Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 18. Distribution of Publishing in the Twentieth Century

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXIX. Book Publishers and Publishing

§ 18. Distribution of Publishing in the Twentieth Century

Perhaps the most illuminative document of this century is the figures of the United States Census giving the total value of book and job printing for 1905. In the nearest million dollars it runs: New York 44, Chicago 26, Philadelphia 14, St. Louis 8, Boston 7, San Francisco 4, and Cincinnati 4.

Unfortunately, as we are concerned primarily with the publication of notable literature, these figures are somewhat misleading but possibly prophetic of the future. Boston, for instance, which found itself in the forties forced once more into leadership through the race of great writers that sprang up in New England, though it lost its primacy to New York in the sixties, yet has in Houghton Mifflin Company the publishing house that issues a larger number of truly great literary works by American authors than any other house in the country; while the firm of Little, Brown and Company holds an honourable place in the development of our literature. Boston has, too, in D. C. Heath & Co. and in Ginn and Company text-book firms of commanding importance. One of the most prominent publishers of Chicago, writing in the year 1918 says: “Publishing in the west is attended by many difficulties. The principal book market is east of the Alleghenies, and the natural source of supply is the eastern cities.” So, if from the stand-point of pure literature one should attempt a rearrangement of this table it would probably run relatively, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. St. Louis is a medical book publishing centre of importance, and San Francisco has some standing for her finely printed books. Cleveland, Louisville, Springfield (Mass.), St. Paul, and Indianapolis have firms of note.

Some of the most striking phases of publication within the last two decades are the increased stress upon juvenile literature, the emphasis thrown upon a few best sellers by insistent advertising and especially by the sales methods of department stores, the springing up of a large number of publishing firms connected with the best-known universities, and the appearance of small firms that turn out books, usually reprints, that strive to reach perfection in every detail that is conducive to beauty in the finished book. But according to the president of The Macmillan Company the most inclusive new feature of the century seems to be the tendency of our larger publishers to widen the class of their publications so as to include school, technical, and medical books. For in such books and in magazines rather than in miscellaneous publications seem to lie at present the surest financial rewards of the publisher.