Twenty-Five Years of Publishing
By STANLEY UNWIN
" PATERNOSTER Row is no longer the centre of publishing" is .perhaps the first remark that anyone in the book world
would make after an absence of twenty-five years. There has been no sudden exodus, but just a steady westward trend. But publishing has also moved westward in another respect ; it has tended to become more American in outlook and method. That there should be greater interest in the best that America can provide in the realm of literature is all to the good ; that there should be increased concentration upon ' " best-sellerdom and stunt publishing is not a cause for equal congratulation.
Scholarly publishing has become more difficult, but it has not become less vital to the intellectual well-being of the
nation. As soon as it is mentioned, reference is usually made to . England's many public libraries, learned societies and institutions. I have before me a report of the public library committee of a wealthy London West End borough. It shows . a total expenditure on new books of about /13. (The amount .
devoted to the purchase of review copies, to the acquisition of second-hand copies from circulating libraries and antiquarian booksellers, as well as to the purchase of new foreign books, is
relatively substantial.) Were the expenditure on new books (to be correct I ought to say new books published in Great Britain) typical of all our public libraries as it is of many of
our learned societies, the publication cif serious work would indeed be in a bad :way. Fortunately, most librarians of public libraries take a different View of their responsibilities towards scholarship, and foreign institutions, " unlike inany English learned societies, can be relied upon to give effective support to any publications which represent a contribution to the knowledge of the particular subject in which they are interested.
Apart from the foregoing' considerations, the recent ten-
deecy. to judge publishing enterprise by : •
(a) The largeness of the type used in advertisements ; (b) Readiness to pretend that geese are swans, is not calculated to Stimulate the best work. But there are several directions in which publishing has progressed, and first and foremost, though of least direct importance to the public, in the internal organization of the book trade. It would bolair to say that twenty-five years ago there was
little or no such organization comparable with what is to be found in many continental countries, but since the War there ails been a very determined and- on the whole successful effort on the part of publishers and bOoksellers to put their house in order.
To the public eye the most obviou sign of progress is in the quality of production. .Herethere has indeed been remarkable change. It would be difficult to •ftrid_ a greater contrast than between some of the 'books produced'diiririg the War and those turned out today at a fraction of the war-time . cost. Paper
which it was difficult to proeure' int 1917-18' at as much as Is. 7d. per lb. publishers .would be ashamed to use today for the cheapest noi'el. The -days of the.spOrittf." fluffy" antique paper are, I hope, gone for ever, and fortunately a much more serviceable and better quality article can now be bought for a fraction of the war-time price. There' has been an even more remarkable change in type faces;" It WAS always possible with sufficient effort to seenre the use of a good face of type, but ths. usual range in book printing offices in pre-War times was de- plorable. Today it is the publishers' fault if his books are not set up in one of the many good founts now readily available. Greater care is taken today over the typographical arrange- ment of a cheap book than would have been bestowed upon an
expensive one twenty-five years ago. Even educational books have benefited and many no longer have the same dull and
forbidding appearance to which the pre-War generation was accustomed. Such a series as Dent's "King's Treasuries," or a cheap " reader " like Collinson's Eaploration and Adventure, are examples of modern school books which anyone can take a pleasure in handling.
A comparison of the binding of the war-time product and the modern book would also reveal substantial improvement. No one, let us hope, now uses the imitation gilt of those days which tarnished almost as soon as the books were bound. But the introduction of fadeless cloths, and more recently fadeless cover papers has solved a more permanent problem. The chief outward change, however, is in the dust jacket, which has acquired an importance never contemplated in Edwardian days.
Wages in the printing and binding trades are vastly higher than twenty-five years ago, but, thanks to better and faster machines, there has been no corresponding increase in pro- duction costs and published prices. The pre-War 6s. novel is now 7s. 6d., and series like the Everyman Library' are neces- sarily dearer, but, taking it all in all, books primarily intended for sale to the public (as against books destined for the circu- lating libraries) remain astonishingly cheap. Nevertheless, as Mr. St. John Ervine has pointed out, people who readily squander pounds on superfluities regard the expenditure of an equivalent number of shillings upon books as an almost criminal extravagance. But for the public's wrong psy- chology towards book-buying, their small expenditure, their mean and tricky ways where a book, the noblest of man's works, is concerned (the words are Mr. J. M. Keynes's), books might be even cheaper, because, as Mr. Keynes has so forcibly demonstrated, the more books are bought the cheaper it becomes profitable to make them. Whether the new reading public which is growing up will remain content with twopenny libraries or will learn the joy of book possession is a question to which the book trade is anxiously awaiting an answer.
Personally I have unqualified faith in the future. I believe that just as the quality of production and the standard in such a matter as translations have shown marked and consistent improvement, so will the general level of the content of books read and bought by the public. But we must not expect the improvement overnight.
Meanwhile there is other progress to report, particularly in the field of photolithography—a process which enables books of which the type has been distributed and of which no stereo- plates are available to be reproduced semi-photographically.
But that is only one direction in which photography has been, or rather, is being, applied to printing. The advance made in recent years in the various mechanisms for photographic typesetting indicate that, although still' in the experimental stage, it may at any moment supersede existing methods. This invention would at once sweep away lead, which has been the basis of printing from movable type since the days of Gutenberg. Instead a series of master pictures of the alphabet would be photographed and the book be reproduced from these photographs. The slowness and uncertainty of the progress which has been made betoken the difficulty of the commercial application of the process, but that it will come sooner or later would now seem to be inevitable.
And whilst we are peering into the future, may we not one of these days buy our books in the form of gramophone records and be spared the trouble of reading them ? The thought is disturbing.