Manutius and Garamond in Foucault’s Pendulum

The continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian


Eco, U. (1989). Foucault’s pendulum. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

 Having worked for a large bookstore for 5 1/2 years (Barnes & Noble if you must know), and working in a library (and generally loving books), the publishing world has always interested me. I don’t know much about it other than it seems to be tough especially in places like New York.

There are always people who want to publish, or who will come into a book store saying they are an author and asking how they can get their book into our bookstore. It isn’t a simple process. As a low level bookstore employee, I had very little say in what books we stocked in the store. Our floor managers didn’t have much say either. There are whole departments of buyers who decide what gets bought and how many copies each store receives. Many of these authors were self published. I never gave much thought to self published or vanity press authors until working in bookstores. Every now and then a customer would ask for a title we didn’t have and I would look it up to order it. However it would be listed as “print on demand” and I could never guarantee a delivery date (1 week to 6 weeks) that would satisfy the customer since they had to pay for it up front. These turned out to be vanity press authors.

In reading Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, I was fascinated by the two publishers featured (Garamond and Manutius). Garamond is the “big name” press that the main characters work for. Manutius is basically a vanity press. However, Manutius is owned by Garamond. Garamond press publishes works that they think will sell. Manutius publishes works that authors pay for. When an author brings a work to Garamond that Garamond doesn’t want to publish, they suggest the publisher around the corner (Manutius). The author isn’t told that the two are owned by the same person. When the author goes to Manutius, their manuscript is looked over and the author is told how wonderful it is. Unfortunately, they are “ahead of their time” and Manutius is afraid that not many copies will sell. But if the author is willing to underwrite (pay for) the publishing, Manutius is willing to print the copies. If the author agrees, they sign a contract in which a minimum number printed is not specified but that the print run includes 200 author copies. Verbally the author is told that the first run will be 2000 copies. The author copies are printed (at the author’s expense remember) and shipped to the author. After six months a letter is sent to the author saying that it is as Manutius feared, the books just aren’t selling and as is written in the contract, Manutius has the right to pulp the remaining copies unless the author wishes to purchase them at a reduced price. Many times the author will purchase additional copies this way (even though technically they have already paid for them in the original payment for printing). In order to encourage authors to finance their own publication, the owner of Manutius will take them out to dinner with other published authors and butter them up. He will pull out an encyclopedia of who’s who among authors and show entries for authors previously published by Manutius (at the author’s expense of course). What the authors don’t know is that Manutius/ Garamond publishes and writes this encyclopedia. They take really famous authors and make a very short entry for them in the book and then take a Manutius author whose name is close alphabetically and put them in with a very long entry. It is a complete scam and Manutius makes lots of money doing this. However, as they see it, it is a win win situation. The author wants a book published so he/she can show friends and tell neighbors that they are a published author. Unfortunately their work isn’t anything that any standard publisher will publish (not enough market for it etc.). In steps Manutius. For the writer with money, they can say they are published and pass around copies of their work and are happy, and Manutius makes money.

I don’t know that any real vanity presses do this, but it is an interesting thought. I think there is so much being published that really doesn’t need to be. In the academic world, many (all?) universities and colleges require their professors to publish (publish or perish) if they want to be tenured and continue to have a job. This means that people are forced to produce work even if it really isn’t necessary to the world or even if they personally don’t have an urge to research and write on a topic. The works published for the most part are such that will not be read by anyone except for other academic experts in the same field (there are some exceptions). Since the market is not a big one for these publications, they are not printed in large quantities and are thus quite expensive (which prohibits many more from attempting to purchase/ read them). Academic journals are the same way. They are expensive to print; nobody will read them but other academics and some graduate students. These journals will only be purchased by academic libraries and a few experts so the cost is quite high. Since library budgets are always being cut, the high price of these journals can be prohibitive and so libraries stop their subscriptions and rely on databases and interlibrary loans. This makes the price of the journals go up since fewer institutions are purchasing subscriptions…it is a vicious circle.

In order to stop this circle a couple of things can be done. First, universities and colleges can lessen the publishing requirements and accept publication in peer reviewed electronic journals as fulfillment of publication requirements. Second, print journals can try to make the move to electronic publication. This will save them the money that was spent on printing and mailing and will allow them to accept more articles in each issue since they won’t have the same page restrictions. The peer-review process can remain the same. I personally don’t see the difference between a peer reviewed journal that is published in print only and a peer reviewed journal that is published electronically only. This move will allow greater access to the articles since the lower cost will allow more libraries to subscribe and users will have electronic access.

As for vanity press… I think that there are cases where people should be able to publish their work. It may not be a best seller, but the market may be larger than people think. Print on demand, if done correctly, may be the solution. A writer has their work published, but it is available as a print on demand. Interested parties contact the publisher and place an order and it is printed and shipped. A print on demand printing/ binding press can be placed in every library. Then patrons can purchase items and have them sent electronically to the printer. The book is printed and they own it. Libraries can order their books this way too.

These are just some random thoughts on the world of publishing from someone not in the field. Who knows what the future will bring.