The Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 1, Number 5
Dec 1988

Publishers Meet with Advocates

Last April 11, in New York City, the Business Managers Committee of the Association of American Publishers' General Publishing Division met to discuss the use of acid-free paper in trade books (which rank between academic and mass market books in sophistication and appeal). Present were 10 publishers' business managers and production people, and an invited panel of experts: Barbara Goldsmith (author and New York Public Library trustee), Ellen McCrady (Alkaline Paper Advocate), John Baker (NYPL), Linda Amster (New York Times), Patricia Harris (NISO), Sandy Paul (SKP Associates), Mike Rice (Lindenmeyr Paper), and Charles Kalina (National Library of Medicine). People sat facing the rest of the group around a large rectangle of tables, a configuration that stimulated lively interaction. Everyone gained a better appreciation of the other fellow's (often unexpected) point of view, and it was very interesting to see positions soften and attitudes change among both the publishers' representatives and the panel members, as the discussion and debates proceeded and a variety of new facts were laid on the table.

The publishing houses represented at the meeting accounted for 25-30% of all trade publishing in the U.S. Someone said that 75% of all trade publishing was on acid-free paper.

Charles Kalina presented the results of a price survey comparing alkaline and acid paper (subsequently published in the May issue of this Newsletter). It was generally agreed that scarcity, not cost, was the obstacle to wider use of acid-free paper in trade books. Publishers do not feel free to shop around for paper, but stick with the supplier they have a long-term relationship with. In return, the mill (or distributor, in the case of small publishers) will always see that the publisher has paper to print on, even in times of shortage. Those present did not see themselves as having the option of going to other mills if they could not get acid-free paper from their regular supplier. They believed that publishers--even as a group--have little influence with paper manufacturers because (the said) book paper makes up only 1% of all paper made. [This feeling of powerlessness is not warranted. A spokesperson for the American Paper Institute stated in the last issue of this Newsletter that book paper makes up 2.5% of all paper produced in this country, 4.5% of printing/writing papers, and 5% of all uncoated freesheet. Furthermore, the publishers are not dealing with the entire paper industry when they buy paper--only with those mills that make book paper, to whom the publishing industry must matter. -Ed.]

Someone said that Baker and Taylor (a book jobber) gets the first printings, so libraries using them would be more likely to get acid-free books than subsequent purchasers would.

Two main facts became clear as the discussion proceeded, and they have since been put to good use: they make up the agenda of the new organization "Authors and Publishers for Preservation of the Printed Word," which is co-chaired by Barbara Goldsmith.

First, it is not hard for publishers to put the first printing on acid-free paper. Most trade publishers do it anyhow, and probably would not mind committing themselves to doing it consistently. Subsequent printings, however, often must be done on short notice, using whatever paper is on the floor in the printing plant. (It is for this reason that they feel uneasy about putting the infinity symbol on the back of the title page in all printings.)

Second, if the author's contract demanded acid-free paper, the publisher would have no choice but to honor the contract. Publishers take their contracts very seriously, especially contracts with best-selling authors.

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