Books Or Websites?

Considering the discussion that took place on my last post, it’s inevitable that this post should be about pen books and pen websites. They are quite different things and not really comparable as they are produced the way they are to address different purposes.

Many books do not make good references as they are not easily searchable whereas websites are. Books, in the main, (there are exceptions) are about narrative. They are sequential and that’s how they’re best read. Really comprehensive indexes can help but not many books have indexes that are good enough. A shining example of a good reference book is Steve Hull’s The English Fountain Pen Industry but of all the fountain pen books I have, many of which have been reviewed here, that’s the only one I would regard as a useful first-hand reference.

Websites, generally, don’t lend themselves to extended narrative but you’ve only got to hit CTRL-F to find what you want. They are also very good for disseminating information as it becomes available. It’s a work of moments to update the information on a given fountain pen whereas a book is static and new information has to wait for a later edition if it is ever to appear at all. Websites are comparatively inexpensive to their author and free to the public.

Personally, I’m a book person. There are rooms in this house that I can barely get into because of the number of books I have. I love a good read and I look forward with anticipation to new fountain pen books that come out. They can provide a narrative of company information, of the personalities involved and of the development of that company’s fountain pens. But, for the most part, I don’t use them as first port-of-call references where there is an online alternative. The scrap of information that I need is much more easily accessed on one of the excellent brand websites that people have taken the trouble to make available.

Fountain pen books are expensive. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are among the most expensive books on my shelves. That’s simply because the market for them is very small which forces the unit price up. However, not everyone is a reader of books and even among those that are many would rather spend their money on pens. That seems fair enough to me. You might respond that someone who is not prepared to buy the books can do without the information. I don’t believe that to be true. Information is ancillary, not central, to the fountain pen collecting hobby and its free availability is very good for the hobby. We in the UK are late in coming to this realisation, whereas America has had its major brands well covered online for years.

I don’t believe that the publication of information online will adversely affect the sale of pen books. Those who will buy the books, will buy them anyway. I’m an example of that. The information presented by the two mediums is invariably different.

It really isn’t about a choice between books or websites. We want – and need – both.

10 thoughts on “Books Or Websites?

  1. Deb –
    I wanted to be the first to add my agreement that both books and websites are useful sources of information (I hardly doubt my typing it makes any more true or less original). My thought, as I shared privately with Andy, and as, admittedly, I have a bit of a vested interest in, is that the book ought be first, so that the effort might in some way be rewarded. My own efforts have yielded but one check for a Pen World article, itself a profit-making enterprise. My books are not shared, because I have this quaint notion about copyrights: when I quote you or Andy or Steve Hull, or whomever, I attribute and acknowledge that information. If I paraphrased it, or did not attribute it, I would comply with our copyright laws. On a very personal level, that strikes me as less than completely honest, and I will not do it, even if it deprives me of fame and fortune.
    A useful and interesting discussion, I think, as many such here are. And nice of you to keep it going.
    Thank you.

    1. It is interesting to see how the discussion develops.

      I believe that you would wish to see the book published before the website so that the website would not interfere with sales of the book. I’m not sure that it would. There has been a pretty comprehensive Conway Stewart website for some years. It may have had some errors and due to the death of the Webmaster it had fallen behind the current state of information. Nonetheless, it was extremely well used and I believe it still is. It did not appear to spoil sales of Steve’s Conway Stewart book.

      If we were to agree that the book should come first, how would that be administered? I fear that such a notion is completely impractical.

      In addition, how is a Webmaster to know how many books on his subject are in preparation? Is he to wait for the first book, the second or however many before he makes his work available?

      On the subject of copyright and plagiarism I think we hold the same view. I had a little spat on that subject on Fountain Pen Board some time ago.

  2. As a lover and, in a small way, collector of books I am in full agreement that books, blogs and website all have a place, particularly in our information age. As said, websites and blogs offer us great value with a possibility of instantly updating as new research becomes available and access. Books offer us a permanence that the Internet may not. Websites and blogs can come and go, and unless the material is archived, so does the information offered.

    I need to offer a another point here about the cost of ‘pen’ books. I was once told during my time a university that one reason liberally illustrated texts, such as architecture and engineering texts, are so dear is the cost of producing the graphics versus the relative low cost of print. Obviously, this would be a factor for well illustrated books for pen collecting as well.

    I can only offer my thanks to Deb for her superb efforts here, and for the fantastic blog that is the one I check most frequently to see what is new, interesting and, at times even humorous.

    1. Thank you for your kind words.

      The economics of publishing remains a mystery to me. I recently bought Gabriele Fahr-Becker’s Art Nouveau. It is very lavishly illustrated – at least one full-colour illustration on each page, printed on heavy high-gloss paper. It has 400-odd pages and it cost the princely sum of £19.99. Compare that with Steve Hull’s Conway Stewart book which, if memory serves me, cost £60 or thereabouts.

  3. I much prefer a book. I picked up a MB 149 in the week and tried to date it using a thread in FPN. Very frustrating as the information evolved through the thread. In the end, I went to the end and worked backwards. However, this also demonstrates that on-line enables the data to be updated.

    I got my WES journal today with its review of Richard Binder’s Restoration volume. It is only available as soft copy. I have just bought it and will spend the weekend dipping in and so I will have a better formed opinion after that, but at this stage I much prefer the idea of Marshall & Oldfield in hard copy. Somehow my edition is still free of ink stains which is a miracle as I refer to it while working out how to repair various pens. I’m not sure I want I want electronics that close to the work bench.

    I must admit that it is sometimes convenient to use control F. I am lucky enough to have an electronic copy of Steve’s Conway Stewart book as I proof read it and have occasionally resorted to using control F on that – perhaps because the book wasn’t to hand at the time, but it certainly was quicker. I am building up an electronic copy of the Onoto book having just finished reviewing chapter 5 – its definitely on its way!

    Generally, I think books are better quality – they have been planned and reviewed more rigorously. There are some exceptions, the Waterman book is great eye candy but pretty useless as a reference book, Of course there is the facility to update on-line. Every time I see the latest edition of M&O I agonise about whether I should upgrade from my 1st edition.

    Of course it goes without saying that the Goodwriter’s Blog is the best source of all!

    1. Well, Simon, if you absolutely prefer books to any other medium, that’s that! No possibility of argument! However there are one or two points that you made that I would wish to examine more closely.

      First of all, I wasn’t suggesting that anyone use FPN as a resource for repair or information. Far from it – I left FPN sometime ago, at least partly because it was the home of bad information. I did specify websites, not discussion groups which, by their nature, are variable in the reliability of their correspondents.

      I agree with you that Marshall & Oldfield is the best repair resource. But it isn’t quite the same kind of book as most pen books are: it’s a repair manual.

      As regards books being generally of better quality, well, some are and some aren’t. I’m not going to list the pen books that I think lack organisation or even originality because that would be needlessly unkind. As against that I would point you in the direction of which is, to my mind, the reference par excellence. It’s beautifully organised and thoroughly comprehensive. I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else when I need information on a Parker pen.

      I think I must agree with you about Goodwriter’s blog! (In reality, much of my blog is hopelessly unreliable because I’m speculating or postulating in the absence of hard information, but I do make the reader aware when I’m doing that).

  4. being new to f.p. collecting, I can’t comment constructively in the same way as some people here, but would repeat that Deb’s blog makes for very interesting reading – not something that all screen/on line sites achieve – perhaps it’s all to do with the flow of peoples thoughts.
    Provided it’s done with care, it is the very act of postulating or speculating that creates the ‘readability’ of the blog – after all, who wants simply a list of facts and figures.

    The diff. in cost between apparently similar books containing vast amounts of info., is fairly easy to explain. Art books in particular are cheap to produce since all the data can be sourced from existing references i.e. mostly other books…………. whereas something that requires original research and a lot of digging around will necessarily take considerably more time and effort to produce and be expensive – compounded when the market is small. Plus the fact that the theme of art nouveau is obviously far more popular than the detailed depths of f.p. history.
    A big thanks to those who do take the time to produce books – which I prefer to only line data, but would agree that both formats are essential.
    I too have more books than is healthy for one person – sometimes the habit of collecting them almost overtakes the subject interest itself.
    Only have a couple of books on f.p., so need to acquire more – shame some are so pricey.

    Recently I’v joined the FPN – and received a warm welcome – you can’t accuse those guys of not being friendly, but, perhaps it’s the Britishness in me, I prefer discussion on matters of older pens rather thank spilling ink (forgive the pun) on contemporary pens and issues regarding which ink is the best.
    I’m probably considered a philistine, since I don’t consciously write each day with a f.p. – I collect pens – not pieces of paper with ink on them:)

    1. Once again, thank you for your kind words.

      Reverting to the issue of the cost of books, my Art Noveau is pretty scholarly and original. Gabriele Fahr-Becker is a well-respected art historian with several other publications to her credit. It’s not a coffee table book.

      I hope you will enjoy FPN. Just be cautious about some of the information that’s handed out there. Not all correspondents are as well-informed as they imagine themselves to be. There are some other good discussion groups – Fountain Pen Board and Fountain Pen Geeks for instance.

      You’re not alone in not using your pens. Some other collectors are the same. I do use my pens, whether old or new. It’s a Platinum 3776 at the moment – I like it because the cap seals absolutely, ensuring that the pen will write even after weeks of not being used.

      1. I have that particular book and would agree it’s good – but then I’m a lover of all things nouveau and deco………….. regret I’m not that well up on literature covering nouveau decorative matters to know to what extent this book consists of original information. Hate to be a doubting Thomas but in view of the quantity of books published in the past 30 years or so on this subject, then difficult to imagine that much had remained undocumented. However, suspect you may know a lot more than me in this area, so mustn’t be picky – I couldn’t do a book like that.

        thanks for the heads up on other internet pen sites.

        I also use what is probably considered a cheap pen for the odd occasion I do write – it’s a burgundy Parker Vector, and it seems that no matter how long the interval between use, it writes without fail every time………… and the line isn’t too bad either.
        Don’t know whether it’s the fit of the cap as suggested, or simply modern inks that flow better and don’t dry out.
        I dip test virtually all that I bring home, and have a Sheaffer somewhere that had a really good scribble, but forget now which one it was.
        Can never get my head around the ‘beaked’ shape of modern Sheaffer nibs – they always look awkward, and I don’t get on with a firm scribble. Must learn to be more tolerant.

      2. I started out using flexible pens – the more flexible the better. A couple of years ago I decided to try to overcome my prejudice against firm nibs and I started practising with old Parkers and Mentmores. They didn’t really suit me all that well and I concluded that it was because they were medium nibs. I started trying fine nibs and that was much better for me. Though I still like flex nibs, the pens on my desk are invariably ones with fine firm nibs.

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