Making of Many Books


To seek the principal cause of the paper shortage and the consequent present troubles of authors and publishers and the world of books generally, — troubles so great that they threaten extinction of the production of some of our best forms of literature, and point to the possibility of stopping the publication of many works of science and art, — one must go back to the day when Congress passed a bill authorizing the mailing of popular magazines at the cent per pound rate. This law, which enabled the magazine proprietor to distribute his product — the low-priced magazine — at less than the then prevailing low rates for freight, and at less than the actual cost of the distribution by the government postal service, was in effect a subsidy to the publisher of the low-priced popular magazine, and on that subsidy the enormous fortunes which have been made in this field of enterprise have been built.

Probably the Congress which passed this measure did not pass it with the object of enabling the popular-magazine owner to amass a swollen fortune; and may have been surprised to learn that this was the principal result of the bill, the avowed object of which was to spread the habit of reading and to increase the educational opportunities of the masses of our population. This bill was not, however, the only piece of good fortune which Congress was to throw into the lap of the popular magazine. Some years after it became law, another Congress, under the pressure of the Great War, passed the excess-profits tax, and then indeed the cup of the popular-magazine owner became full and running over, and huge fortunes wore amassed yearly or even monthly, in the case of some of the more popular journals, notwithstanding the fact that one of these magazines, which sells for fifteen cents per copy, actually costs over forty cents to produce, and that most of them cost to manufacture more than the retail price.

If you are a subscriber to one of the more popular magazines of the time,you must have noted with surprise its constantly increasing bulk: the usual 100 pages have become 200, or even 400 in some cases. How can the proprietor be so generous in these days of greatly increased costs and of scarcity of paper? It was with no surprise, under the cir cumstances, that you learned that the circulation had gone up from 500,000 to over 2,000,000, as has been the case with one of these magazines, while the circulation of nearly all of them has greatly increased under the stimulus of the enormous increase in wages which has made the outside of many of our factories during working hours resemble the parking-space at a race-course, so numerous are the automobiles now owned by the workers.

The mystery of the increase in size would have been explained if you had examined the advertising pages, which alone, in most cases, account for the enlarged bulk, no increase whatever in the amount of reading matter being included. Indeed, as one editor of a popular magazine said to me recently, ‘ my only trouble to-day is to find space for the reading matter at all, and I only put in enough to carry the advertising.’

The inhabitants of all countries that I have visited, however unlike they may be in many things, have at least one trait in common — an almost universal dislike of the tax-collector; and the Tax Department of our Treasury is so unfair, so dilatory, and so inefficient in its dealings with us, that this dislike is intensified to such a degree that the ordinary citizen will do anything that he may lawfully do, take any steps within his power, to cut down his taxes and thus decrease the receipts of the Department; and, as Professor T. S. Adams has pointed out in a recent article in the Evening Post, ‘If taxpayers in large numbers earnestly determine to evade a tax, in the long run most of them will succeed.’

‘Why do you advertise in - ?’ I recently asked the president of a large Western corporation whom I met at lunch, naming one of the most expensive (from the advertising standpoint) of the magazines. ‘You always have more orders than you can fill, and you say that you cannot get enough material to supply the demand which already exists. Why advertise for more?’

‘Well, you know,’ he said, ‘we like to see our names in print, and advertising can be charged to business expenses, and such expenses reduce the excessprofits tax, which is an iniquitous and unfair tax anyway.’

If my fair-minded reader will examine carefully the advertising now displayed so lavishly in the newspapers and magazines, he will find in most cases no better reasons for it than those given so frankly by this Western manufacturer.

‘Standardize your product,’ is the advice that the paper-manufacturer gives to-day to the book-publisher. The government began this movement during the war by requiring that papers should be made only in certain specified sizes and weights. It is impossible, however, for the true publisher who loves his profession to follow this advice. He takes a manuscript from its author, reads and accepts it, and at once forms an idea how such a book should look when presented to the public — what its size should be, its bulk, and its embellishments. The appearance of a book, he argues, should be worthy of its contents, and for the most worth-while books the paper should be specially made of a size and quality to fit the book. The magazine editor, however, can follow the paper-maker’s rule without trouble; the manufacture of his product never varies; and the result is that he gets the bulk of the paper now manufactured, and the book-publisher, who cannot standardize his product, and who refuses to make all his books like a row of bricks, must take what paper is left or go without. Book-paper, which, before the war, sold for about five cents per pound, is now, when obtainable, from 16 to 22 cents per pound, the price varying according to the dealer’s estimate of the urgency of one’s need of paper.

I do not, of course, intend to accuse the magazines of being the sole cause of the present serious shortage of bookpaper. There is a real scarcity of pulp and other paper-making material, and among other paper-wasters the government itself is by no means the least sinner; but there is no doubt that the paper-shortage is greatly aggravated by, even if it is not principally due to, the excessive use of paper by the magazines for the printing of advertisements, the distribution of which is made possible by what amounts to a government subsidy. Neither is it a matter of doubt that the many millions of dollars spent annually in advertising of this description are added to the price of commodities sold, and that this expenditure is one of the principal causes of our present high cost of living.

When a publisher has, usually after much trouble and delay, secured the paper on which to print his author’s book, he comes next in contact with the printing and binding unions, which have obtained such large increases in the wages of the people engaged in those trades that the cost of printing has doubled in recent years, and that of binding has nearly or quite trebled. This is bad enough from the standpoint of the book-publisher; but wages are only a part of the trouble, the worst feature being the shortage of help in these processes of manufacture. This comes about in two ways. The trades have been closely unionized for years, with a limitation of apprentices, so that there is now an actual shortage of trained workers; and the wages in one of these trades are now so high that many workers find that three or four days’ work a week gives them sufficient for their needs, and they will not work more than that; and you cannot replace them because there are no unemployed trained workers; so that it is a common complaint among proprietors of these establishments that they cannot get their employees to produce up to more than 65 per cent of their normal capacity.

Recently, in one of these trades, after a further large advance in wages had been demanded, it was decided that a meeting of the workers and publishers should be arranged; and at this meeting it was pointed out, in a long and careful statement, that books had been increased only one third in price, whereas wages had been more than doubled, and that the reading public was already becoming restive, and disinclined to pay the increased prices. The statement was interrupted by a leader of the union in question with ‘To hwith you! We’re going to get ours.’ And the demand for the increased wage was then unanimously voted by the members of the union.

If any of my readers should be surprised at this statement, or if they are not aware of the extent to which the labor unions now ‘ rule the roost ’ in this country, I will cite another case of action by a union, which has had a material effect in increasing the cost of books. This union, which manufactures a product largely used by publishers in making up their books for publication, after procuring an advance in wages on several occasions by threats of strikes, with the result of an increase in cost of their product to the publishers of over 100 per cent, appointed a delegation of their members and union leaders to wait upon the owners of the plants where the product is manufactured. Under threat of a strike, this committee induced the manufacturers to put into effect another advance of over 100 per cent in the cost of their product, demanding, however, that they pay over to the members of the union the greater part of this advance, in the form of wages.

It was necessary to make sure that the new prices for the product, as dictated by the union, were charged; accordingly, a committee of accountants was appointed by it, to examine the books of the manufacturers in question, in order to see that none of the product was sold at lower prices. This action of the union in question was brought to the attention of the district attorney, who decided, so I am informed, that under the statutes no action could be taken against the union; whereas if the methods outlined had been inaugurated by the manufacturers themselves, they would have been subject to heavy fines and possible imprisonment.

I do not wish my readers to infer that I, or that publishers generally, have any hostility to labor or any lack of friendliness for labor unions; but for some of the union leaders, who constantly and harmfully delude the actual workers, no criticism can be too harsh. The more far-sighted leaders and union men, of course, deplore the abuses that have, perhaps naturally, attended the development of the power of the unions; and we may all hope to see before very long a better spirit of coöperation on the part of these organizations, as the common interests of labor, capital, and the public come to be more fully realized.


The reader who has followed me thus far will be interested, I think, in the following statement of cost and return on a new book published last month by one of the large publishers for an author of international reputation.


Plate cost per copy. $ 12

Paper “ “ " 22

Printing “ “ “ 051/4

Binding “ “ “ 243/4

Sundry manufacturing charges per copy 02

Author’s royalty per copy._...371/2

Overhead charges, i.e., rent, insurance, clerk hire, etc. . . 371/2

Advertising cost per copy 10

Total Cost $1.51

The publisher sells almost exclusively to booksellers and others who sell the books at retail to the public.

The retail price of the book is $2.50. The average price received by the publishers from the sale of all copies of the book sold is.. $1.53

That is to say, the publishers derive a profit of two cents per copy, or $50 in all, on gross sales of more than $3750, which even those who generally accuse publishers of making exorbitant profits will be willing to admit is pitifully inadequate.

A short time since, one of the large publishers engaged in publishing books of all classes issued a circular to his customers under the caption, ‘Are We Profiteering ? ’ and I am reproducing a part of this circular here (page 475).

It must be borne in mind, however, that the percentages of increase in the cost of books as given in this diagram were of two or three months ago, and that since that time there have been increases in paper-cost averaging 331/3 per cent, and increases in the cost of both printing and binding processes averaging somewhat less than 10 per cent additional.

The English publishers enjoy a much better demand for books of a serious character than obtains in this country. The first edition, for instance, of the book on which the detail of cost and return is given above, was 10,000 copies in England, while the American first edition was only 2500 copies. The English edition was practically all disposed of within the first month after publication; whereas only about one half of the first American edition was sold during the same time. After doing their best for several years, in spite of increasing costs, to keep down the prices of books to the public, English publishers have now, I think, frankly accepted the present situation as more or less permanent, and are making their new book-prices bear the same relation to cost that the prices before the war bore to the cost at that time. Thus, the book formerly published at $1.50 now sells for $3.00 or more, and the book formerly published at $2.00 now sells for $4.50 or more, the American equivalents of these new prices, when the books are sold in this country, being usually $3.50 and $5.00 or upward. I am told by the importers that at these increased prices there is little demand for the new books. This must inevitably be the case when one remembers the limited incomes of the libraries, and the smaller and smaller proportion of these incomes which can be devoted to the purchase of books, owing to the increase in the cost of library administration — and libraries purchase very much more than half of the serious books which are sold.


% 50 100 150 200 250 300 350 400

A. In the Composing-Room

Wages of Men {


Wages of Women {


Cost of Type {


Cost of Proving-Paper {


B. At the Printer’s

Wages {


Printers’ Supplies {


Transportation {


Cost of Paper {


C. In the Bindery

Wages of Men {


Wages of Women {


Cost of Board {


Cost of Cloth {


Cost of Glue {


Cost of Thread {


Average Prices { of Books


1st line in each bracket: Normal Costs in 1914.

2d line in each bracket: Present Costs (1920).

The American publishers, on the other hand, are still endeavoring to keep down the prices of books at retail, and have adopted various expedients to enable them to do this. Among other experiments tried, there has been a general cheapening process under which books are being printed on greatly inferior paper and bound in flimsy and unsubstantial bindings — a most unwise step, in that such practices greatly decrease the satisfaction of the purchaser and tend to eliminate the booklover as a buyer of current new books.

Some of the publishers have, too, endeavored to obtain from authors permission to pay royalties based upon the old retail prices of the books, notwithstanding the fact that these retail prices have been considerably advanced. Here again, I think, a mistake has been made, in that the custom of the trade ever since it became a trade has been to pay author’s royalties on the retail price, or amount received. The author’s return from the sale of his books, except in the cases of some novels and schoolbooks, is small enough, in all conscience, most of the books of the better class returning to their authors, even after some years of life, a sum insufficient to repay them in any adequate measure for the time and work spent in preparing their books.

The question of issuing books in paper covers, after the continental fashion, has recently been discussed in the trade and elsewhere, by a writer in the New York Evening Post, who argues in favor of the experiment, pointing out that the present conditions are ‘making it harder and harder to find publishers for meritorious books.’ Even if it were possible to get the booksellers and the libraries to buy paper-covered volumes, — which it is not, — the adoption of that expedient would not help us much, as the resulting saving would be only from 12 to 15 cents on a volume, and a book which now sells for $2.00 or $2.50 when bound in cloth would certainly seem no cheaper if sold in paper covers at $1.85 or $2.35.

It seems to me that it would be far wiser for the American publishing trade to recognize the present situation in regard to cost as likely to be permanent, and, following the example of the English publishers, to raise the prices of their books at retail to an extent which will give them a fair and reasonable profit from their sale.

It is true that, in the few cases where prices of new books have been raised in proportion to the increase in cost, a decreased sale has been observed, booksellers complaining that their customers will not buy books of this class at such high prices. The inevitable result is an eventual decrease in the number of such books published.

If this aversion of the public to higher prices for books should have the effect of decreasing the sale of the current novel, and perhaps of some other books, many of which are equally undesirable, it might be held that the present high cost of manufacture is, after all, a boon to the public; but unfortunately it is not novels, or books of that class, which are likely to suffer seriously in this respect.

The novel, for instance, has wholly changed its method of distribution to the public in recent years, most novels being now sold in the first place to circulating and other libraries, and being rented by the public rather than purchased; so that, while the number of readers of such books is very greatly increased, the sale of the books themselves has probably not increased at all, or only to a slight extent. The books which are likely to suffer most because of the increased prices at which they must eventually be published are those works of importance in literature, in science, and in art, for which the public demand is usually very small in any case, and which under the new circumstances are likely to fail of publication altogether.

There is, notwithstanding, only one possible solution, it seems to me, of the problem which confronts the publisher, the author, and the book-reading public, and that is to increase the prices of books so as to ensure a fair return on the present greatly advanced costs. The publisher is not at present getting anything like a reasonable return for his outlay and labor, and the author is in danger of finding his book unpublishable because it cannot be sold at a profit. Prices of books must be raised in proportion to their increased costs, and books will then sell at about double their pre-war prices, which, after all, is exactly what has happened in the case of foods and the other necessities and luxuries of life.

The book-reading public, despite its present disposition to resent the advancing prices of books, will, I feel sure, when once it understands the necessity of the change, and that there is no question of profiteering on the part of the publisher and the bookseller, accept the situation cheerfully, and purchase and read the abundant new literature which must be born in increasing volume, and which must be published in order to interpret the thought and expression of a great nation in the years to come.