23 JULY 1927, Page 10

The Booksellers' Conference

THOSE who were privileged to attend the annual Conference of thc Associated Booksellers of Great Britain and Ireland at Cambridge last week-end will account themselves fortunate. For they not only had an agreeable experience, but they were also able to assure themselves that the bookseller's profession, trade or calling—the President declined to define it more clearly—has undergone a marked revival of late years and is. still advancing. There was a time, not so long ago, when bookselling was in a parlous state. It had lost its old prestige and it had become unremunerative. Then a few courageous and far-sighted men arose, and persuaded their fellow-traders to band together and organize for the protection of their common interests. That organization, wisely directed, soon gave them all fresh confidence, and now, thirty years later, the trade is in a far happier condition than ever before and better able to serve the community.

The Conference was held at, Cambridge in honour Of Mr. G. B. Bowes, M.A., the well-known Cambridge bookseller and publisher, who has been president of the association for two successive years and now retires from office. The University, itself' one of the oldest and largest publishing undertakings in the world, took a prominent part in the proceedings, and the Mayor of the Borough, side by side with the Vice-Chancellor, welcomed the visitors and helped to entertain them. At the public session on Saturday, Lord Eustaee Percy, M.P., the President of the Board of Education, gave an address, somewhat pessimistic in tone, on the decay of the habit of reading books, or of -reading them attentively. He contended that whereas poor men used to read the Bible and The Pilgrim's Progress and meditate upon them, they now cast their eyes over many columns of:print in the newspapers and do not think at all. One may wonder whether Lord Eustace is right in thinking that the printed .page.of a newspaper is any more or less of a mental opiate than the printed page of the Bible or Bunyan used to be to a half-educated reader. There is really no antithesis between a good journal and a good book, although the Vice-Chancellor, in an incautious speech the day before, seemed to suggest that newspaper readers belong to a definitely lower stage of civilization than book readers.. Still, in so far as Lord Eustace pleaded for the reading of more good books, he was furthering the objects of the conference.

The dinner on Saturday, ,night at -the University Arms was :- notable as a -sign of the times. For the company of two

hundred and forty included representatives of all the different interests connected with books. The Vice-Chancellor and the Mayor exchanged the time:honciured compliments which recall the still older feud of Town and Gown. Publishers and authors vied with one another in speaking well of booksellers, and booksellers responded in kind. And the long list of societies that were represented—including the Publishers' Association, the National Book Council, the Society of Authors, the Master Printers' Federation, and so on—showed that organization had benefited everyone by compelling each section of the industry to respect every other section. There lies the secret of the new era that has dawned for booksellers and publishers and authors alike. In the old days they abused and fought one another ; now they work together as allies and friends. No one was more emphatic than Mr. W. M. Meredith, of Messrs. Constable, who• is now President of the Publishers' Association, in testifying to the beneficent results of the change.

Among the many clever and witty speeches that kept the Company interested to a late hour,. one remembers an impassioned eulogy of Scott by Mr. Hugh Walpole, an elegantly turned compliment to the booksellers and to Mr. Bowes by Mr. Michael Sadleir, and an ingenious scientific forecast by the Master of Trinity. Meditating on the potentialities of wireless, the Master predicted that in the future television would enable a myriad readers to sit, each by his own fireside, and read some new book as it was flashed page by page before his eyes. The booksellers did not seem to receive the idea with any great