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The Underselling Shops.
During the rush of custom at holiday times, there are usually opened in the principal cities establishments under such fine names as the "Importers'and Manufacturers' Depots," which throw out flaming placards, advertising the peculiar facilities which (heir capitalists have for buying goods cheaper than anybody else, and which show a considerable stock of toys, games, fancy goods, and books. They undersell regular dealers in all these lines. Their proprietors are usually unknown speculators, who buy auction goods or dead stock, and take their chances of getting rid' of it by New Year's. Sometimes such stores confine their attention to books alone. Two other cases are just now •• worritting" the retail dealers in New-York: one, a sale chiefly of old trade-sale stock, with lines of poetsand standards not sold very much in the regular trade—virtually a "dead stock" case; the other the bona-fidt clearing-out sale of Messrs. Sheldon & Co., in closing their retail business, a sale which is similar to the results of a failure in business. Then there are the regular undersellers, some of whom have not yet been headed off, although things are working to that end, and, lastly, the dollar stores.
Now, all this is of course discouraging, and some persons are ready to cry out that the reform is a failure. We should not say that the movement had been a failure, even if it were never mentioned again from now till Doomsday, for it has already opened the eyes of wholesalers and retailers alike throughout the country to the true methods of doing business, and the necessity of standing by regular prices and the regular trade. The country is already much better off for the reform.
But this class of complainers are expecting too much. The work of the trade organizations, to be sure and safe, must necessarily be slow. They have done much so far, but there is much left for them to do, which will be done if individual dealers simply, each man for himself, stand by their colors in the mean time. For every profitless sale they have lost, by the restrictions they have voluntarily put themselves under, they have twice and thrice made up by
the improvement, directly and indirectly, in their trade.
We wish to say to any of the impatients, first, that the kind of underselling noted above does not, after all, hurt them so much as they at first think; secondly, that a portion of it can never be stopped at all, but must be suffered by the book trade, in common with other classes of trades. Until the millennium comes with a device to prevent people being unsuccessful in business, better than our present admirable "platform," people will continue to fail, or to become honestly embarrassed, and their goods be thrown on the market. Such unfortunate occurrences as these every trade must stand, and we have only to point out, in this as in many cases, the danger of trying to make any rule do too much, and of breaking it by the tension. The logic of events is a factor in every movement.
But, to return, these stores do not do a great deal of harm. It was the cut-throat competition in the regular trade that hurt. These shops are stocked chiefly with cheap English goods, lines of poets and Robinson Crusoes that the trade has tired of, and dead stuff that the publisher is rightly glad to get rid of at any price. So far as we can judge, these English goods, and the lines of poets at enormous discounts, will gradually come to be known as undersold goods, and so handled, and if the publisher has any desire to cultivate the regular trade, his indirect encouragement of underselling will have its logical outcome in the avoidance by the regular trade of this dollar-store stock. The publishers are generally falling in with the idea that they can not sell the same line of goods for underselling and to the regular trade, and this is the great point gained. The dollar stores and "depots" may lie about retail prices, and sell their "bargains" to the crowd that throng them, but the regular dealer still offers the advantage of an assortment of books which they can not sell, fine bindings, a choice of editions, intelligent assistance to the bookbuyer, and a reputation for honesty; and if he can't hold his own under those conditions, why, nothing can save him from going to the wall, and he might as well go at once. If, instead of grumbling about trade going to other shops. when in fact there is in a dull year no trade to go, each would stand stoutly by his own work, there would be less complaint and less need for it,
A Reply from President Randolph in the Observer of this week, copied elsewhere, makes some strong points against the letter we reprinted in our last issue.
A Western dealer, who recently brought an underselling case before the member of the Arbitration Committee at Chicago, incloses to us a reply from the latter in^which he conveys the impression that the retail price agreement allows 20 per cent to everybody, and adds " if there is any rule that any two persons can understand alike, I do not know it." The member does not seem to have read the rule on which his committee's work is based, or else he has overlooked the fact that the rule was modified at Niagara to eliminate this very misunderstanding from it as adopted at Put-in Bay.
A Correspondent inquires whether the 20 per cent rule does not cover the case of magazine clubbing, so as to prevent a house standing by the agreement, from offering its own periodicals in combination at reduced prices. It seems to us this would be stretching the rule a good ways; certainly it would be impracticable to attempt it. The business basis of the reform in books is simply the fact that the publishers can't profitably both sell through the retail trade and cultivate trade' outside of it, wherefore they prefer to support the) retail trade. If publishers of periodicals prefer to reach the public directly, as many of them do, there is nothing to say, unless the trade can make it profitable to them to come over to the other system.
'The Book Trade Combination."
(From the New-Yorl^Observer.)
It is not to be expected that the Observer can spare space for a protracted discussion of the Book Trade Reform, but some of its editors are authors as well as editors, and the question is one of interest to all intelligent readers. I therefore crave indulgence to reply to a communication in your issue of the 25th ult., and which you state to be from a publisher and an author. It has had my respectful and careful attention, although it is evident that the writer's connection is with the press, and not with the trade, for as a book publisher he would be entitled always to buy at the trade discount.
The writer's fundamental error is his comparison of the book trade with other manufacturing and traffics. This the very nature of the
business forbids. To the masses of the people miscellaneous books are luxuries and of limited consumption. All persons must have food and clothing. A town of 3000 inhabitants may be satisfied with a few school-books, kept in a dingy store, and yet profitably support three or four establishments for the sale of food and general merchandise. At these places the main staples of consumption, in ordinary quantities, vary but little from the prices of the great centres, while the average profits of all the reputable dealers are about the same. Should any of them desire to close out the unsalable or surplus stock, this can readily be done, without any very serious loss upon the original cost, for the consumers are always needy and abundant. Now, the depreciation in book stock is vastly greater than that of any other " merchandise," and a forced sale, if it can be made, owing to the limited number of consumers, must always result in great loss. There is nothing so dead as a dead book, unless it be an old newspaper or magazine, and the mere offering of it at a very low price will not at once secure a customer. Any one could readily buy to-day of dealers and publishers in this city, tens of thousands of volumes at a discount of 75 per cent from the published prices.
It may be a mistaken policy, but a retail price for the book and the newspaper has always been fixed by the publisher, and probably always will be, for the simple reason that the business can not be managed in any other way. You fix a selling price for your paper to the subscriber, and have at one time offered a percentage for new subscribers. I fix a selling price for my book to the private buyer, and another for the trade. The great majority of the publishers sell the books of other publishers as well as their own, and the profit needed bv the publisher, as well as the dealer, to secure a fair remuneration, is an ascertainable quan tity, based on experience, as stated in my first letter, and I venture the assertion that every publishing or bookselling house that has assumed to prosecute its business on any other rate of profit has, sooner or later, met with misfortunes or dire disaster. The history of the trade in this country will furnish more than enough of such examples. Several persons within my recollection have assumed to furnish as good a religious journal as yours for one third less money, and have failed hopelessly; and scores upon scores of dealers in books have perished in the attempt to live on such a percentage of profit as your correspondent names.
His statement that two or three weeks will settle the salable quality of a book, does not accord with my experience. The sale Of a book is largely dependent on circumstances over which the dealer has no control, and yet he must buy the book, notwithstanding the fact that the public taste, interest, or opinion is very fickle and precarious. Authors will persist in writing books, and publishers in printing them, and what will please one buyer does not interest another ; and the bookseller's counter is after all the only place where the author can be fully presented to the reader. So, too, the sale of one book leads to the sale of another copy of the same, and it is often months before the real sale of a new book begins. The variety of tastes creates the great variety in books, and the dealer who fully understands his businej* knows that if he does not keep up his stock, even in the absence of an immediate call for certain publications, he will soon be without customers for either new or old. And here is the point of cost as well as loss in the conduct of the business. Your correspondent would expect to find on my shelves a copy of the Englishman's Hebrew Concordance, and he would ; and yet not a copy has been sold in six months, but may be sold to-morrow, only to be replaced, perhaps to be held again for six months, and in either case disposed of at a very moderate profit. And so every well-appointed bookstore is obliged to carry thousands of dollars in a stock, not of dead books, but of slow books, and thus anticipate the higher wants of the public; while in every such store there may unfortunately also be found a supply of depreciated stock which the dealer would be glad to sell at any price the buyer might be pleased to offer.
I cordially agree with your correspondent that there are "ruts in the trade," and that "quality and salableness are too much lost sight of." But who shall decide for us? Certainly I never published or bought a book which 1 thought would not sell. Yet, alas ! how many have I both published and bought that did not. The author failed to please, the buyers did not buy! I am safe in saying that not one miscellaneous book in four published ever pays an actual profit to the publisher, for the reason that the sale does not reach a remunerative number. Reduction in price at the outset would be of little use. If the book at a fair price will not strike of itself, it is seldom that the publisher can make it. The first thousand copies published rarely, if ever, cover the cost of the stereotype plates. This is distributed over supposed editions of from 2000 to 5000 copies, and when a sale is limited to only 1000 copies, while the dealers may dispose of those they have purchased at a profit, the publisher has incurred a positive loss.
Your correspondent truly says that "the middle man" (in this case the dealer) "is the best judge of what profit he can live on ;" and it is this very class all over the country which has declared that the maintenance of the retail price, after excepting the classes of privileged buyers, is indispensable to his success. As I have before said, this reform movement did not originate with the publishers, but with the dealers, who are the experts and sufferers in the case.
Will you permit me to add that no class in the community has a deeper or more vital interest in this reform movement than the authors. Their prosperity can not be attempted or assured without the active co-operation of the book-seller. When your correspondent has written and published a book.it is of the highest importance to him that it be placed on the booksellers' shelves in all parts of the land. It can not be kept there if it does not pay the seller a living profit, and every underseller of other than dead or dying stock, by breaking retail prices, lessens the consumption of good books, by lessening the ability of the legitimate dealer to keep up his assortment.
It may be well to add, to prevent misapprehension, that under the rules of the Association a maximum discount of 20 per cent from the retail price is still allowed to public libraries, including circulating and Sunday-school
libraries, clergymen and professional teachers, professional books to professional buyers, and large buyers outside the trade.
Yours very truly,
A. D. F. Randolph.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
The interests of the trade can not be better served, than by a full discussion by its members of all questions which affect it. Our columns are always open to communications on any such subject, provided they be brief and suggestive, and we cordially invite the trade to express any suggestions or opinions of interest or value in "Letters to the Editor."
From a Clergyman and Librarian
A Librarian in New-Jersey, who is also a clergyman, speaks of the Weekly as "the most valuable and useful publication of the kind for our purposes of any we receive;" he urges the publication in a volume of the Evening Post's "very interesting articles on the 'Bookmakers.'" He expresses full and hearty sympathy with the reform movement, and advocates cutting off all discounts to professional men as such; all except to the regular trade and to libraries, who do not buy for their personal profit, but for the public. "I am a clergyman, and I know no reason why I should not pay the same as my parishioner. We may be standing at the same counter and buying the same book, and it is very embarrassing for me to ask a discount that is not granted to him. It makes me ashamed to do it. It makes my neighbor feel that he is unfairly dealt by, and the bookseller ashamed of doing what seems, and it, an unfair thing to his other customer. I have often paid the full price for a book rather than condescend to this species of official begging. Reduce the retail price somewhat and make it up by treating all alike. Many, if not most honorable professional men, will approve and sustain the Association in wiping out these unworthy distinctions, which are so embarrassing to all parties.
"I am also a librarian, and would most cheerfully sustain the 20 per cent rule, and be perfectly satisfied, if you treat all alike. That is the only safe and honorable ground. M. B."
[we may state that the question of the pub lication of the Post articles in a volume was considered by that journal, but that it was decided to leave the matter with the author, Mr. J. W. Bartlett, now of 949 K Street, Washington. We should be glad if he could receive sufficient encouragement to print, but, as a rule, the call for such articles in volume form is not sufficient to justify their collection.—Ed.]
The life of John Locke, by Mr. H. R. FoxBourne, which is now completed, will be pulilished early next year. The editor has discovered the original manuscripts of several short treatises written by the philosopher but nevur published, among them, "An Essay Concerning Toleration," penned fourteen years before the first of Locke's famous " Letters on Toleration," and many interesting medical note?
Guido And Lita: A Tale of the Riviera, by the Marquis of Lome. (Macmillan & Co.) Although this literary effort of a close connection of royalty has not met with universal commendation from the English press, it strikes us as an unusually charming and pleasing story in verse, probably from comparison with the many abortive poetical ventures it is our misfortune to be obliged to scan in the course of our work. It is a simple, interesting story, utterly devoid of eccentricitj-, either in its subject or rhyme; nevertheless full of music in its versification, and bearing every evidence of the culture and refinement of its author. Square 121110, cloth, $1.50.
Roderick Hudson, by Henry James, Jr. (James R. Osgood & Co.) The readers of the Atlantic enjoyed this story through successive numbers of that magazine. It is a story to be taken just in that way—by instalments—having too little plot, and being almost too diffuse to create any particular excitement in the mind of the ordinary novel-reader. As a transcript of art life in Rome, the book is exceedingly interesting to cultivated minds; it presents besides some keen analysis of character, and some vivid description of places and scenery. 121110, cloth, $2.
Graziella, translated from the French of Lamartine, by James B. Runnion. (Jansen, McClurg & Co.) The charming grace and simplicity of this "story of Italian love," a leaf from Lamartine's own youthful experience, must recommend it to all. The beauty and purity of the story have made it a classic in the French language; in its English dress, it has lost nothing of the rare elegance and felicity of expression which mark Lamartine's style. It is gotten up very handsomely, and will serve admirably at this season for a presentation book. It is printed on tinted paper, in red lines, with gilt edges, and tastefully bound. Sq. i6mo, cloth, $2.
An Island Pearl, by B. L. Farjeon. (Harper & Brothers.) The story of the love and domestic life of " Amos Beecroft, Mariner." A simple tale of the sea and a woman's supposed treachery; containing some very fine delineations of character, and a graphic picture of shipwreck and life on a desert island. 8vo, paper, 35 cents.
Off The Roll, by Katherine King. (Harper & Brothers.) This is a story of mistaken identity, worked out in quite a new and novel way. The scene of the story is laid in Canada, the male actors in it all being officers in " Her Majesty's Regiment." 8vo, paper, 75 cents.
The Loves Ok A Lawyer, by Andrew Shuman. (W. B. Keen, Cooke & Co.) The unfortunate hero of this moving tale is in love with two women at once. He puts his heart to the test in every possible manner to find out which one he loves best, but can throw no light on his feelings. A combination of circumstances brings about his marriage with one of the young ladies—but he is no sooner married than he discovers she is the wrong one. Fortunately, however, after a brief married life, she dies, and he is enabled to marry the other one and put an end to his perplexities. i6mo, cloth, red edges, $1.
Cherry, The Singer, by Mrs. S. B. C. Samuels. (Edward A. Samuels.) The author tells us this story is founded on fact, little Cherry being a real child, whose rare, sweet voice the public will have an opportunity of hearing in a few years. In the history of "Jamie," the companion of her wanderings, the sad story of Charley Ross is reproduced, with a happy ending, however—" Jamie" being finally restored to his parents. i2mo, cloth, $1.
The Chevalier Casse-cou, by Fortune Du Boisgobey. Part I. The Red Camelia, translated from the French by Thomas Picton. (R. M. De Witt.) The above story is divided into two parts, the first of which, under the name of "The Red Camelia," is now presented. The hero, Chevalier Casse-Cou. is a modern Don Quixote, who accidentally discovers at the end of a performance at the Grand Opera, in Paris, a young and beautiful woman lying dead in a private box. To find out her murderer is the sole object of his life*, his search leading him into the most out-of-the-way parts of Paris. The plot is very intricate, and the story highly sensational, but well written and full of interest. i2mo, paper, $r.
Twice-told Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (James R. Osgood & Co.) The latest addition to the new popular edition of Hawthorne's works the Osgoods are publishing. A beautiful little edition, uniform with " Little Classics." 2 vols. $1 25 each.
Chapters On School Supervision, by William H. Payne, M.A. (Wilson, Hinkle & Co.) This is a record of personal experience in teaching by the superintendent of the public schools of Adrian, Mich., and is offered as a contribution to the practical literature of teaching. It contains treatises on the superintendents' powers and general duties, on the art of grading schools, on examinations, on reports, records, blanks, etc. It will be found rich in suggestions and practical advice, umo, cloth, $1.25.
Notes On The International SundaySchool Lessons For 1876, by Rev. Rufus W. Clark, D.D. (Dodd & Mead.) These notes embrace the lessons for every Sunday in the year, and are designed to aid both teachers and scholars in the study of the Bible. They are both explanatory and practical, and condensed, clear, and accurate. 121110, cloth, $1.
Relations Of Civil Law To Church Polity. Discipline, And Property, by Hon. William Strong, LL.D. (Dodd & Mead.) Two lectures delivered before the Union Theological Seminary, in New-York, during the winter of 1874-75. The title fully explains the matter treated of. i2mo, cloth, $1.15.
Songs Of Three Centuries, edited by John Greenleaf Whittier. (James R. Osgood '& Co.) Mr. Whittier has been exceedingly happy in his choice of poems for this very beautiful volume. It is a very welcome and desirable addition to the presentation books of the season, and will no doubt meet with full appreciation. It is more especially devoted to our own poets of to-day than any volume of a similar sort in the market; they receive the most ample representation, the very largest vision of the work containing characteristic songs and sonnets of almost every Amend poet of any fame at all. The work is diviq
into three parts, " From Shakespeare to Milton," " From Dryden to Burns," " From Wordsworth to Longfellow," each era being richly illustrated by specimen songs. Sq. i2mo, cloth, $3.50.
Exposition And Benediction Of The BlessEd Sacrament. (John Murphy & Co.) A thin pamphlet of instructions for the Catholic priesthood in the administration of the Blessed Sacrament. 50 cents.
A Latin Primer, by B. L. Gildersleeve. (University Publishing Co.) This primer is intended to be preparatory to the other volumes of Gildersleeve's Latin Series. It contains elementary forms of the introductory portions of his Grammar, Reader, and Exercise Book, so that in taking up these books the pupil will find the first parts of them only a review of what he has already learned. The method of this little work offers great facilities to the young pupil. i2mo, cloth, go cents.
The School-Book Question.
Mr. John R. Nunemacher, of New-Albany, Ind., has been distributing "a few impertinent remarks" on the question of introducing school-books and teachers' reductions, in which he makes several good points. He says:
The practices of school-book publishers, in introducing their books by other means than those afforded by the retail trade, have converted school-teachers into active rivals of the retail booksellers, and in many cases they have in this way wholly destroyed the retail prices of their school-books. Many school-teachers, within my range of observation, seem to take more interest in the prices of school-books than in their contents. They are always on the look-out for a new book to take the place of one that has been heretofore used in their schools. To-many of them the school-book is not so much a good tool, that is put into their hands to be used in doing the educational work of their schools, as it is a matter of merchandise, on which they may make a pecuniary profit. We well know that it is not the interest of the retail booksellers to influence such unnecessary changes in text-books, because they have to meet the complaints of the victimized parents, without any compensatory gain in any shape, while the teachers escape scot free, and the publisher [innocent soul] deludes himself with the idea that he has achieved another conquest by the introduction of his book— little dreaming that the teacher will find it equally to his interest to dislodge his book in favor of the very first new book of the same character that happens to claim his attention.As an extreme case, I would mention that a certain teacher, within my knowledge, introduced and used in his school four text-books on the same subject during a single session, and the parent, who mentioned the fact to me further said that the new books which he had been required to buy for his children had cost him more than twice the amount paid for their tuition.
The principal of another literary institution, within my range of trade, has worked matters to such a high point of perfection that he will not use any book that can be bought in the bookstores of his town, if he can avoid doing
so without making his purpose apparent ; thus compelling all his pupils to buy their schoolbooks of him There is no chance for competition with him in prices, for as soon as he learns that any of the booksellers have obtained supplies of the new book that he has adopted, it is in his power to make another change, by which the tradesman finds his books wholly
useless to him.
The difference between the wholesale price and the retail price of a school-book should be the legitimate gain of the bookseller. If this difference is out of due proportion to the intrinsic value of the book, it should be reduced—but it should be reduced to all alike. . . . If our school books are worth their retail p'rices, when we sell them we should obtain their retail prices in full. If they are not worth their retail prices, then the prices should be lessened to all persons alike who buy at retail.
It should certainly be a subject of very deep regret that the only substitute we have for any attempt at a general annual collection of library statistics should be the little space the Commissioner of Education can give the subject in his annual report. For this little however,'we are duly thankful, holding it as a promise of the time when means shall be found to collect and digest the larger mass of materials which could be made of so much use. The department certainly deserves credit for the care and accuracy shown in what little work they have been able to do in this direction.
From the report for 1874, now just published, it appears that the number of libraries reported in 1870 was 152; in 1871, 180; in 1872, 251; in 1873, 351. In this report for 1874, information is presented in regard to 340 libraries, embracing 1,091,590 volumes, 88,740 pamphlets, and 11,545 manuscripts, concerning which no detailed statistics have been previously given in the reports, and 336 libraries which furnished detailed statistics in 1872 or 1873 The number of volumes in these libraries is 4,663, 166 ; the number of pamphlets, 764,944; the increase in books during the last fiscal year was 299,767, and in pamphlets, 88,423. In addition to these, there are some 300 college libraries, the aggregate number of volumes in which is 1,830,455; in 158 of these there are society libraries numbering 406,144 volumes, and in such schools of medicine as have reported, there are 66,611 volumes in the libraries for consultation.
The Commissioner alludes to a work now in preparation, and soon to be issued by the Bureau, showing the historical development of libraries in the United States, their classification, management, growth, and circulation, and presenting as full and accurate statistics of all public libraries as can be gathered. The Centennial Commission, recognizing the importance of library work as a part of the educational representation at the Centennial Exhibition, has designated it as a separate class.
A Fac-simile of the first issue of Walton's "Compleat Angler" is to be published in England.