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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/424

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

own hands, demands the stamps for an inferior and low-priced edition. Under such a condition of things, publishers of ordinary business sagacity would be slow to assume even the smallest risk, the utter insecurity of the property making all business enterprise in that direction precarious. In this connection, we can not do better than to give the views of Mr. W. H. Appleton, whose long experience as a publisher enables him to speak with an authority which greatly outweighs the untried speculations of one who, like the writer in the "Nineteenth Century," has no practical knowledge of the business. Referring, in 1872, to a proposed international copyright law that was then under discussion, and which, like the present plan, provided for open competition in the reprinting of foreign books, Mr. Appleton said:

The first demand of property is for security, . . . and to publish a book in any real sense—that is, not merely to print it, but to make it well and widely known, requires much effort and larger expenditure, and these will not be invested in a property which is liable to be destroyed at any moment. . . . The publisher can neither afford to make the book so thoroughly known, nor can he put it at so low a price as if he could count upon a permanent and undisturbed control of its sales. Many valuable books are not reprinted at all, and therefore are to be had only at English prices, for the same reason that publishers are cautious about risking their capital in unprotected property.

In its other business aspects, such as the opportunities it affords for fraud, the possible difficulties in recovering the value of unused stamps, and the general influence on the trade of the uncertainties of open competition, the plan is equally objectionable. Indeed, taken as a whole, it seems much better adapted to the purpose of quieting our consciences while we hang on to the plunder, than to the furtherance of its ostensible object—the benefit of the British author.

The fact is that the assumption on which the whole scheme is based, viz., that American readers will not accept a monopoly copyright on foreign books, is untenable, and is, in the opinion of many, squarely contradicted by the facts. For three quarters of a century Americans have bought books at fair prices under monopoly copyright without finding fault, and, moreover, when the demand arose, have enjoyed the advantage of lower-priced editions However it may be slurred or ignored, the truth is that the American people have had a great deal less to do with this denial of justice to English authors than the publishers and the politicians; and when some member of Congress, in pursuit of a little cheap political capital, sets up the plea that his constituents are not willing to pay fair prices for the foreign author's property in this country, he may very reasonably be asked to back up his statements with some unmistakable expressions of feeling from the people themselves. That American readers have accepted and upheld a monopoly copyright at home may, until we have something definite to the contrary, fairly be taken as an indication that, when made acquainted with the true bearings of the case, they will be equally fair toward the interests of the foreign author. As a matter of fact they have already given abundant evidence of this kindly feeling in the purchase of substantial editions of English and other foreign reprinted books of a solid character, amounting in the aggregate to hundreds of thousands of volumes, paying prices therefor which have enabled the few high-minded publishers who voluntarily entered into the arrangement to hand to the foreign author exactly the same return that he would have received if a citizen of this country. The publishers following this practice have been able to make and sell these books at American prices, and have also found their profit, when the demand would justify the venture, in the sale of cheap editions. Of course, in doing this they exposed themselves to serious risks, and but for the old-time courtesy of the trade, by which they were to a considerable extent pro-