5 October 09 | Chad W. Post

In my spare time [sic], I’ve been reading Ted Striphas’s very interesting The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control, which was released by Columbia University Press earlier this year, and very thoughtfully reviewed by Richard Nash in the most recent issue of The Critical Flame. At some point, I hope to write a review of this as well—it’s a very well-done book, with a number of interesting points about the development of the book industry and the relationship between publishers, booksellers, and readers.

On the bus this morning, I read a bit about the Cheney Report (named after its author Orion Howard Cheney) that seemed very appropriate for this blog. The so-called Cheney Report was commissioned by the National Association of Book Publishers (NABP) after the stock market crash of 1929 to get a better handle on what was going on in the book industry at the time. I’ll let Striphas take it away:

After fifteen months of exhaustive research on Cheney’s part—and a comparable degree of nervous anticipation on the part of the NABP—the 150,000 word Economic Survey of the Book Industry, 1930-1931 (Cheney Report) was published in early January 1932. The eminent sociologist Robert Lynd assayed it in the Saturday Review of Literature, concluding that “it blows the lid off the book industry.” Indeed, the report was incisive and unrelenting in its criticisms of every aspect of the book industry and beyond. Cheney blasted publishers and booksellers for relying on intuition to guide important business, editorial, and purchasing decision rather than operating on a scientifically sound, statistically driven “fact basis.” He disparaged editors and publishers for their lack of creativity in developing the talents of first-time authors and scolded them for “murdering” potentially successful titles by releasing them into a field already so overcrowded that they simply “cannibalized” one another. Cheney was troubled by the lack of uniformity in the size and materials of printed books, which, he believed, drove up manufacturing costs unnecessarily. He chided advertisers adn book critics for generating insufficient interest in books and consequently for failing to help readers make informed decisions about what to buy. He condemned librarians for overstocking popular fiction and (like the booksellers) for making practically no effort at systematically studying the interests and reading habits of their clientele. Cheney even lambasted “uninspiring teachers” for their “unsound teaching methods,” which, he believed, resulted in their failure to stimulate adequate interest in reading among students ranging from preschool to college.

His big beef was with distribution methods, and the long-term impact of this study (creation of ISBNs and bar codes) is pretty impressive. Although I’m the first to object to business school people implementing their “economic science” on anything artistic (or even publishing), I do love this typical publisher response to the study:

Despite Cheney’s claim to have produced the report “in a spirit of objective sympathy,” his pedantry, harsh criticism, and acerbic tone seem to have gotten the better of him. The document generated what’s best described as a mixed yet largely defensive response from book industry insiders.

The situation is more complicated these days than it was in 1932 (pre-Internet, pre-superstore, pre-decline in newspaper book coverage), it’s curious how many of these problems still plague the industry today . . .


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

Read More >

I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >