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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Sevenpennies Post by :Richp Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2531

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Sevenpennies

(_29 Apr. '09_)

Some time ago a meeting (henceforward historic) took place between Mr. Longman, Mr. Macmillan, Mr. Reginald Smith, Mr. Methuen, and Mr. Hutchinson (All baronets or knights now, except Reginald Smith, who is dead) of the one part, and Mr. Bernard Shaw, Mr. Maurice Hewlett, and Mr. Anthony Hope of the other part. Mr. Longman was the host, and the encounter must have been touching. I would have given a complete set of the works of Mrs. Humphry Ward to have been invisibly present. The publishers had invited the authors (who represented the Authors' Society), with the object of dissuading them from allowing their books to be reprinted at the price of sevenpence. Naturally, the publishers, as always, were actuated by a pure desire for the welfare of authors. Messrs Shaw, Hewlett, and Hope have written an official account of their impressions of the great sevenpenny question, and it appears in the current number of the _Author_. It is amusing. The most amusing aspect of the whole affair is the mere fact that one solitary Scotch firm, Nelsons, have forced the mandarins, nay, the arch-mandarins, of the trade to cry out that the shoe is pinching. For the supreme convention of life on the mandarinic plane is that the shoe never pinches. The publishers made one very true statement to the authors, namely, that sevenpenny editions give the public the impression that 6s. is an excessive price for a novel. Well, it is. But is that a reason for abolishing the sevenpenny? The other statements of the publishers were chiefly absurd. For instance, this: "Any author allowing a novel to be sold at sevenpence will find the sales of his next book at 6s. suffering a considerable decrease." Well, it is notorious that if the sevenpenny publishers are publishing one particular book just now, that book is "Kipps." It is equally notorious that the sales of "Tono-Bungay" are, and continue to be, extremely satisfactory.

* * * * *

On the other hand, the remarks of the sevenpenny publishers themselves are not undiverting. I have heard from dozens of people in the trade that Messrs. Nelson could not possibly make the sevenpenny reprint pay. I have never believed the statement. But the Shaw and Co. report makes Messrs. Nelson give as one reason for not abandoning the sevenpenny enterprise the fact that "the machinery already in existence is too costly to be abandoned." Which involves the novel maxim that a loss may be too big to be cut! Were their amazing factory ten times as large as it actually is, Messrs. Nelson would have to put it to other uses in face of a regular loss on their sevenpennies. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the enterprise is, and will be, remunerative. The Shaw and Co. report is of the same view. Did the mandarins imagine that they were going to stop the sevenpenny, that anything could stop it? I suppose they did! More agreeably comic than the attitude and arguments of the publishers are the attitude and arguments of the booksellers. But the largest firms, Smith and Son and Wymans, "do not find that the sevenpenny has interfered with the 6s. novel." Be it noted that Smith and Son are now the largest buyers of 6s. novels in England.

* * * * *

In the Shaw and Co. report, in the arguments of publishers, in the arguments booksellers, not a word about the interests of the consumer! Yet the consumer will settle the affair ultimately. That the price of new novels will come down is absolutely certain. It will come down because it is ridiculous, and no mandarinic efforts can keep it up. In the process of readjustment many people will temporarily suffer, and a few people will be annihilated. But things are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be. Why, therefore, should we deceive ourselves? I quite expect to suffer myself. I shall not, however, complain of the cosmic movement. The auctorial report (which, by the way, is full of common sense) envisages immense changes in the book market. I agree. And I am sure that these changes will come about in the teeth of violent opposition from both publishers and booksellers. The book market is growing steadily. It is enormous compared to what used to be. And yet it is only in its infancy. The inhabitants of this country have scarcely even begun to buy books. Wait a few years and you will see!

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