Public at Both Ends

Public at Both Ends

It is a long time now since craftsmen in the trade regarded with amusement any statements suggesting that publishing was a business—publishers had considered themselves gentlemen, not businessmen, and their declared concern had been with art, not commerce. But that historic smile, however rueful it had been, has faded away. The mergers and public stock issues are no longer news, though such financial transactions are, if nothing else, the criteria of big business. Recently there have been twenty-odd mergers involving forty presses and publishing houses; in March, 1960, the month before Random House acquired Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., Publishers’ Weekly started a monthly listing of the publicly traded book company stocks that now includes 29 issues with more to come.

First the mergers: dramatic as they are in coalescing seemingly immutable and disparate sovereignties, they are only a secondary result of a deeper change. Mergers are nothing new, viz: Morrow and William Sloane Associates; Appleton-Century-Crofts (merged again with Meredith and again with Duell, Sloan and Pearce; Putnam, Coward-McCann and John Day; etc.)—nor is public ownership new: McGraw-Hill, Holt and Prentice Hall, among others, have been traded for some time. What is new is that in 1959, to every one’s astonishment, total sales of text and reference books, trade and juvenile, hard cover and soft, exceeded a billion dollars—$1,005,635,000 is the combined figure of the American Book Publishers’ Council and the American Textbook Publishers’ Institute, and the total for 1960 has been estimated at one billion one hundred thirty million.

The greatest increase of business has been among the text book publishers, their sales having doubled in the last five years, and it is here that expectations of profit in educating a population outgrowing the means of conveying that education have attracted non-risk invest. ments. But trade publishing booms too, and provided that those who have been educated continue to read, its market will continue to expand. In paperback publishing something over 360 million volumes were sold in 1959, or about a million books consumed a day. I will confine the observations that follow mostly to trade publishing, but as mergers centralize all publishing, the text executive who would leave out too explicit mention of, say, Mexican territorial sovereignty in an American History seeking Texas adoption, sits ever closer beside the distributor of brightly discolored fictional paper cover maunderings to determine the content of the trade publisher’s list. A great many good things will come of the new multi-million dollar corporations; I would like only to cite a few of the dangers of this bigness which, though they may not be expressed in figures, are as real a dividend as any appearing in a financial statement.


Lima