National Geographic : 1914 Apr
THE MEANING of the CHANGE-Why the Price of the MANY readers, when they see this an nouncement for the first time, will wonder why the sale, direct to the public, of the new Encyclopaedia Britannica is to be discontinued, why the instalment system is to be abandoned, and why the price is at the same time to be increased. These three queries are vir tually the same, and may be condensed into one: "Why should it suddenly be made much more difficult for the average man to obtain the book?" The question is quite justified. The reader is not asking a grocer how he buys and sells sugar, but asking those who have assumed the grave responsibility of controlling an educational work of undeniable usefulness to all English speaking people, and who are virtually in the position of trustees or custodians, why they find it necessary to increase its price and impose new conditions of sale. In the first place, these custodians are in the unusual position of having created the property they are administering. Only a little while ago, the words in the book were unwritten, the thoughts not formulated; the paper was flax in the fields, the leather on the backs of flocks. MAKING THE BOOK A Great Responsibility The Encyclopaedia Britannica has been, for nearly a century and a half, of great service in the dissemination of useful knowledge, and by all intelligent Americans has been regarded with genuine pride. But it is not a perennial. Each edition must in the course of years be re placed by a better one. The advance of knowledge effected by a new generation, the new events, and the new view of old events must be adequately represented. And the tax payer does not assume the task of providing the money to make and distribute a new edition of this indispensable book. The task involves two risks-one moral and one financial: If an unscholarly or inaccurate edition were made, its undertakers would be justly execrated by the public. And if they do their work well and in accordance with the high standard of preceding editions, they are entitled to such recognition as the press, the general public, and also the foremost educational authorities accorded to the editorial staff upon the appear ance of the new 11th edition. SELLING THE BOOK An Enormous Investment The financial risk is very great-nowadays much greater than when the book was smaller; when the volumes were issued one by one and sold for cash, at the rate of one or two a year. The contents of the 11th edition of the Encyclo paedia Britannica (40,000 articles, 44,000,000 words) were prepared, at an expense of 0,000, as an undivided whole, so that all the volumes are of uniform date. While this radical departure from previous methods en abled the editors to make a much better Ency clopaedia Britannica than ever before, it was the most expensive method, but the public was bound to reap the benefit of it. In fact, it is not too much to say that the whole world of scholarship in the first instance, and the reading public in general, are under a lasting obligation, in that a vast sum was paid out to make the Encyclopaedia Britannica a more prac tical work of reference than ever before and one more convenient to use-and it was then sent to any subscriberwho paid only $5.00with his order. This trifling initial payment is a mere frac tion of the manufacturing cost-quite apart from the literary cost and the cost of selling in respect of each set that goes out to subscrib ers. It would not be beside the mark to state that at one time more than $4,000,000 was locked up in the new Encyclopaedia Britannica. To recover these various costs would be a matter of years, inasmuch as every set delivered to subscribers on the deferred payment system would automatically call for an ever-increasing capital outlay, and would entail enormous finan cial responsibilities. THE PLAN OF SALE In Two Periods Such being the conditions of the problem, it was solved by the adoption of a plan of sale, which would assure a swift recognition and appreciation of the book while it was new. It was determined that there should be two distinct periods of distribution: First, a rapid sale on monthly payments and at a low price,-direct to the public. Second, a slow but steady sale through agents and booksellers, for cash payment, at a higher price. It was foreseen that the first sale would not yield a fair percentage of profit. So far, it would not be, commercially speaking, "good business." It would in volve the heavy interest charges and the large organiza tion which attend selling for instalments. To continue indefinitely that system would make the investment in paper, printing, and binding so great that the operation would become unwieldy. But the instalment sale would create a demand for the book which could not be satisfied at the time; and that demand would after ward be satisfied by a prolonged sale under ordinary book-selling conditions, at the higher price and at a substantial profit. That was the method originally arranged for the sale of the new edition. The first of the two periods of sale, now nearly. at an end, has already justified the expectation that it would quickly establish the reputation of the 11th edition in all parts of the world. And, after this final subscription sale, anyone who wants the En cyclopaedia Britannica must buy it and pay for it as he buys and pays for any other book-but it will cost him from $29.00 to $50.00 more, according to the binding.