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Old 08-12-2005, 08:41 AM   #1
ktinkel
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Default Orwell on Penguins (1936)

From an academic web site on The Paperback Revolution I found this quotation from George Orwell on the rise of Penguin books:
The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them. It is, of course, a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade. Actually it is just the other way about. If you have, for instance, five shillings to spend and the normal price of a book is half-a-crown, you are quite likely to spend your whole five shillings on two books. But if books are sixpence each you are not going to buy ten of them, because you don't want as many as ten; your saturation-point will have been reached long before that ... Hence the cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books. This is an advantage from the reader's point of view and doesn't hurt trade as a whole, but for the publisher, the compositor, the author and the bookseller it is a disaster ...

In my capacity as reader I applaud the Penguin Books; in my capacity as writer I pronounce them anathema. Hutchinson are now bringing out a very similar edition, though only of their own books, and if the other publishers follow suit the result may be a flood of cheap reprints which will cripple the lending libraries (the novelist's foster-mother) and check the output of new novels. This would be a fine thing for literature, but it would be a very bad thing for trade, and when you have to choose between art and money — well, finish it for yourself.

Orwell wrote it for the New English Weekly (March 5, 1936) as quoted in Hans Schmoller, The Paperback Revolution.

The site includes other interesting comments on the emergence of Penguin books “and the ensuing debate” as well.

   
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Old 08-12-2005, 03:49 PM   #2
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KT:

But if books are sixpence each you are not going to buy ten of them, because you don't want as many as ten

He was wrong there, but the ratio of hardback prices to paperback prices nowadays certainly shows that publishers have adopted Orwell's hypothesis.

   
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Old 08-12-2005, 03:55 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Michael Rowley
He [Orwell] was wrong there, but the ratio of hardback prices to paperback prices nowadays certainly shows that publishers have adopted Orwell's hypothesis.
I guess. What struck me was a comment from a contemporary writer who rails against libraries as robbing authors of royalties.

Oh, well.

   
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Old 08-13-2005, 07:26 AM   #4
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KT:

a contemporary writer who rails against libraries as robbing authors of royalties

What? Where did you see that? It doesn't appear to be Georgs Orwell, who describes the libraries as 'the novelist's foster-mother'. Anyway, libraries now pay authors—though not very much.

   
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Old 08-13-2005, 08:09 AM   #5
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What? Where did you see that? It doesn't appear to be Georgs Orwell, who describes the libraries as 'the novelist's foster-mother'.
Well, no. That’s what I said — that some writers hold a contrary view.

It was one of my favorite writers, K.C. Constantine. He built the essential diatribe into one of his novels, Bottom Liner Blues. But I would swear I had seen some variant on it online somewhere, but cannot find it now. It is alluded to in this interview with Constantine by Jerome Doolittle, however.

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Anyway, libraries now pay authors—though not very much.
They do? Not here, they don’t.

As for it not being “very much,” with the exception of a tiny handful of bestselling authors, publishers don’t pay writers very much either. The last figure I saw, now probably 6 years old, was that the average American writer earns less than $10,000/year, well below the poverty level. Guess that’s why so many wait tables and drive cabs.

   
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Old 08-13-2005, 03:39 PM   #6
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KT:

They do? Not here, they don’t

'Here' being the USA, I assume. There are collecting agencies in some European countries, inluding the UK and Germany, that collect fees from libraries and distribute them to authors. Of course, most authors just get a pittance, but every little helps. In the UK it's the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society; tha ALCS web site is www.alcs.co.uk.

The average earnings from writing books appears to be about the same in the UK as in the USA; the figures were published quite recently. There was an article about it in the Guardian recently; it pointed out that many people's conception of a novelist's earnings are way off the mark, even for most established writers whose books are reckoned to be 'successful'.

   
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Old 08-14-2005, 02:04 AM   #7
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Quote:
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KT:

They do? Not here, they don’t

'Here' being the USA, I assume. There are collecting agencies in some European countries, inluding the UK and Germany, that collect fees from libraries and distribute them to authors. Of course, most authors just get a pittance, but every little helps. In the UK it's the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society; tha ALCS web site is www.alcs.co.uk..
I'm sure I read somewhere last year that they were going to only pay royalties to major authors as the cost of calculating and making the payments was more than the actual payment in most cases.

   
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Old 08-14-2005, 11:56 AM   #8
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Mike:

I'm sure I read somewhere last year that they were going to only pay royalties to major authors

I don't think that squares with the following statement from the report of the ALCS for 2003/4:

'Not only did we pay out over £11 million in 2003-04 (an increase of 6% on the 2002/03 total), but we also identified and made payments to 30,371 writers (as compared with 29,744 last year). Over 3,200 of these were new.'

They're also expecting £18 million from USA, from publishers making unlicensed publication of UK authors' work.

   
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Old 08-14-2005, 03:35 PM   #9
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I suspect that Penguins were the UK variation of what we call paperbacks on this side of the Atlantic. It is interesting how feelings of doom at first glance seldom come through. Now books are sold in hardcover (if there is the demand) and an year later they go through a paperback run. Sometimes there is even a third tier in between with trade paperbacks.

It is like movies. First they felt television was killing the industry. Then they found they could make good money selling the films for broadcast. Then video was going to end theatre sales, but it didn't, and another revenue source was added. And now DVDs are doing the same thing.

New technology does not often destroy old, sometimes it just means a period of transition.

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Old 08-15-2005, 07:49 AM   #10
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Don:

I suspect that Penguins were the UK variation of what we call paperbacks on this side of the Atlantic

That might be called the understatement of the year, but it can be attributed to your extreme youth. In 1936, paperbacks were pretty much unknown, and the appearance of the Penguins was a sensation. They were (a) extremely cheap (£0.025, about US$0.10), (b) their covers were extremely well designed, (c) after 1947 they set printing standards, and (d) a lot of them were originals. Most of those qualities, alas! are gone now.

   
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