reply to Pathfinder critics

Luko Willms L.WILLMS at
Tue Oct 31 10:21:08 MST 2000

     Am  31.10.00
schrieb  plf13 at (Philip Ferguson)
     in  l03130304b623a0b60609@[]
  ueber  re: reply to Pathfinder critics

PF> Jose posted prices from Pathfinder and then a series of other
PF> publishers. like Monthly Review, Ocean Press, South End Press.
    My thanks to José Perez for this.

PF> Of course, a key difference here is that these other publishers
PF> either don't have their own in-house press or, if they do, they pay
PF> actual wages.

    Let me do another comparison: Ernesto Che Guevara's "Bolivian
Diary" in the english edition by Pathfinder Press and the German
language edition by Pahl-Rugenstein Nachfolger.

    Pahl-Rugenstein can use comparable production costs since they get
their printing done in Hungary or Slovakia at much lower costs than in
Germany, i.e. at East European wages.

    This German edition costs 24.90 DEM, the Pathfinder Press edition
21.95 USD or 14.95 GBP, i.e. about the double of the Pahl-Rugenstein
edition. So it might look like a huge ripoff. But look closer.

    The Pahl-Rugenstein edition has 280 pages at 12 x 19 cm, the
Pathfinder Press edition has 467 pages at 13.5 x 21 cm, although
German text is always longer than english one. So the Pathfinder
edition is much larger book.

    Typesetting and paper in the Pathfinder Press edition are better
and easier to read. The cover is printed with three colors instead of
two and looks better.

    The Pathfinder Press edition has 15 maps drawn for this edition,
the Pahl-Rugenstein edition has none.

    The Pathfinder Press edition has 8 pages with photos in the text
portion of the book (i.e. printed by the same offset process than the
text itself) plus 16 pages of high quality photo reproductions on
glossy paper, the Pahl-Rugenstein edition has not one photo. BTW,
these 16 pages of quality photos are not included in the total page
count of 467.

    The Pathfinder Press edition is enhanced with other documents by
Che Guevara from the Bolivian campaign, like all the ELN communiquées
(including one reproduction from a Bolivian newspaper), accounts of
Che's talks to the guerilla unit from the diaries of three other
fightes, plus the account by Inti Peredo, plus three accounts of other
Cuban fighters in this guerilla, a total of about 130 pages. The Pahl-
Rugenstein edition adds just a one page account of the Bolivian army
on their combats with the guerilla.

   The Pathfinder Press edition has 13 pages of alphabetical index,
the Pahl-Rugenstein none.

   The Pathfinder edition has the ISBN bar-coded on the back cover,
thus helping the book seller, the Pahl-Rugenstein edition does not
have it.

   Readers will now understand why Pathfinder Press edition is more
expensive than the Pahl-Rugenstein edition, because it represents much
more labor done by the publisher and more value to the reader. It is
in a different class of books.

PF>       Also, these other publishers have to pay distributors,
PF> whereas Pathfinder gets a great deal of free distribution via the
PF> Barnesite branches.

   This is not true. Pathfinder Press books are distributed in various
parts of the world thru commercial wholesalers or distributors, and
you are not completely off the mark assuming that this leaves only
half the cover price of the books for Pathfinder itself. All of Europe
(maybe except Sweden) is covered by Plymbridge Distributions in
Plymouth, England; even the branch bookstores and literature tables
have to buy there.

   When you report about Pathfinder Press books in the campus
bookstore at your university in New Zealand, you get at least a
glimpse that these books are not exclusively sold via militant means
like literature tables. Also please note that even a militant
bookstore run by volunteers has to pay rent for the space it occupies.
Pathfinder Press is not doing too bad in the commercial book business,
and the publisher takes care that their books can compete well with
the books by other publishers, taking care that the books do not look
shabby and cheaply made. It is very important that the books get in to
the "normal" book stores where "normal" people go and are not only
available to those radicals who already "know it all".

PF> Thus Pathfinder's production and distribution costs are massively
PF> lower than these other presses.   So, even if they charged the same
PF> for their books, there is a substantial profit being made.

    I very much doubt it.

    One of the factors is the very long backlist, probably the longest
of a publishing house of this size. Pathfinder Press keeps an enormous
number of titles in print, reprinting them in small runs of several
hundred copies in the same quality (or better) as the first print,
whereas a capitalist publisher would long have dropped these titles
after a first edition.

    Publishing revolutionary books under capitalist conditions is not
a profitmaking undertaking, on the contrary, it requires a lot of
resources by volunteers and fundraising.

    In 1989, Pathfinder published "The Last Speeches" by Malcolm X
which had a lot of sales; if my memory service me right, they had to
do three printings in the first quarter after releasing it. But they
found out that they were losing more money, the more they sold. This
started a process of revising the actual costs and over-the-board
price raise. Successful sales of a book should not result in an
economic catastrophe for the revolutionary book publisher. They
established the principle that the book prices should pay for the
running costs of producing the book (including distribution thru the
capitalist book business) whereas big capital investments (like
recently the CTP-machine) are being paid by fundraising.

    Preparing politically for a socialist revolution requires not
building welfare institutions anticipating and emulating the
institutions of a future communist society, but building a
revolutionary party embodying the class consciousness of the working
class, being able to be used as an instrument to take power out of the
hands of the exploiters.

   Revolutionary politics begins really only when millions and tens of
millions of people enter into action. A revolutionary publishing house
should be able to prepare for this and not collapse as soon as the
real demand starts.

Lüko Willms                           
/--------- L.WILLMS at -- Alle Rechte vorbehalten --

"Es sind nicht die Generäle und Könige, die die Geschichte machen,
sondern die breiten Massen des Volkes"                - Nelson Mandela

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