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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/426

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

stamps for each copy of his work, and anybody who chooses to publish it is to obtain the number of stamps required for his edition, on paying ten per cent of the publishing price to the author or his representatives. It appears to me that there are serious—not to say fatal—objections to this project from the point of view both of the author and of the publisher.

From that of the author, because unless the stamps arc executed with the care and cost of a bank-note, they may be counterfeited with the most tempting eagerness. Suppose that I had the good fortune to be the author of a popular novel, and that I found that some scamp of a bookseller was issuing an edition with forged stamps at Chicago, and another playing the same game at Toronto. Unless I happened to have a few thousands of which I desired to make ducks and drakes, is it conceivable that I should be so foolish as to take action against my defrauders in the civil courts of these two cities, when, in all probability, the judge would have a copy of the pirated edition in his pocket, while bar and jury were equally well provided? How shall Angelo condemn Claudio without many qualms? Suppose I succeeded and obtained the award of five times the retail price of the cheap edition—which is the maximum fine proposed—to what extent would that recoup me for law expenses, worry, and loss of time? Legal administration is comparatively cheap and swift in Scotland; but an eminent Scotch judge once told me that if he were riding along Leith Walk, and somebody preferred a claim to his horse and took it away, he should think it, on the whole, better to put up with the loss of the horse, than to go to law with the spoliator. Certainly it would be better for the English author to sell all he had and give it to the poor, than to undertake a copyright process in the United States or Canada in the face of the existing feeling that "our people" have a right to "nourish themselves and their children," as Sir C. Trevelyan put it, on cheap books. The former process, at any rate, would not leave him in debt.

And now as to the position of the publisher under the proposed arrangement. My experience of publishers, both in England and America, has been such as to lead me to differ somewhat from the estimate which many of my brethren seem to form of them. So far as my observation has gone, they have as much claim to the possession of souls as other people; and I have not been able to convince myself that the portion of inherited depravity in the average publisher is greater than that implanted in the average author. I have frequently asked myself whether, for any possible benefit which my publishers get out of my books, I would or could submit to the worry, loss of time, and pecuniary risk of bringing them out on my own account; and I have had no difficulty in answering this question in the negative. But there are publishers and publishers, and there are various fashions of bringing out books.

As our transatlantic readers admit that an author has some right of property in his work, I am a little perplexed to understand why they deny his right to appoint the agent[1] on to whose shoulders he desires to throw all the burden and risk of giving that work a practical existence, and to decide in accordance with him the form of their joint produce and the remuneration they may ask for it. The farmer, the miller, and the baker decide the price at which they can afford that the loaf which they have jointly produced shall be sold. In revolutionary times, starving mobs, desiring to have the sixpenny loaf for twopence, call the baker a monopolist, and proceed to hang him à la lanterne. The transatlantic people, impelled, as it appears, by their spiritual cravings after the intellectual and moral elevation imparted by the works of English authors, call the publisher, who stands in the same relation to the author as the baker to the farmer, a "monopolist." Heaven forbid that I should suggest that my excellent friends, the Messrs. Appleton, may stand in danger now or hereafter of the lanterne. Not at all! The sixpenny loaf can be got not merely for twopence, but for nothing, without any such violence, by simply continuing the present practice of piracy, checked only by the underselling power of the strong houses.

Grant, however, that the appointment by the man who possesses a property of an agent to administer that property, according to such terms as they may mutually agree to, is an offensive act of monoply on the part of the owner—what will be the practical working of the scheme which it is proposed to substitute for this old-world expression of rights of ownership?

I suppose myself an American or Canadian publisher. I hear that the celebrated English author A. B. is about to produce a work which is certain to be greatly In demand on my side of the Atlantic. As things are,
  1. I see no reason for demurring to the requirement that the agent should be a native of the country in which the sale is to take place, if, as is asserted, there are strong practical grounds of objection to any other arrangement.