1922: How To Market Reading And Books, Part Two

Even though they ran the original article that criticized the way books and reading were being marketed, the next issue of The Bookseller and Stationer devoted its Editorial to shredding it!

Here we go, with that Editorial first and then the anonymous “Kicker” raging right back at them!

In Defense of the Publishing Business

We have heard a great deal about the lack of initiative, the waste of opportunity, and the general laxity in energizing the publishing fraternity to reach the reader. And if a thing is said often enough, it comes to be believed.

Just why we should calmly acquiesce that the publishing business is conducted with a criminal disregard of opportunity; just why we are made to believe that the publishers are lacking in perception; just what is the general reason for believing that the only poorly conducted merchandizing today is the general distribution of books; we do not know, because, as we look back upon it, we cannot recall that in this general depression since the war there have been any great, overwhelming failures in the publishing business.

During 1921, we understand from some tabulated statistics, there were several thousand failures in this country aggregating a goodly sum of money, but not one among them includes a publisher. The very few failures in the book business have been cases where it has been conspicuously bad business judgment.

Criticisms that have come from those who would run the publishing business on an entirely different basis are probably from those who have never published a book in their lives, who have no conception of the risks invested in an author, who have no notion of the coquettish uncertainties of the printing possibilities; no notion of the overhead expenses in conducting a successful publishing house; or of the problems that publishers are up against. And were the publishers to come forward and give us actually hard and fast figures of what the aggregate business of 1921 has been, translated into numerals, it would probably somewhat allay the fears of those who feel that the publishers have not taken any advantage of the opportunities offered.

Just how many books have been sold in this country during 1921, would be interesting to know — but no one claims that there is no greater opportunity to sell books. When we realize that 10,226,366 books were borrowed from the New York public library during 1921 — showing a return to conditions that existed before the war — and when we hear from a well-known publisher the paralyzing statement that the majority of the population never buys a book, that we are a nation of magazine and newspaper readers and not book-buyers, why we realize that there is. yet a tremendous field open.

Right here, we would like to call attention to some misstatements that we understand have been made, that the retailer of books does not make money. This has been refuted, based on the facts that the retailer is making more prompt payments, and that their terms of sale are better than they have ever been.

The croakings of the raven of business gloom, that proclaim that the whole structure of the book publishing business is on the brink of ruin, are not based on real facts, the truth being that the publishing business has not been on a better or sounder basis, if one can judge from the statement of those who have reason to know. And as for the retailers, we have heard that they are making more money than ever before. Certainly, there are more bookstores being opened during the last two years than heretofore. There is no reason why the shadow of the past should obscure the facts of the generally good condition of the book business.

And then, in the issue after that one, back came the Kicker:

Advertising and the Book Business
Article II

“Carrying the Light.”
By A Professional Kicker

In the editorial of the January 15th number of the Bookseller And Stationer there was a vigorous defense of the soundness of conditions of the bookselling and publishing business. This article seemed to take for granted that the first article of my series assumed that publishing was not only on its last legs but that methods of selling books were all wrong, and should forthwith be shelved along with other antiquated phenomena, such as the high wheeled bicycle and the moustache-cup. Along with this impression was the inference that publishers, better than anyone else, understood their own problems and difficulties, and were best qualified to prescribe advertising and selling methods to fit the particular set of conditions that were facing them. In other words — as I purposely anticipated in my first article — the publishing business was different.

In this article I aim to establish the one essential point which is necessary before any understanding can be hoped for between those who maintain that present methods of advertising books are adequate and those who believe, along with the writer, that the market for books can, by proper methods of exploitation, be vastly expanded.

The present method of advertising has for its object the sale of a particular title. This is a form of advertising that the publishing business can never, under any circumstances, dispense with. Further comment is unnecessary. The publishing business not only is not on its last legs, but has many sets of same in reserve — as some of our recent books amply prove.

In the Days That Were Before Ford

I call to mind, as perhaps best illustrating the point I wish to make, a situation that faced the Standard Oil Company in the beginning of the century.

In those days the only apparent use for gasoline was for cleaning type and getting spots out of trousers. The major product of the Standard Oil was kerosene, which had gained its market from the well-known whale-oil product some years before.

Now it is well known that every time you fill up a still with crude oil in order to make kerosene you get a certain amount of gasoline whether you want it or not. A small amount, compared with the kerosene. Then someone rashly invented the automobile and turned the tables. The demand for this fuel became so great that kerosene became a by-product and vast reservoirs of the illuminant began to pile up. More people must burn kerosene — that’s all there was to it. And we in America were beginning to like electric lights and had just learned not to blow out the gas. So the market makers of the Standard Oil finally hit upon China — 300,000,000 people who went to bed at sunset because illumination was only for the rich. There was only one reason why this market was not an ideal one. There were no lamps to burn the kerosene in.

Teaching a Race To Stay Up Nights

Therefore the Standard Oil Company went into the lamp business — made a lamp especially suited to the Chinese market — one that could be understood and used at a price that the Chinese could afford (in fact the lamps were virtually given away). Then they taught John to use the lamp — and there was the market — not as easy as telling it, but simple if one has the courage to recognize the obvious. In other words, the Standard carried the light to the heathen — and incidentally has probably been of more practical value in the civilization of these 300,000,000 than many who get a lot more credit because they make their work seem more complicated.

The parallel is almost — parallel. Continue to advertise your titles to those who have lamps — just as you are doing. Tell them how much better your fuel is than the other fellow’s. The Standard does that too — where they have lamps.

But remember there is the big job you all have — the job of carrying the light — teaching people to read books. Take to them “a lamp they understand and can use, especially suited to the market — at a price that they can afford. Then teach John to use the lamp.”

Create the Market by Creating the Book Reading Habit

I reiterate that this cannot be done in the bookshops, or in the reviews, or in the literary magazines or trade papers. Go where your market is — reach them through the mediums they read. The publisher and the bookseller must carry the message, for the market will not come and get it. There are too many other things making life interesting.

I hope it is now clear that the pioneering policy advocated in this series is neither a criticism of the selling copy now being used, nor of the general methods employed by the publishers. It concerns a situation that is entirely distinct. Lack of exploitation is never going to break the book business, but the judicious use of it in time cannot help expanding the market to undreamed of dimensions.

These are the source pages:

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