A Slogan for Booksellers


I DON’T think that I was a very bad little boy, as boys go, but the fact is that I ran away from school — a boarding-school — and never went back. I did, however, apply for a job in a bookstore, got the promise of the next vacancy, and sat down and waited. But not for long. Scanning the advertisements in the Philadelphia Ledger, I discovered that a man was looking for me, and promptly decided that it was my duty to meet him half way. ‘ A bright, active boy to address envelopes. $3.00. Reference,’ was the way the advertisement read. Thus it was that I first met Cyrus H. K. Curtis; not head on, not at right angles, but obliquely: we were both going in the same direction; he had not yet struck his gait, and for several months he did not appear to be leading me much; but gradually he increased the very considerable distance there was between us, and finally he passed out of sight. I did not see him again until he had become a national figure. He became this by advertising. Many men have made larger fortunes than he; with them advertising has been incidental, like love in a man’s life; but with Mr. Curtis it has been his whole existence, and the largest and finest publishing building in the world is a monument to his skill as an advertiser.

There are people who affect to believe that advertising is economic waste; Mr. Curtis is not one of them. He has always taken his own medicine; he may believe in the Trinity; he may, for aught I know, repeat the Athanasian Creed on occasions; but I know, the whole world knows, that he is a believer in advertising; and he should be, for his success is due largely — not entirely, but largely — to it.

The Curtis Publishing Company, then, is admittedly the result of an advertising campaign begun a long time ago, and carried on consistently day after day, month after month, year after year, with special reference to the product it has to sell, which is advertising. Incidentally it delivers something else, — several other things, to be exact, — and it delivers these at a cost to the ‘consumer’ so trifling in proportion to the cost of production that it almost amounts to a gift. I think I may say without fear of contradiction that the Saturday Evening Post is the cheapest piece of merchandise in the world. And if that be the case, what becomes of the theory of the economic waste of advertising?

But it is not the object of this paper to sing a hymn of praise either to Mr. Curtis or to his company or to his product. I am interested chiefly in suggesting, if I may be permitted to do so, a campaign of advertising for publishers of another kind, namely, of books. Books interest me enormously; they always have. They are the best of friends; grave or gay as your humor is, and you can shut them up when you want to. Most people don’t care for them much; they think they do, but they don’t; that is to say, they care for so many other things more that, when it comes to buying them, they have no money left. Now, next to a modicum of food and a patch of clothes, I care more for books than for anything else.

I should like to digress. I have reached the time of life when Christmas means giving much and receiving little. I make no complaint, I only state the fact. The table on which my presents are placed is a very small one. The last present I received was from my wife; it was a watch. I had a watch and did not need another, but my wife thought I ought to have a fine watch and she gave me one; and it was, as I remember, about ten days after Christmas that, in handing me a lot of household bills, she handed me the bill for the watch, with the remark, ‘And you might as well pay this, too; I thought I could, but it would cramp me and you ’ll never know the difference.’ So with a sigh I bent my back to the burden, and it was just as she had said.

A week later, going on a business trip somewhere, I was sitting in a smokingcar, reading, when a man whom I knew slightly asked me if I would not like to sit into a friendly game of poker. I made known to him briefly that I did n’t know one card from another. Then he said, ‘Let us talk,’ which meant let him talk; and talk he did, about everything and nothing, until finally he asked me if I had received any Christmas presents. This gave me a chance to boast of my wife’s generosity and to show my new watch, with the result that my friend countered by saying that his wife had given him a fine antique bookcase.

‘How very nice,’ I said. ‘Are you fond of books? Have you many?’

‘No, not many,’ he replied; ‘but it is n’t exactly a bookcase; it’s more like a large upright writing-desk. The top is a closet, with glass doors with a redsilk lining; makes a nice place to keep whiskey and cigars and things under lock and key ’ (this was before we had discovered the necessity of keeping our whiskey in a burglar-proof vault); ‘ then there’s a flap that lets down on which you can write; and underneath is a place for books. ‘And do you know,’ he continued, ‘I know enough books already I’d like to have, to fill both shelves.’

I shuddered, and the better to conceal my anguish I asked him if he enjoyed reading.

‘Very much,’ he said; ‘I don’t know anything I like better than to go into my den on Sunday morning after breakfast and sit and read my newspaper undisturbed.’

Think of a man staring vacantly at a Sunday paper, under the delusion that he is reading!


Now the fact is that many people, most people, have forgotten how to read, if they ever knew; and they have to be taught, and they can be taught, not only to read, but to buy books, by advertising. The use of tooth-powder has been enormously stimulated by advertising, and I am certain that a demand for books can be created in the same way, but it must be done wisely, systematically, and continuously. We are familiar with the proverb that ‘ It is the first step that counts.’ Well, it is not so with advertising: in advertising, it is the last; the effect of advertising is cumulative. It is the last dollar spent that brings results. The first time one sees an advertisement, unless it is very striking, it has no pulling power; only after one has seen it repeatedly, does it begin to work.

The best advertising skill in the world was concentrated a year or two ago on Liberty Bonds. Most people did not know what a bond was; they had to be taught; and it is a thousand pities that after people had been told that they were the finest investment in the world, they were allowed to decline so in price. We were told to ‘ Buy and Borrow,’ and to ‘Buy till it hurts.’ Such is the effect of a forceful slogan a thousand times repeated, that we finally do as we are told. We bought and borrowed and got hurt, badly ; I speak from experience.

Millions of people are seduced by the power of advertising to buy automobiles which they have no right to buy,because they are skillfully advertised and look so smart and so free from upkeep - in advertisements.

Advertising as an art or a science is essentially modern, in spite of the fact that Dr. Samuel Johnson, in one of his now little-read Idlers, written in 1759, refers to it as a ‘ trade now so near to perfection that it is not easy to propose any improvement’; and he continues by saying, referring to the filling up of newspapers with advertisements, ‘The man who first took advantage of the general curiosity that was excited by a siege or battle, to betray the readers of news into the knowledge of the shop where the best puffs and powder were to be sold, was undoubtedly a man of great sagacity.’ It is Our silly habit to think of Dr. Johnson, when we think of him at all, as ponderous and old-fashioned; ponderous he sometimes was, but he is quite up-to-date in calling advertisers ‘sagacious.’

As I cannot suppose that my reader has at hand a newspaper containing such advertisements as called forth Dr.

Johnson’s encomiums, let me give a few examples taken almost at random from the Daily Advertiser.

Mr. Pinchbeck, Senior, Clock and Watchmaker from Tunbridge Wells, having through a long series of repeated Injuries from his neighboring brother, Mr. Edward Pinchbeck, been obliged to alter his Sign, takes this method of informing the Public, that his, the said Pinchbeck senior’s Sign is now only his late Father’s Head, exactly opposite the Sun Tavern in Fleet Street.

Trouble whs brewing, evidently, in the Pinchbeck family. “ Thomas Madge, Watchmaker” was more fortunate : he announced that he was

Apprentice to the late Mr. Graham, and carries on the business in the same manner Mr. Graham did, at the Sign of the Dial opposite the Bolt arid Tun in Fleet Street.

Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary was proclaimed to the world in this fashion, the announcement occupying a space of a little more than an inch single column:-

This day is published in Two Volumes Folio Mr. S. Johnson’s Dictionary of the English language. In which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by Examples from the Best Writers. To which are prefixed a History of the Language and an English Grammar. Printed for A. Millar. And then follows the long list of booksellers financially interested in the venture.

As might be expected, ‘cures’ for the diseases, real or imaginary, which plagued our forefathers occupied much space in the public prints, and of all the nostrums compounded by the apothecaries, - and their name is legion, — nothing was more advertised and consumed in greater quantities than Dr. James’s Fever Powders. (Incidentally they killed; Oliver Goldsmith, and, Horace Walpole said he would take them if the house was on fire.) They were advertised as a ‘ genuine medicine,’ and genuine medicines were prescribed by the pound or quart, as the apothecaries were not to be outdone in rigor by the surgeons, who ‘ let blood ’ by the bucket at the slightest plovocation. Prior to the introduction of Dover’s Powders and James’s Powders, a man in a high fever, if highly: placed, might be considered worth as much as sixty pounds to his apothecary. Is it any wonder, then, that well-advertised and fairly efficacious drugs; to be had a few shillings, made fortunes for their proprietors? All the more since they were in competition with such household remedies as ‘Syrup of Snails’ or a ‘broth’ made of spiders ground fine with opium in amortar and reduced to a liquid by the addition of hot wine, to be drunk in bed, ‘covered up warm and sweating.’ What constitutions we must have inherited from our ancestors, since only the robust could have survived.

Such changes as have taken place in English newspaper advertising came slowly, and these have not been to the advantage of the appearance of the newspaper. A generation ago display advertising was almost unknown. Then, if a man wanted to occupy the space of a column, say, he made a brief statement and repeated it several, perhaps as many as a dozen, times. There was, and for aught I Know, still may be, a famous remedy; ‘ Beechanris Pills,’ with which was coupled what we would today call a slogan, ‘Worth a guinea a box.’ No matter where one turned, one read, ‘Beecham’s Pills, Worth a guinea a box’; or one could, if one preferred, read it, ‘ Worth a guinea a box, Beecham’s Pills.’ A fortune was spent, and a larger fortune made, as one can still make a fortune by advertising, if the article advertised has merit, as I presume Beeoham’s Pills had. But steady: Mr. Beecham may by now be a knight or a peer or something. Yes, I have just looked him up in Who’s Who. He is now ‘Sir Joseph Beecham, Kt. cr. 1911; J.P., manufacturer and philanthropist,’ etc., etc. Oh, yes, ‘It pays to advertise.’

Of that there is no manner of doubt —
No passible, possible shadow of doubt—
No possible doubt whatever, —

as the song in The Gondoliers goes.

To-day we are more sophisticated, and what our advertising may become was very cleverly foretold in a recent number of the New Republic, in an article in which it was suggested that a generation hence every reference in reading matter will be made to call attention to some article advertised. If, for example a story of an elopement is to be told, the hero, glancing at his watch (opposite the Elgin-Watch advertisement), Will say that it is time to start. ‘But am I not to take my trunk?’ (opposite the Idestructo Trunk advertisement) cries Betty. ‘No,’ says Jack, ‘we can buy what we need in New York’ (Biltmore Hotel); ‘all we need is money ’ (American Express Cheques), ‘and a few necessities ’ (Williams’s Shaving Stick, Fepsodent, and the rest). He glances at his automobile (Mercer), sees that the tires (United States) are in condition for a fast run, and helping Betty in, lights a cigarette (Camels) and in another moment the car has passed out of sight (‘for fine roads use Tarvia’).

It is, I think, rather curious that it is only recently that the National Association of Booksellers has Considered advertising in a manner designed to increase the demand, not for any one special book, but for books in general; not for the product of any one publisher on sale at any particular shop, but advertising the object of which is to stimulate the habit of buying books — new books, old books, in a word, ‘anything that’s a book.’ Of course it can be done. It will take time and money, but it is well worth doing,


Now for the sake of the discussion let me suggest a slogan - Buy a Book a Week. There are millions to whom this slogan will make no appeal, but there are millions who will be attracted by it — or a better one; millions who are no accustomed to buy books, and who will at first regard the slogan with amazement and as not intended for them. The power of iteration and reiteration is not yet fully understood: it is worthy of, and doubtless has received, the attention of the psychologist. Gradually it will be made to appear that it is as disgraceful not to buy a book a week as it is to wear a celluloid collar or to use a gold toothpick. At present it occurs to relatively few people to buy books: tell them to; keep on telling them to; and after a while they will. And when a man is by way of forming the habit of buying books and reading them, you may tell him why he is doing so, and what he should buy, and whence.

Why should we read? Booklovers have spent much time inventing finely flowing sentences in reply to this question, which is more frequently answered than asked. Augustine Birrell, that fine old bookman, in a paragraph which betrays no effort at smartness, says in the preface to his edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson: ‘ Literature is meant to give pleasure, to excite interest, to banish solitude, to make the fireside more attractive than the tavern, to give joy to those who are still capable of joy, and — why should we not admit it? — to drug sorrow, and divert thought.’ There is in this something of sadness — old age speaks rather than youth; but it is a very fine summary of the purpose of literature.

Before me on my writing-table is a dainty, dumpy volume bound in white cloth, and very much soiled, having for title, The Book-Lover’s Enchiridion. It was given by its compiler, Alexander Ireland, to Mrs. James T. Fields, ‘with sincere and heartfelt regards ’; and as it contains all of the best things ever said in praise of books and reading, I have, since I had this subject in mind, read it through from cover to cover, hoping that I might get from it a note of inspiration for this paper; but I have not done so. No, the Enchiridion is designed for the use and delectation of those who already understand the love of books. Many a time I have taken it up for ten or twenty minutes when I should have been in bed; but the excerpts of which it is composed are too exquisite, too dainty, too imaginative, for my present purpose, which is to suggest that a man in the street may be shamed at the thought that he has no books. Of what use is it to tell such a one, as Emerson does, ‘Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all countries in a thousand years.’ I, sitting in my library, am flattered that such a statement appeals to me: it suggests that I feel at home in such company; but tell the average man in a hurry that, if he will pause for a moment, he may meet ‘the wisest and wittiest,’ and he will reply, ‘I should worry,’ or some such inanity, and pass on.

No! a man must be told flatly, peremptorily, to Buy a Book a Week, and — not at first, but after a time — he will do it. Clubs might be formed and buttons worn; and long before this point is reached, indeed, at the very outset, the whole subject should be turned over to the best expert advertising opinion, that the matter may be carefully studied. This will take time and money, but the thing need not be done in a hurry; the book-trade has survived for centuries without such stimulation as I am suggesting. A year may well be spent in preparing such a campaign; as for the money, there should be no difficulty: a small fraction of one per cent of the total book-sales of the country should be levied on every bookseller, wholesale as well as retail — from such an important publisher as Macmillan in New York to such a high, eccentric retailer as George Rigby in Philadelphia. This tax should produce such a sum as would secure the best advertising talent in the country.

‘Do it electrically’ has long been a slogan in the game with which I am in some measure familiar. Do what? Anything: melt copper or freeze cream; drive a ship or a needle. ‘ Buy a Book a Week.’ What book? Any book, — The Four Horsemen or The Education of Henry Adams, — and sooner or later we shall have a book-buying public, not merely a group of scattered individuals, to whom ‘a home without books is like a room without windows.’

The study of advertising is the study of national temperaments. Advertising is a form of boasting, and we Americans are the greatest advertisers in the world: the French know little or nothing of it, and the English relatively little. ‘Privacy ’ is their watchword; ‘ publicity ’ is ours. If one wants a thing in England, one has to hunt for it; with us, the greatest difficulty is to escape from things one does not want. Advertising is, in general, but little understood. We all advertise; a silk hat and a box at the opera are forms of advertising, — by such means one advertises one’s arrival in society, - but a professional man must be more subtle than a tradesman. I have always maintained that a successful tradesman is more to be envied than any other person in the world: he is not obliged to wear a silk hat; he advertises frankly, ‘Here are candles, three for a penny’; the inference is, take them or leave them.

But we were speaking of slogans. Think for a moment of the force of a catchword or phrase many million times repeated. Politicians spend much time inventing slogans, but no one used them more successfully than Roosevelt, with his ‘Predatory Rich’ and his ‘Big Stick ’ and a hundred others. In general, slogans stick; they may be used as a foundation on which a superstructure of publicity may be erected, or as the capstone of an advertising campaign.

From my point of view, any word or phrase or picture or thing which is identified with or instantly calls to mind another thing is a slogan. Does any American, steaming past the Rock of Gibraltar, see it without thinking of a certain insurance company, or see the whiff of steam floating from a white marble pyramid as he enters New York Harbor without associating it with a trust company of almost limitless resources? ‘You push the button’; ‘Ask the man who owns one’; ‘It floats’ — there are hundreds and thousands of them, bits of property of almost incalculable value, because they are recorded in the minds of millions, rather than because they are registered in the United States Patent Office.

I cannot believe that any enlightened association, such as the American Booksellers’ Association is, will ever use, whatever advertising method it adopts, the out-of-doors signs which are such blisters upon our landscape. As if to make the approach to our cities and towns more hideous than they already are, ‘concessions’ are secured and immense signs erected, calling attention to the merits of someone’s oil as a lubricant, either for one’s motor or one’s bowels. Such advertising is positively loathsome, and sooner or later it will be stopped. Question my friend Joe Pennell’s methods if you will (I have heard him spoken of as one who never said a kind word or did an unkind thing to anyone), he is certainly right when he says that these great signs are a national disgrace and should be taxed out of existence. And in times like these, when lumber for legitimate building is expensive and transportation difficult, it is almost a crime to use millions of feet of lumber in erecting these hideous defilements of our highways. Should a man stand outside my gate and beat a drum night and day, he would ultimately be taken either to a hospital or to an undertaker’s; and those who make our country hideous with their shrieking signs should suffer the same fate. As for bill-board advertising, the case of our towns is indeed desperate; but I am not altogether without hope.

There are plenty of proper advertising media: of newspapers and magazines, having a total circulation of hundreds of millions, there is no lack; while, in spite of the fact that the unskilled laborer now has his automobile, many of us still hang on straps in trolley-cars and our minds might well be stimulated the while. And I do not despair of bookshop windows being made at least as attractive as those displaying — what shall I say ? — men’s hats. Let me expand this idea a little, if idea it is. Shopwindows have an immense advertising value; too frequently they are decorated by the shipping clerk, on a principle which I have never clearly, understood. I offer the following suggestion.

Let a window (always the same window), or a portion of a window (always the same portion), — against a background of best sellers, if necessary; but I suggest a silken, sad, uncertain curtain, — be devoted always to a display relating to some author, the anniversary of whose birthday or death-day is approaching. For example, take Rudyard Kipling—with the exception of Thomas Hardy the most distinguished literary man now living. Suppose that on December 30, 1920, we secure a photograph or other portrait and announce on a suitable card, ‘Rudyard Kipling is 55 years old to-day.’ Then suppose we surround the man with his works, — first editions, — autograph letters, souvenirs, etc., if available; and if they are not in stock, perhaps, if we are in Philadelphia, and on good terms with the owner of such a superb collection as Ellis Ames Ballard’s, we may secure the loan for a day or two of a few items which will cause the initiated in such matters to rub his eyes in amazement.

The idea may be expanded, and details added, to such an extent that, in course of time, that constantly changing exhibit will be a liberal education. It will have a drawing power that people will be unable to resist. They will cross the street to look at it; they will think of it and speak of it, and be glad to establish relations with its owners. How pleased we are when the head waiter of a well-established restaurant addresses us by name when we enter! A bookshop may hold the same thrill for us.

But you may say, ‘All this costs money and takes time; I have no one available for such a job.’ My reply is that such work could be syndicated and its cost divided among many. Miss Bessie Graham, already an honorary member of the American Booksellers’ Association and well known by reason of her classes and papers on Bookselling, is admirably fitted to superintend the preparation and distribution of such suggestions as would be timely, stimulating, and helpful. Bookshops can and should furnish a sort of post-graduate course in literature. Let the campaign of education go forward: and let us so carry it on that every he or she who reads may run — to the nearest bookshop. I am not an advertising agency. Dr. Johnson called advertising a trade; I would call it a profession, rather: the subject should be carefully studied by someone of special aptitude and training.