Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/February 1879/Herbert Spencer Before the English Copyright Commission II
QUESTION (Chairman). I will ask you if you have any explanations you wish to offer on any point connected with the evidence which you gave on the last occasion?
Answer. Yes; I have to rectify some misapprehensions. From the restatement made by Mr. Farrar, it would appear that, in discussing the question of profits from republication of one of my works, I said I had "found that no other publisher would undertake the work without an additional profit of ten per cent.," which implies that I had endeavored to obtain another publisher. My meaning was, that I ascertained that any other publisher who thought of issuing a rival edition would expect to make a profit of ten per cent, beyond the ten per cent, commission for doing the business. Further, I have to remark that the case I took as illustrating the improbability that I should obtain any considerable compensation from increased sales under the royalty system was the case of one of my works only, the "Principles of Psychology," and in respect of this I may admit that there would be little danger of a rival edition. But it is not so with others of my works—with the work on "Education," now in its fourth thousand; with "First Principles," now in its fourth thousand; and especially with the just-issued first volume of the "Principles of Sociology." These are now sufficiently in demand, and, especially the last, sufficiently popular in manner and matter, to make rival editions quite probable.
Q. Now, with respect to the stereotype plates, would they not enable you to exclude the rival editions of which you speak?
A. I think not. In the first place, the assumption that other publishers would be deterred from issuing rival editions by my stereotype plates, implies that other publishers would know I had them. I do not see how other publishers are to know it, until after I had myself printed new editions—even English publishers—and it is out of the question that colonial publishers should know it. Hence, therefore, the fact of my having stereotype plates would not prevent such rival editions. Consequently these rival editions, making their appearance unawares, would compete with my existing stock, printed in a comparatively expensive style, and would oblige me either to sacrifice that stock or to lower the price to one far less remunerative. Then, subsequently, there would not be the supposed ability to compete so advantageously with editions published by others. An edition to be sold at a cheap rate must not be in large type, well spaced, and with ample margins, but must be in small type, and much matter put into the page. Hence the existing stereotype plates, adapted for printing only books in a superior style, could not be used to print cheap books: the quantity of paper and the cost of printing would be much larger items than to one who arranged the matter fitly for a cheap edition.
Q. Then we are to gather that you do not think that from any such cheap edition you would derive a profit from the royalty compensating you for your loss?
A. Nothing like compensating. Although the sales of these more readable books I have instanced might be considerably increased, the increase could not be anything like as great as would be required to produce the return I now have. Even supposing the price of the rival edition were the same, which of course it would not be, the ten per cent, royalty would bring in the same amount, only supposing four times the number were sold that I sell now; and as, by the hypothesis, the price of the volume, to get any such larger sale, must be much lower, the royalty would bring in so much the less. If, say, "First Principles" were issued at half the present price, eight thousand would have to be sold instead of one thousand, to bring in by royalty the present returns. Such an increase of the sale would be out of the question; even one half of it would be improbable; so that certainly one half of my returns would be lost.
Q. Have you any other personal experience that you wish to bring before the commission to show that such a modification of the copyright law as you have been discussing would be disadvantageous to literature of the graver kind?
A. I think I have. "First Principles" was published in 1862, and in the course of some years the doctrine it contains underwent, in my mind, a considerable further development, and I found it needful to reorganize the book. I spent five months in doing this; canceled a large number of the stereotype plates; and was thus at considerable cost of time and money. As I have already pointed out, the work being now in its fourth thousand, has had a degree of success such that there might, under the proposed arrangement, very possibly have been a rival edition at the time I proposed to make these alterations. Had there been such a rival edition, this cost of reorganization to me would have been more serious even than it was; since the difference between the original and the improved edition, adequately known only to those who bought the improved edition, would not have prevented the sale of the rival edition; and the sale of the improved edition would have greatly diminished. In any case the errors of the first edition would have been more widely spread; and, in the absence of ability to bear considerable loss, it would have been needful to let them go and become permanent. A kindred tendency to the arrest of improvements would occur with all scientific books and all books of the higher kind, treating of subjects in a state of growth.
Q. With the object of rendering useful books as accessible as possible to the public, do you think that those engaged in their production and distribution should be restrained from making what might be called undue profits?
A. In answer to the first part of the question I hope to say something presently, showing that the advantage of increased accessibility of books is by no means unqualified; since greater accessibility may be a mischief, if it tells in favor of worthless books instead of valuable books. But, passing this for the present, I would comment on the proposition, which I perceive has been made before the commission, that it is desirable to secure for books "the cheapest possible price consistent with a fair profit to those concerned." I here venture to draw a parallel. What is now thought so desirable respecting books was in old times thought desirable respecting food—"the cheapest possible price consistent with a fair profit to those concerned." And to secure this all-essential advantage, more peremptory, indeed, than that now to be secured, there were regulations of various kinds extending through centuries—alike in England and on the Continent—forbidding of exports, removing of middlemen, punishing of forestallers. But I need hardly recall the fact that all these attempts to interfere with the ordinary course of trade failed, and after doing much mischief were abolished. The attempt to secure cheap books by legislative arrangements seems to me nothing less than a return to the long-abandoned system of trade regulations; and is allied to the fixing of rates of interest, of prices, of wages. In the past it was the greediness of money-lenders that had to be checked, or, as in France for many generations, the greediness of hotel-keepers; and now it appears to be the greediness of book-producers that needs checking, I do not see, however, any reason for believing that, regulations made by law to secure cheap bread for the body having failed, there is likelihood of success for regulations aiming to secure cheap bread for the mind.
Q. Then do we understand you to mean that no analogy furnished by past experience in commercial affairs can be held to imply that the proposed royalty plan would succeed?
A. I think that all the facts are against it. I find it stated in the evidence lately given that there has not been raised "an insuperable objection in point of principle" to the plan of a royalty. If no such objection in point of principle has been raised, I think one may be raised; the objection, namely, that it is distinctly opposed to the principles of free trade. One of the aims of the plan, as expressed in the words of the same witness, is the "preservation of a fair profit to the author." Now, on the face of it, it seems to me that any proposal to secure fair profits by legislation is entirely at variance with free-trade principles, which imply that profits are to be determined by the ordinary course of business. But, further, I would point out that, if it is competent for the legislature to say what is a "fair profit to the author," I do not see why it is not competent for the legislature to say what is a fair profit to the publisher: indeed, I may say that it is not only as competent but much more competent. I take it to be impossible for the legislature to fix with anything like equity the profit of authors, if profit is to bear any relation to either skill or labor, as it should do; inasmuch as one author puts into a page of his book ten times as much skill as another, and, in other cases, ten times as much labor as another. Hence, therefore, if they are to be paid at the same percentage on the price, there is no proportion in that case secured between the value of the labor and what they receive. Similarly, if we consider the numbers sold, the royalty which might afford ample return to an author who sold a popular book in large numbers would afford little return to an author who produced a grave book selling in small numbers. Obviously, then, it is extremely difficult, and in fact impossible, for the legislature to fix an equitable royalty; but it is by no means so difficult for the legislature to fix an equitable rate of profit for the publisher. The function of the publisher is a comparatively mechanical and uniform function: the same practically for all books, the same for all publishers, and hence is a thing very much easier to estimate in respect of the proportion; and in fact we have the evidence that it can be fixed with something like fairness, inasmuch as publishers themselves voluntarily accept a ten per cent, commission. Hence, I say, not only does the carrying out of the principle imply that if, in pursuit of alleged public advantage, the profit of the author should be fixed, then also should the profit of the publisher be fixed, but that it is much easier to do the last than to do the first. If so, then, it is competent for the legislature to go a step further. If there is to be a Government officer to issue royalty stamps, there may as well be a Government officer to whom a publisher shall take his printers' bills, and who adding to these the trade allowances, authors' ten per cent royalty, and publishers' ten per cent, commission, shall tell him at what price he may advertise the book. This is the logical issue of the plan; and this is not free trade.
Q. (Sir H. Holland). You will hardly contend that the system of royalty is less in accord with free trade than the existing system of monopoly; you will not carry it so far as that, will you?
A. I do not admit the propriety of the word "monopoly."
Q. Without using the word "monopoly," let me say, than the present system of copyright for a certain term of years?
A. I regard that as just as much coming within the limits of free trade as I hold the possession, or monopoly, of any other kind of property to be consistent with free trade. There are people who call the capitalist a monopolist: many working-men do that. I do not think he is rightly so called; and similarly if it is alleged that the author's claim to the product of his brain-work is a monopoly, I do not admit it to be a monopoly. I regard both the term "free trade" as applied to the unrestrained issue of rival editions and the term "monopoly" as applied to the author's copyright as question-begging terms.
Q. Without saying what opinion I hold upon the point, and avoiding the use of the words "monopoly" and "free trade," I wish to know whether you think it most consistent with the doctrines of political economy that every person should be able, upon payment, to publish a particular book, or that only one person should have it in his power to do so for a certain time?
A. Every person is allowed and perfectly free to publish a book on any subject. An author has no monopoly of a subject. An author writes a novel; another man may write a novel. An author writes a book on geology; another man may write a book on geology. He no more monopolizes the subject than any trader who buys raw material and shapes it into an article of trade is a monopolist. There is more raw material which another man may buy. The only thing that the author claims is, that part of the value of the article which has been given to it by his shaping process; which is what any artisan does. The way in which this position of authors is spoken of as "monopoly" reminds me of the doctrine of Proudhon—"Property is robbery." You may give a stigma to a thing by attaching to it a name not in the least appropriate.
Q. (Mr. Trollope). I understand your objection to a system of royalties to be this, that no possible quota that could be fixed would be a just payment for all works?
A. That is one objection. There is no possibility of fixing one that would apply to all works, inasmuch as the thing paid for is an extremely variable thing, more variable than in almost any other occupation.
Q. I put that question to another witness before you, but I am afraid failed to make him understand me. I am therefore glad to have the answer from you, in order that we may show (I think you will agree with me) that no special royalty specified by act of Parliament could be just to poetry, and to the drama, and to fiction, and to science, and to history at the same time?
A. Quite so. I think it is obvious, when it is put clearly, that it can not be; and that is an all-essential objection.
Q. (Sir H. Holland). Nor would it in your opinion be desirable that the question of determining what amount of royalty is proper in each case should be vested in some registrar or some single person?
A. It would make the matter still worse. It would be bad to vest it anywhere, but especially bad to vest it in any single official.
Q. (Chairman). Are we to assume that you think the plan of a royalty to be at variance with the established principles of the science of political economy?
A. I think quite at variance with the principles of political economy. The proposal is to benefit the consumer of books by cheapening books. A measure effecting this will either change, or will not change, the returns of those engaged in producing books. That it will change them may be taken as certain: the chances are infinity to one against such a system leaving the returns as they are. What will the change be? Either to increase or decrease those returns. Is it said that by this regulation the returns to producers of books will be increased, and that they only require forcing to issue cheaper editions, to reap greater profit themselves, at the same time that they benefit the public? Then the proposition is that book-producers and distributors do not understand their business, but require to be instructed by the state how to carry it on more advantageously. Few will, I think, deliberately assert this. There is, then, the other alternative: the returns will be decreased. At whose expense decreased—printers', authors', or publishers'? Not at the expense of the printers: competition keeps down their profits at the normal level. Scarcely at the cost of the authors; for abundant evidence has shown that, on the average, authors' profits are extremely small. Were there no other motive for authorship than money-getting, there would be very few authors. Clearly, then, the reduction of returns is to be at the cost of the publisher. The assumption is that, for some reason or other, the publishing business, unlike any other business, needs its returns regulated by law. Thinking, apparently, of prosperous publishers only, and forgetting that there are many who make but moderate incomes and very many who fail, and thinking only of books which sell largely, while forgetting that very many books bring no profits and still more entail loss, it is assumed that the publishing business, notwithstanding the competition among publishers, is abnormally profitable. This seems to me a remarkable assumption. Embarking in the business of publishing, like embarking in any other business, is determined partly by the relative attractiveness of the occupation and partly by the promised returns of capital. There is no reason to think that the occupation of publishing differs widely from other occupations in attractiveness; and hence we must say that, competing for recruits with many other businesses, it must on the average offer a like return on capital. Were it found that the average return on capital in publishing was larger than in other businesses, there would immediately be more publishers, and competition would lower the returns. If, then, we must infer that, taking the returns of all publishers on the average of books, their profits are not higher than those of other businesses, what would be the effect of such a measure as that proposed, if, as anticipated, it lowered publishers' returns? Simply that it would drive away a certain amount of capital out of the publishing business into more remunerative businesses. Competition among publishers would decrease; and, as competition decreased, their profits would begin to rise again, until, by and by, after a sufficient amount of perturbation and bankruptcy, there would be a return to the ordinary rates of profit on capital, and the proposed benefit to the public at the cost of publishers would disappear.
Q. Then, with a view to the permanent cheapening of books, we may gather that your opinion is that it would not be effected in the way suggested?
A. I think not. The natural cheapening of books is beneficial; the artificial cheapening is mischievous.
Q. May I ask you to explain what you mean by contrasting the natural and the artificial cheapening of books?
A. By natural cheapening I mean that lowering of prices which follows increase of demand. I see no reason, a priori, for supposing that publishers differ from other traders in their readiness to cater for a larger public, if they see their way to making a profit by so doing; and, a posteriori, there is abundant proof that they do this. The various series of cheap books, bringing down even the whole of Shakespeare to a shilling, and all Byron to a shilling, and each of Scott's novels to sixpence, sufficiently prove that prices will be lowered in the publishing trade if the market is adequately extensive, just as in any other trade. If it be said that in this case authors have not to be paid, I would simply refer to such a series as that of Mr. Bohn, who, notwithstanding the payments to translators and others, published numerous valuable books at low rates. Moreover, we have conclusive evidence that with the works of still living authors the same thing happens, when the market becomes sufficiently large to make a low price profitable. Witness not only the cheap editions of many modem novels, but the cheap editions even of Mr. Carlyle's works and Mr. Mill's works. Deductively and inductively, then, we may say that there is a natural cheapening of books, going as far as trade-profits allow; as there is a natural cheapening of other things. Conversely, I mean by artificial cheapening, that kind which is anticipated from the measure proposed; for it is expected by means of this measure to make publishers issue books at lower rates than they otherwise do. And this is essentially a proposal to make them publish at a relative loss. If, as already argued, the average rates of publishers' profits are not above those of ordinary business-profits, these measures for lowering their prices must either drive them out of the business or be inoperative. To put the point briefly—if there is an obvious profit to be obtained, publishers will lower their prices of their own accord; and the proposed competitive system will not make profits obvious where they were not so before.
Q. But if there was free competition on the payment of the author's royalty, might it not be that another publisher would be led to issue a cheap edition when the original publisher would not?
A. I see no reason to think this. The assumption appears to be that everybody but author and original publisher can see the advantage of a cheap edition, but that author and original publisher are blind. Contrariwise, it seems to me that the original producers of the book are those best enabled to say when a cheap edition will answer. The original producers of the book know all the data—number sold, cost, return, etc.; and can judge of the probable demand. Another publisher is in the dark, and it does not seem a reasonable proposition that the publisher who is in the dark can best estimate the remunerativeness of a cheap edition. If it is hoped that, being in the dark, he may rashly venture, and the public may so profit, then the hope is that he may be tempted into a losing business. But the public can not profit in the long run by losing businesses.
Q. (Sir H. Holland). Take the "Life of Lord Macaulay"; you know that Tauchnitz has published a cheap edition in four volumes—a very neat edition, good paper and good print. Is it not possible that if this system of royalty is introduced, without considering whether the author would lose by it, a cheap edition like that would be put upon the market at once, and would pay the publisher?
A. It is possible that it would be done earlier than it is now done. I take it that the normal course of things is that, first of all, the dear edition should be published and have its sale, and supply its market, and that then, when that sale has flagged, there should come the aim to supply a wider market by publishing a cheap edition.
Q. You are aware that one of the advantages which the advocates of this royalty system most strongly dwell upon is that under the present system the great mass of the reading public are not able to purchase the books; those who have the advantage of circulating libraries can get them and read them, but poorer persons can neither purchase nor read them, whereas under the other system an edition like Tauchnitz's would be at once put out, and it is contended that this, though it might be a loss to the author, would be a benefit to the public?
A. Then I take it that the proposal really amounts to this: that whereas, at present, the poorer class of readers are inconvenienced by having to wait for a cheap edition a certain number of years, they shall, by this arrangement, be advantaged by having a cheap edition forthwith; which is to say that people with smaller amounts of money shall have no disadvantages from their smaller amounts of money. It is communistic practically—it is simply equalizing the advantages of wealth and poverty.
Q. (Chairman). Then we may assume that in your opinion the royalty system would not operate in cheapening books in the long run?
A. I think that in the first place, supposing it should act in the manner intended, by producing rival editions, it would act in cheapening just that class of books which it would be a mischief to cheapen. I have already intimated, in a previous reply, that the alleged advantage of cheapening books is to be taken with a qualification; inasmuch as there is a cheapening which is beneficial and a cheapening which is injurious. And I have got, I think, pretty clear evidence that the class of books cheapened would be a class which it is undesirable to cheapen. Being one of the committee of the London Library, I have some facilities for obtaining evidence with regard to the circulation of various classes of books; and I have got the librarian to draw me up what he entitles—"Recorded circulation of the following books during the three years following their introduction into the London Library." Here, in the first place, is a book of science—Lyell's "Principles of Geology"; that went out twenty-eight times. Here, on the other hand, is a sensational book—Dixon's "Spiritual Wives"; that went out one hundred and twenty times. Here, again, is a highly instructive book—Maine's "Ancient Law"; that went out twenty-nine times. Here is a book of tittle-tattle about old times—"Her Majesty's Tower"; that went out one hundred and twenty-seven times. Here, again, is another book of valuable inquiry—Lecky's "European Morals"; that went out twenty-three times. Here is a book of gossip—Crabb Robinson's "Diary"; that went out one hundred and fifty-four times. Lecky's "History of Rationalism" went out thirteen times; Greville's "Memoirs" went out one hundred and sixteen times. Herschel's "Astronomy" went out twenty-five times; Jesse's "George III." went out sixty-seven times. I have added together these contrasted results, and the grave, instructive books, taken altogether, number one hundred and eighteen issues, while the sensational and gossiping books number five hundred and eighty-four issues; that is to say, more than five times the number of issues. Now, the London library is, among circulating libraries at least, the one which is of all the highest in respect of the quality of its readers: it is the library of the élite of London. If, then, we see that there go out to these readers five times as many of these books which minister to the craving for excitement, and are really dissipating books, as there go out the grave, serious, instructive books, we may judge what will be the proportion of demand for such books in the public at large. Now let us ask what a publisher will do in face of these facts. He knows what these demands are, and he has to choose what books he will reprint. A publisher who has laid himself out for rival editions is comparatively unlikely to choose one of the really valuable books, which needs more circulating. I will not say he will never do it. He will do it sometimes; but he will be far more likely to choose one of these books appealing to a numerous public, and of which a cheap edition will sell largely. Hence, therefore, the obvious result will be to multiply these books of an inferior kind. Now, already that class of books is detrimentally large: already books that are bad in art, bad in tone, bad in substance, come pouring out from the press in such torrents as to very much submerge the really instructive books; and this measure would have the effect of making that torrent still greater, and of still more submerging the really instructive books. Therefore, I hold that, if the stimulus to rival editions acted as it is expected to act, the result would be to multiply the mischievous books.
Q. (Mr. Trollope). Do you not think that, in making the parallel that you have there made, you have failed to consider the mental capacities of readers?
A. I was about, in answering the next question, to deal indirectly with that; pointing out that while there is a certain determining of the quality of reading by the mental capacity, there is a certain range within which you may minister more or you may minister less. There are people who, if they are tempted, will spend all their time on light literature, and if they are less tempted will devote some of their time to grave literature. Already the graver books, the instructive books, those that really need circulating, are impeded very much by this enormous solicitation from the multitude of books of a gossipy, sensational kind. People have but a certain amount of time and a certain amount of money to spend upon books. Hence what is taken of time and money for uninstructive books is time and money taken away from the instructive; and I contend that, if there were a diminution in the quantity of the books of this sensational kind published, there would be a larger reading of the really instructive books; and that, conversely, the multiplication of this class of lighter books would tend to diminish the reading of instructive books. I am now speaking, not, of course, of the higher amusing books, because there are many that are works of value, but of the lower novels, Miss Braddon's and others such.
Q. Do you think that a man coming home, say, from his eight or ten hours' labor in court day after day is in a condition to read Lyell's "Geology" as men read one of Miss Braddon's novels?
A. We are speaking of some ordinary man. No, not an ordinary man, certainly.
Q. Have we not to deal with literature for ordinary men?
A. For both ordinary and extraordinary men; the whole public.
Q. Are not the ordinary men very much the more numerous?
Q. Is it not, therefore, necessary to provide some kind of literature, as good as you can, but such that the ordinary mind can receive and can turn into some profit, together with the normal work of life?
A. I am not calling into question in the least the desirableness of a large supply of literature of an enlivening and amusing and pleasant kind, as well as a large supply of graver literature. My remarks point to the literature that is neither instructive nor æsthetic in the higher sense, but which is bad in art, bad in tone, worthless in matter. There is a large quantity of that literature, and that literature I take to be the one which will be most fostered by the proposed measures. I do not in the least reprobate the reading of lighter works if they are good in quality. I refer to the class of works which I regard as not good in quality.
Q. But do not you think you must leave that to settle itself on those principles of free trade which you have just enunciated so clearly?
A. Certainly; I am objecting to a policy which would tend to encourage the one and not encourage the other.
Q. (Sir H. Holland). The subscribers to the London Library are, as you say, the élite of readers?
Q. And is not that the reason why there is this difference as to the reading of good and bad books taken out from that library; is it not attributable to the fact that these people have probably bought and have in their own houses the good books, but that they want to look through these other books, and therefore get them from the library?
A. There may be a qualification of that kind; but inasmuch as a very large proportion of the readers of the London Library are ladies, and those who come for lighter literature, I do not think it at all probable that they would have bought Lecky or Maine, or any books of that kind.
Q. I ask the question because I rather think that you will find a very curious difference from that which you have been stating if you go to the Manchester and Liverpool free libraries. You will find there that the workingmen take out largely Macaulay's "History of England" and that class of books.
A. Well, whatever qualifications may be made in this estimate, or the inferences from this estimate, I do not think they can touch the general proposition that books of this kind which in the London Library circulate most largely, are books of the kind which circulate most largely among the general public, and books of the kind which a publisher of rival editions would choose. That is my point.
Q. But might not that very evil to which you refer be met by improving the taste of the majority of the poorer readers, by enabling them to get at once cheap editions of good books?
A. The question is, which are the cheap editions that will be issued. I contend that they are the cheap editions of these books of a dissipating kind; and that the main effect will be to increase the dissipation.
Q. You do not think that the earlier publication of a cheap edition would raise the tone of readers?
A. I do not see that it would do so, unless it could be shown that that would tell upon the graver and more instructive books. My next answer, I think, will be an answer to that.
Q. If you improve the tone of the readers, of course it does tell upon the graver books for those who have time to read the graver books; but there is a large class of readers who have not that time?
Q. (Chairman). Referring to the illustrations which you have just given of works which you would denominate as worthless, or comparatively valueless, did I hear among them historical memoirs and journals?
A. Crabb Robinson's "Diary," for instance; I call that a book of gossip, which anybody may read and be none the better for it.
Q. The question I should like to ask is, are you not of opinion that books of that sort are extremely valuable to the intending historian of the epoch to which they refer?
A. It may be that there are in them materials for him. I have not read the "Greville Memoirs" myself, and I have no intention of reading it; but my impression is that the great mass of it is an appeal to the love of gossip and scandal, and that it is a book which, if not read at all, would leave persons just as well off or better.
Q. Take Lord Hervey's "Memoirs," in the reign of George II.; if you had the privilege of reading that book you would probably say it was an extremely sensational book, but, knowing the position which Lord Hervey occupied in the court and family of George II., I presume we may take for granted that the extraordinary facts which he relates are facts; and if so they would form the basis of a great deal of truthful history, which would be written of that reign: would not that be so?
A. It might be so, no doubt.
Q. Then we understand you to mean that in your opinion the royalty system would not cheapen works that you would describe as valuable?
A. I think, on the average of cases, quite the contrary. I believe the system would raise the prices of the graver books. Ask what a publisher will say to himself when about to publish a book of that kind, of which he forms a good opinion: "I have had a high estimate given of this book. The man is a man to be trusted; the book possibly will be a success. Still my experiences of grave books generally are such that I know the chances are rather against its succeeding. If it should be a success, and if I had ten years now to sell the edition, I might print one thousand; but, under this arrangement, a grave book not selling one thousand in three years, or anything like it, it will never do for me to print one thousand. Should it be much talked about by the end of three years, there might be a rival edition, and my stock would be left on my hands. Hence, now that there is this very short time in which I can sell the book, I must print a smaller number—say five hundred. But if I print five hundred, and expect to get back outlay and a profit on that small number, I must charge more than I should do if I printed one thousand and had time to sell them. Therefore the price must be raised." In the case of a book which did turn out a success, it might eventually happen that there would be a cheap edition issued, and that that raised price would not be permanent; but this argument of the publisher with himself would lead him to raise the price, not only of that book, but of the other grave books which he published, all of which would stand in the same position of possibly being successes, but not probably; and of these, the great mass, the nine out of ten that did not succeed, the price would remain higher—would never be lowered. There would not only be that reason for raising the price: there would be a further one. If a man in the wholesale book-trade, who puts down his name for a certain number of copies, knows that a cheaper edition will possibly come out by and by, the result will be that he will take a smaller number of copies than he would otherwise do. At the beginning he may take his twenty-five or thirteen, as the case may be; but as the end of the three years is approaching he will say: "No, I will not take a large number; I must take two or three." Then, still further, the reader himself will be under the same bias. He will say: "Well, this book is one I ought to have: I hear it highly spoken of, but it is probable that there will be by and by a cheap edition; I will wait till the end of the three years." That is to say, both wholesale dealers and readers would earlier stop their purchases, thinking there might be a cheap edition; and that would further tend to diminish the number printed and to raise the price.
Q. (Sir H. Holland). Might it not be that the publisher, instead of entering into those calculations that you have pointed out, would consider, knowing that other editions may appear: "What is the cheapest form in which I can print this book? What can I afford to give the author consistently with bringing out the cheapest possible book, so that I may be secure against any other publisher bringing out a cheaper edition?"
A. It would be a very reasonable argument, if he knew which, out of these various books of the graver kind, was going to succeed; but since nine out of ten do not succeed—do not succeed, at least, to the extent of getting to a second edition—do not succeed, therefore, so far as to make it at all likely that there would be a rival edition, and that a cheap edition would pay, he will never argue so; inasmuch as he would in that case be printing, of the nine books that would not succeed sufficiently, a larger edition than he would ever sell. He must begin in all these cases of doubtful grave books by printing small editions.
Q. Where an author brings a book to a publisher, the first question the publisher asks himself is, of course, this: "Is this book likely to take?" and then, if he thinks it will take, he has to consider further, in what degree will it take? Will it have a large sale or limited sale? Because, in each case the book may be a success, though in a different degree. Then, if it is competent for any other publisher to publish an edition, it may be assumed that such edition would be a cheap one; and, therefore, has not the original publisher this further question to put to himself: "The book, I think, will take; but, looking to the chances of a cheaper edition, I must see what compensation I can give to the author, publishing this book as cheaply as possible, so that I may not be underbid hereafter"?
A. But I think that the experiences of publishers show that it does not answer their purpose to run the risk of cheap editions with the great mass of graver books; inasmuch as nine out of ten of them do not pay their expenses—and do not pay their expenses, not because of the high price, but because they do not get into vogue at all. The publisher would argue, "It will never do to print cheap editions of all these ten, because one out of the number will succeed."
Q. Of course he does not do so now, because there is not any possibility of another publisher underbidding him by a cheap edition; but I am assuming a case where any publisher, on payment of a royalty, can publish a cheap edition; then the original publisher would have to consider, "How cheaply can I publish this edition so that I may not be underbid by another publisher?"
A. That, I say, would altogether depend upon the experience of the publishers as to what was, in the average of cases, the sale of a new book. In most instances the sale of a new grave book is very small—not sufficient to pay the expenses; and I think the publisher would make a great mistake if, in the case of such a book, he counted upon getting a large sale at once by a low price. The other argument would, it seems to me, be the one he would use. In fact, I not only think so, but I find my publishers think so.
Q. (Chairman). Do you wish to instance any particular case in which you believe that a fixed royalty, such as we have heard about, would have hindered the diffusion of a book of permanent value?
A. Yes, I have an extremely striking, and, I think, wholly conclusive, instance of the fatal effects—the extensive fatal effects—that would have resulted had there been any such system existing as that proposed. I refer to the "International Scientific Series." I happen to know all about the initiation of that. It was set on foot by an American friend of mine, Professor Youmans, who came over here for the purpose. I aided him, and know the difficulties that were to be contended with, and a good deal concerning the negotiations. The purpose was to have a series of books written by the best men of the time, in all the various sciences, which should treat of certain small divisions of the sciences that are in states of rapid growth—giving to the public, in popular form, the highest and latest results; and it was proposed, as a means of achieving this end, that there should be an international arrangement, which should secure to authors certain portions of profits coming from translations, as well as profits from originals at home, and the hope was that some publisher might be obtained who would remunerate these authors of the highest type at good rates, so as to induce them to contribute volumes to the series. Well, this attempt, after much trouble, succeeded. A number of the leading scientific men of England, France, and Germany, were induced to cooperate. A publisher was found, or rather publishers here and elsewhere, to enter into the desired arrangements; and an English publisher was found who offered such terms to authors in England as led men in the first rank (and I may mention Professor Huxley, and Professor Tyndall, and Professor Bain, and Professor Balfour Stewart, and a great number of others) to promise to write volumes. These men, I know, were reluctant, as busy men, with their many avocations, and their incomes to get for their families, would naturally be, and were induced to enter into the scheme only on its being made manifest to them that they would reap good profits. The English publisher offered a twenty per cent, commission on the retail price, paid down on first publication, and for every subsequent edition paid six months after date; and there were certain smaller percentages to come from abroad. Now, the English publisher proposed to give those terms, knowing that it would be impossible for him to get back his outlay unless he had a number of years in which to do it. He had to stereotype, he had to pay at once these sums to authors, and he had to publish the books at a cheap rate; for, by the way, I ought to have said that part of the plan was that these books should be sold at low prices: I may instance a volume of four hundred and twenty pages for five shillings. These terms would, I take it, have been absolutely out of the question had there been such an arrangement as that under which the publisher, instead of having many years to recoup himself, would have had rival editions to compete with in the space of three years. I do not, however, put that as an opinion. I have taken the precaution to obtain from Mr. King, the publisher, a definite answer on this point. This is the paragraph of his letter which is specially relevant: "Authors can have no difficulty in proving that this" (meaning the system which I told him was proposed) "would be most unjust to them, a confiscation, in fact, of their property; but I, from a publisher's point of view, should like to declare that the terms on which my firm have undertaken the 'International Scientific Series' would be impossible on such a limitation." Now here, then, we have a series of highly valuable books, I think of the kind specially to be encouraged, amounting to between twenty and thirty already published, and potentially to a much larger number, which would not have existed at all had there been in force the arrangement proposed; inasmuch as the publisher affirms that he would not have offered such terms, and I can testify that, in the absence of terms as tempting as those, authors would not have agreed to coöperate.
Q. (Sir H. Holland). Was Mr. King made aware that there would be a limited time within which each volume would be protected?
A. Yes, three years. He did not count upon anything like adequate return in that time. He says, "We are a long way off profit as yet on the series" (I think it is nearly five years since it commenced), "although I am convinced that ultimately we and the authors, too, will be well satisfied."
Q. That would raise the question which I wanted to put, whether in a case like that it would have been possible to publish a cheaper edition than the one now published?
A. Yes, in the absence of the author's twenty per cent.
Q. In the case which you have brought to our notice, may we assume that the cheapest form of edition was published consistently with fair profit to the author and publisher?
A. I think, certainly, with anything like a tolerable mode of getting up. Of course, you may bring down a thing to rubbishing type and straw paper; but I was speaking of a presentable book. They are very cheap for presentable books.
Q. That, perhaps, would be one of the evils arising from a system of royalty, that you would get extremely bad and incorrect editions published of a book, even in the first instance?
A. Very likely.
Q. Because it would be the publisher's object, if that system were thoroughly established, to publish such an edition that another publisher could not underbid him at the end of the three years; that would be, would it not, the general object of the publisher?
Q. In this case I understand you to say that he could not, consistently with fair profits to the author and publisher, and consistently with its being a properly printed work, without which a work of that kind would be of very little value, have published a cheaper edition?
A. He could not.
Q. And yet he would not have been able to publish such an edition if he had to run the risk of being underbid?
A. Certainly not. He says, "I confess my idea, in proposing such terms as those of the 'International Scientific Series,' looked forward to a yearly increasing interest in scientific literature, and an ever-enlarging circle of readers able to appreciate books of a high class." So he was looking for a distant effect.
Q. I am anxious, as Mr. King is not here, to get your own opinion upon that point: do you concur in his views?
A. Yes, certainly.
Q. (Chairman). Have you any further reasons for thinking that measures of the kind which we have been discussing, taken in the interest of cheapening books, might end in doing the reverse?
A. I think there is another way in which there would be a general operation of this system of rival editions, which would have, indirectly, the effect of raising the prices all round; namely, the waste of stock. It would inevitably happen that every publisher of an original edition would, from time to time, have a rival edition make its appearance before his edition was sold. In that case his remnant of an edition, gotten up in a relatively expensive style, would either have to be not sold at all or sold at a sacrifice. Further, it would happen from time to time that two publishers, unknown to one another, would issue rival editions, both of which would not be demanded; there would therefore be a waste of stock. Evidently the system of competing with one another in the dark would continually lead to production in excess of demand. What would be the result? If there is an increased percentage of waste stock, that has somehow to be paid for, if business is to be carried on at all. And as we know that tradesmen have to raise their average prices to cover their bad debts, so, if publishers find an increase of bad stock, they must raise their prices to cover the loss on bad stock.
Q. (Mr. Trollope). Would not the ordinary laws of trade correct such an evil?
A. This interference with the laws of trade would entail an abnormal production of waste stock. Under the present system a publisher does not publish a cheap edition till the other is gone; but under the proposed system, with cheap copies perhaps sent from the colonies, there must be waste stock.
Q. When the system had been in operation for a time, do you not consider that that evil would correct itself by the ordinary laws of trade? We are aware that at first the disruption of an existing state of things will create much confusion, and such evil as you have described; but are you not of opinion that this would rectify itself after a time?
A. I do not see how it could rectify itself, if the system of rival editions continued, and operated in the way that it is expected to do. But as I have already indicated by certain hypothetical remarks, I do not think it would continue and operate in that way. I say, however, that if rival editions were issued by men not knowing each other's doings, there must from time to time occur in the business of each publisher loss of stock.
Q. (Chairman). From the answer to the last question that has been put by Mr. Trollope, I gather it to be your opinion that the arrangement would be practically inoperative, so far as the anticipated competition was concerned?
A. I think that, after a period of perturbation, a period of fighting and general disaster in the publishing business, there would arise a tacit understanding among publishing houses, which would, in a large degree, defeat the purpose of the measure; and I say this on the strength of definite facts furnished by trade-practices in America. These facts I have from the before-named American friend, Professor Youmans, with whom from time to time, when over here, I have had to discuss the probability of pirated editions of my own books in America. My books in America are published by a large house there, the Appletons; and they deal with me very fairly—pay me as well as any American authors are paid. I have gathered from Professor Youmans that the danger of the issue of rival editions of my books in America is very small; because there exists among the American publishing houses the understanding that, when one house brings out an English book, other houses will not interfere: the mere circumstance of having been the first to seize upon a book is held to give a priority, such as is tacitly regarded as a monopoly. That condition of things has been established through a process of fighting; for when it did at first happen that American houses brought out rival editions of the same English book, or one edition, rather, after another, that, of course, was a declaration of war between the two houses, and immediately there was retaliation, and it ended in a fight. The house attacked revenged itself by issuing, perhaps, a still cheaper edition, or by doing the like thing with some work subsequently published by the aggressing house; and after bleeding one another in this way for a length of time there resulted a treaty of peace, and a gradual establishment of this understanding, that they would respect each other's priorities. If that is what happened in America, when the only claim that a publisher had to the exclusive publication of a book was the claim established by prior seizing of it, and prior printing, much more will it happen here in England, among publishers who have paid for their books, or who have entered into arrangements with authors for half profits, or what not. Having established certain equitable claims to these books, they will very much more decidedly fight any houses that interfere with them, by issuing rival editions. If the men who have ill-founded claims fight, still more will the men who have well-founded claims fight. Hence there would occur among the English publishers, when this system came into operation, a period of warfare lasting, probably, for some years, and ending in a peace based on the understanding that any publisher who had brought out a book would be regarded as having an exclusive claim to it, and would not be interfered with. The fear of retaliation would prevent the issue of the rival editions.
Q. (Sir Henry Holland). And therefore would prevent the publication by a rival publisher of a cheaper edition?
Q. (Chairman). Then on the grounds that you have explained, you think the system would become before long wholly inoperative?
A. Not wholly inoperative, I think: inoperative for good, not inoperative for evil. In the course of this early phase to be passed through, in which houses issued rival editions against each other and got into this state of warfare, it would happen that the weaker would go to the wall: the smaller publishers would not be able to stand in the fight with the larger publishers, and they would tend to fail. And further, although treaties of peace would be eventually reached between the more powerful publishers, who would be afraid of each other, and dare not issue rival editions of each other's books, there would be no such feeling on the part of large publishers toward small publishers. If a small publisher happened to issue a successful book, a larger publisher would have no fear in issuing a rival edition of that. Hence, therefore, the tendency would be for the small publishers to be ruined from having their successful books taken away from them. But that would not be the only tendency: there would be a secondary tendency working the same way. For, after this fighting had gone on a year or two, it would become notorious among authors that if they published their books with small publishers they would be in danger of rival editions, in case of success, being issued by large publishers; but that, contrariwise, if they published with large publishers they would be in no danger of rival editions. Hence they would desert the small publishers; and in a double way the small publishers would lose their business. We should progress toward a monopoly of a few large houses; and the power which such have already of dictating terms to authors would become still greater.
Q. And if I understand you rightly, the power would be not only to dictate terms to authors, but of price to the public?
A. Yes, they would be able to combine. When you got a small number of publishers, and they could agree to a system of terms, the public would be powerless against them, and authors would be powerless against them.
Q. Then, in your opinion, is there any way by which works could be cheapened by legislative enactment?
A. There is one way, and that a way in principle exactly the reverse of that which is contended for in this measure; namely, the extension of copyright. I do not mean the extension in time; I mean the extension in area. On this point I am happy to say there appears to be agreement between the two sides. From the evidence which I have read I gather that it is proposed along with this limitation of copyright in time to extend copyright in area. I do not altogether understand the theory which, while it ignores an author's equitable claim to the product of his brain-work in respect of duration, insists upon the equity of his claim to that product of his brain-work, as extending not only to his own nation but to other nations. However, I am glad to have agreement so far; and I hold, along with those who support the proposed measure, that the enlargement of the markets by means of international copyright would be a very effectual means of cheapening books. It would be a more effectual means of cheapening books than at first appears, and especially a means of cheapening the best books. I may refer again to this "International Scientific Series." One of the means by which that series has been made cheap was, that the American publisher and the English publisher agreed to share between them the cost of production, in so far as that the American publisher had duplicate stereotype plates and paid half the cost of setting up the type. Now it is clear that if the outlay is diminished by having one cost of composition for two countries instead of a cost for each, the book can be issued at a lower rate in both countries than it could otherwise be. And that arrangement, voluntarily made, under a kind of spontaneous copyright, in the case of the "International Scientific Series," would be forced, as it were, upon publishers in the case of an established copyright. Consequently there would be habitually an economization of the cost of production, by dividing it between the two countries; and hence there would be a lowering of the price. And then there is the further fact that this would tell especially upon the more serious books. On books of a particular kind the chief cost is for paper and print—large editions being printed. Therefore it does not so much matter in America having to set up the type afresh. But in the case of a grave book of which the circulation is small, the cost of composition is the main element in the cost; and the economization of that cost, by dividing it between England and America, would serve very considerably to lower the price.
Q. (Dr. Smith). Then, if I understand you aright, you do not approve of the principle adopted in the Canada Act, in the act passed by the Canadian Legislature of 1875, confirmed by the Imperial Act, by which it is necessary in order to obtain copyright in Canada that the works should be set up afresh?
A. I think that is obviously nothing else than a means of staving off the opposition of printers, and a very mischievous arrangement.
Q. Would it not be the fact that if a work could be set up once for all in one country, and circulate in the two countries, the price of the book would be diminished?
Q. (Sir H. Holland). You are aware of the difficulties that have been raised by the United States publishers: that constant attempts have been made ever since 1854 and before to make a copyright convention, and that there is no very great probability of these attempts proving successful. Have you any particular suggestion to bring before the commissioners which would in your opinion tend toward making the Americans favorable to a convention?
A. I am sorry to say I do not see my way toward any such suggestion. I was merely replying to the general question whether legislation could do anything to cheapen books, and saying that the only thing I thought it could do would be to get, in some way, an extension of area for copyright.
- March 20, 1877: Lord John Manners, M.P., in the chair. Present, Sir Henry T. Holland, Sir Louis Mallet, Dr. William Smith, Anthony Trollope; J. Leybourn Goddard, Esq., Secretary.