• U.S.

Press: Battle of Books

3 minute read

Stacked neatly on pianos, mantle pieces and bookshelves in a million U. S. homes last week were increasing piles of cheaply printed books, bought by their owners for a few cents a volume plus coupons clipped from successive editions of their local newspapers. Having gotten rid of 14,000,000 cheap books up to last week, the number of U. S. newspapers participating in a new wave of premium circulation-getting passed the hundred mark. Most conspicuous recruit of the week was the “World’s Greatest Newspaper,” Colonel Robert Rutherford McCormick’s lusty Chicago Tribune, which announced complete sets of Mark Twain at 33½¢ the volume plus six coupons. The same books were being sold by the Philadelphia Record for 23¢ the volume plus six coupons.

President Roosevelt’s son-in-law John Boettiger’s Hearst-owned Seattle Post-Intelligencer had reached the thirteenth volume in a 20-volume “World’s Greatest Literature” set, for 39¢ each plus seven coupons. The Los Angeles Times was plugging a 20-volume set of Dickens.* Thirty other newspapers had sold 7,000,000 volumes of a “World’s Greatest Literature” set for 39¢the copy plus coupons.

Getting circulation by giving away books is one of publishing’s oldest tricks. Three years ago a premium war in England (TIME, Sept. 25. 1933) threatened to ruin London’s four biggest dailies”the Express, Herald, and Mail and News Chronicle— until a truce was struck. The current rebirth of the idea among U. S. newspapers was no accident. Two years ago Publisher David Stern revived it with success for his New York Post and Philadelphia Record.

He formed Publishers Service Co. and began to job-lot sets of Dickens and Mark Twain to other publishers who passed them on to readers at cost. Smelling profits, 36-year-old Leonard Davidow chucked his job as publishers’ wholesaler at Reading, Pa. last autumn and joined Stanley Livingston to form his Standard American Corp. and Consolidated Book Publishers.

By having two firms and two lines of books they can sell to competing publishers in a single city. Standard features a cheap encyclopedia. Into this they obligingly insert anything the buyer wishes to have appear. Thus the Philadelphia Inquirer is selling 200,000 volumes a week of the Standard American Encyclopedia whose A volume has a complimentary column-and-one-half biography of Publisher Moses Louis (“Moe”) Annenberg. Hearst’s New York Journal, selling the same encyclopedia, has in its volumes no word of Mr. Annenberg or his career, but it has got a nice item devoted to the word “neotrist,”† which they hired Lexicographer Charles Earle Funk to coin for them to describe a typical Journal reader. Mr. Annenberg’s books haven’t got that.

*The Los Angeles Times was honored last week with first prize in N. W. Ayer’s annual award for the best-looking front page among 130 newspapers with 50,000 circulation or over; second: New York Herald Tribune; third: Des Moines Tribune. Among 365 newspapers of 10,000 to 50,000 circulation, first prize went to the Miami, Fla. Herald; second: Glendale, Calif. News Press; third: Hartford, Conn. Courant. †”Neotrist,” invented from the Greek, meaning a person who stays young.

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