Fun Fact Friday!!! – The Rise of New York as the Publishing Capital

Picture is a READ sculpture made of 25,000 Dr. Seuss Books at New York Public Library in 2011.

I love New York City. Like, literally love everything about it. The subway, the hot dogs, the people, the architecture…everything. I’ve been a total of 4 times and each time gets better. There’s a certain energy in that city, a certain light. And no, I don’t mean all the lights in Time Square! LOL! Just something about that place that makes me feel at home. Funny, how I’m living out in the country in Louisiana, instead. I’m not giving up hope though, that one day I can talk my husband into moving to NYC. Or at least, having enough success with my books that I can have a little studio apartment or something so I can visit whenever I want. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, since I’m fascinated with everything book and writing related, AND New York, I thought I would share a piece of this article about New York becoming the Capital in Publishing. I found it on, http://www.encyclopedia.com. Enjoy! And, if you want to read the whole article on how the Publishing Industry came about, here it is: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Publishing_industry.aspx

The Rise of New York as the Publishing Capital

The nineteenth century set a pattern of trends in the publishing industry that would continue into following centuries. By 1850, New York City had surpassed Boston and Philadelphia to become the center of the publishing industry in the United States, a position that the city occupied into the twenty-first century. Such nineteenth-century New York publishers as Harper, Putnam, and Scribner were still important names in the industry in 2000. The 1840s saw the beginning of the royalty system, and international copyright protection enacted at the end of the century ensured authors payment of their royalties. The large publishing houses that made New York so prominent in the industry exercised so much influence throughout the county that they forced many of the local printers that flourished through the 1700s and early 1800s out of business. A similar scenario occurred in the late twentieth century, when large retailers placed many local bookshops out of business.

Jessie Tarbox Beals. Washington Square Bookshop, 17 West 8th Street. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. 91.53.19.

The first great New York City publishing house was Harper Bros., founded in 1817. By 1840 George Palmer Putnam, in partnership with John Wiley, had also established a publishing house in the city, and in 1846 Charles Scribner founded his publishing house in New York. Together, these three firms launched New York as the center of the U.S. book publishing industry. Like many of the city’s manufacturers, these publishers took advantage of the Erie Canal, which opened markets in the West to New York in 1825. New York publishers offered better prices than local printers did, because they could reduce overhead costs by printing and shipping books in larger quantities. Many smaller printers could not compete with this competition from the large New York publishing houses.

Like many publishers of the 1800s, Harper Bros. took advantage of the lack of international copyright enforcement. The firm printed pirated copies of works by such British authors as Charles Dickens, William Make-peace Thackeray, and Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Brontë. Harper Bros.’ best-selling pirated work by a British author was Thomas Babington Macaulay’s History of England from the Accession of James II. The book sold approximately 400,000 copies, a figure that would classify it as a nonfiction bestseller at the turn of the twentieth century. Because international copyright laws were not enforced, U.S. publishers did not pay royalties to either the British authors or their publishers. The American market had grown to be so significant that, in 1842, Dickens traveled to the United States in an effort to secure royalties from the sale of his works. He was unsuccessful at recouping this money, but the trip did give Dickens the material for his bookAmerican Notes for General Circulation, which Harper Bros. promptly pirated.

The Constitution had granted the federal government authority to ensure that American writers and inventors were given exclusive rights to their work, and in 1790 Congress enacted legislation to advance domestic copyright protection afforded to U.S. authors. By the late nineteenth century, American authors had become sufficiently well known throughout the world that their works had significant sales abroad. To ensure that these American authors, as well as their publishers, received the royalties due them from sales outside the United States, Congress entered into the International Copyright Act of 1891. Although this secured American authors and publishers royalties from sales in other signatory countries, it also meant the end of U.S. publishers pirating works of foreign authors.

Edmund V. Gillon. [Charles Scribner's Sons Building, 597 Fifth Avenue.] ca. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.2.2001

Until the mid-nineteenth century, most American authors published at their own expense. For example, Walt Whitman self-published and sold his 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. However, a printer and bookseller might share costs with an author whose work appeared to have strong sales potential. When American publishers began to spend their own funds to print books, they generally paid authors no royalties until they had recovered the initial expense incurred in printing the book. George Palmer Putnam instituted the modern royalty system in 1846, offering authors 10 percent of a book’s sale price for each copy sold.

The paperback was another innovation of the nineteenth-century book publishing industry. Although paperbound pamphlets and tracts had existed since the colonial era, the sales of paperbound novels exploded in the mid-1800s. In 1860, Erastus Beadle, a printer in Ostega County, New York, published A Dime Song Book, a paperbound collection of lyrics to popular songs. Sales of this book were so strong that in the same year Beadle published another 10-cent paperbound book, Maleska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Anne S. W. Stephens. The book was an adventure novel, which became staples of the genre known as “dime novels.” Whether a dime novel was a detective story, an adventure story, or an historical tale, it always featured an all-American hero who saved the day, triumphed over evil and vice, and was handsomely rewarded. Gilbert Patten created the hero figure Frank Merriwell, whose exploits helped sell 125 million copies of Patten’s books. Although their literary merits were questioned, dime novels were a reading staple until the early 1910s, when pulp magazines and comic books surpassed them in popularity.

While readers of dime novels enjoyed wholesome tales, other readers of the mid-1800s indulged their tastes for the more salacious literature that had become a specialty of New York’s publishers. Anthony Comstock, an anti-obscenity crusader and secretary of the New York Society for Suppression of Vice, led a successful campaign in 1870 that forced New York publishing houses to stop printing such racy fiction. Comstock, a special officer of the U.S. Postal Service, also succeeded in persuading Congress to pass the so-called Comstock laws that prohibited the postal service from carrying material deemed obscene. Comstock carried on his anti-obscenity campaign until his death in 1915, and he was so effective that New York publishers practiced self-censorship well into the twentieth century. Although the movement led by Comstock had as its goal the suppression of obscene publications, the entire literary and publishing community felt the effects of this censorship. George Bernard Shaw coined the term “Comstockery” for this form of censorship, and H. L. Mencken railed against Comstock and his movement for making it “positively dangerous to print certain ancient and essentially decent English words.”

Hope everyone has a Happy 4th of July! Happy Writing!

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