of my most important target markets. I’m one myself, so I should know what they like.

Nothing changes as far as paperbacks and hardcovers are concerned, since my distributor will still make Obolus Press titles widely available — even to Bezos’ behemoth.

Henry Bataille, Portrait de Camille Mauclair (c. 1895)
Henry Bataille, Portrait de Camille Mauclair (c. 1895)
He looks quite young here, but I assure you he’s quite dead now.

Some Changes Made

I picked and packed my last book on Saturday. Wholesale orders are still very welcome, but I’ve decided to stop selling individual print copies directly from the web site. While the Americans have “media mail” and the British have “printed matter” rates, Canada Post offers booksellers nothing but misery — the cost of shipping anything heavier than a sheet of toilet paper is prohibitive.

That is one reason why I have moved the Obolus Press print bookstore to Aerio, where all orders to the United States and Canada will now be fulfilled on the next business day by Ingram (one of the world’s largest book distributors). Their typical shipping cost for a paperback is just $2.99 when sent to a US address via USPS.

The other reason I am directing business to Aerio is that, unlike Amazon, they will always have my titles in stock at the correct price. I recently caught the Bezos Bandits selling the paperback edition of Le Sidaner’s biography for $43.24 — 50% higher than my price of $28.95:

For orders to the UK and the rest of the world, I am referring customers to Blackwell’s and the Book Depository respectively. They seem to keep titles well stocked and reasonably priced.

An even bigger change is that you can now download a PDF edition (DRM-free) of each title for $9.99 or less. I’ll have more to say about this in another blog post next week.

Title of this post performed by the Chicago Rhythm Kings (April, 1928)

Bits of Rag Paper

Hans Ostwald, Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931), p. 275 (my translation):

Lining up for food was not the worst thing. Even sadder were the other lines, the gold and silver lines. These were lines of sellers, not buyers, made up entirely of women who waited patiently in front of the places where precious metal was purchased. When they were asked for their identity cards, they pulled them out of their old, shabby purses in a shy and embarrassed way. They gave away their gold wedding rings and their silver — often very thin spoons and some pathetic-looking jewellery from better days — in exchange for the bits of rag paper they needed so urgently to buy the bread and fat that would prevent them from starving.

Settling up at a barbershop in Ochsenfurt: 2 eggs for a shave, 4 eggs for a haircut

I recently learned that photographs taken before 1948 are in the public domain in Canada, regardless of when the author died. This means I’ll be able to include almost all of the original illustrations from Ostwald’s book in the English edition, including the one above (which was probably taken by Willy Römer).

The Mood of an Age

Hans Ostwald, Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931), p. 218 (my translation):

It is extraordinarily amusing to see how the mood of an age is always reflected in its dance songs, especially in the refrains. Nothing can give a better picture of the nature and condition of the dancers, and thus of the population as a whole, than the songs the jazz bands play in the dance halls, bars, and coffee houses — and which maids sing as they wash dishes in the kitchen, and boys whistle in the street. Most of the lyrics suit the music and melodies perfectly, and they characterize the people who dance and twirl to them. Here one can truly say, “Tell me what music you like to dance to, and I will tell you who you are.”

I am nearly finished translating this history of the Weimar inflation. Last week I spent some time (Wasted you say? Surely not!) looking up some of the songs Ostwald mentions as being emblematic of the period and find that Marlene Dietrich sang one of them as part of her screen test for The Blue Angel (see this video at the 2:41 mark):

Wer wird denn weinen, wenn man auseinander geht,
Wenn an der nächsten Ecke schon ein andrer steht?
Man sagt auf Wiedersehn! und denkt sich heimlich bloß:
Nun bin ich endlich wieder mein Verhältnis los!

I’ve translated it as:

Who would weep, if we should part?
Just around the corner waits another sweetheart.
You bid goodbye, and to yourself quietly say:
There’s another one who is out of the way!

An image and closed captions from Dietrich’s screen test (1930)