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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

The Corn Cob Club

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"Well," said Fruehling, his bright dark eyes sparkling above richly tinted cheek-bones and bushy beard, "what's the argument?"

"The usual one," said Gladfist, grinning, "Mifflin confusing merchandise with metaphysics."

MIFFLIN--Not at all. I am simply saying that it is good business to sell only the best.

GLADFIST--Wrong again. You must select your stock according to your customers. Ask Quincy here. Would there be any sense in his loading up his shelves with Maeterlinck and Shaw when the department-store trade wants Eleanor Porter and the Tarzan stuff? Does a country grocer carry the same cigars that are listed on the wine card of a Fifth Avenue hotel? Of course not. He gets in the cigars that his trade enjoys and is accustomed to. Bookselling must obey the ordinary rules of commerce.

MIFFLIN--A fig for the ordinary rules of commerce! I came over here to Gissing Street to get away from them. My mind would blow out its fuses if I had to abide by the dirty little considerations of supply and demand. As far as I am concerned, supply CREATES demand.

GLADFIST--Still, old chap, you have to abide by the dirty little consideration of earning a living, unless someone has endowed you?

BENSON--Of course my line of business isn't strictly the same as you fellows'. But a thought that has often occurred to me in selling rare editions may interest you. The customer's willingness to part with his money is usually in inverse ratio to the permanent benefit he expects to derive from what he purchases.

MEREDITH--Sounds a bit like John Stuart Mill.

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BENSON--Even so, it may be true. Folks will pay a darned sight more to be amused than they will to be exalted. Look at the way a man shells out five bones for a couple of theatre seats, or spends a couple of dollars a week on cigars without thinking of it. Yet two dollars or five dollars for a book costs him positive anguish. The mistake you fellows in the retail trade have made is in trying to persuade your customers that books are necessities. Tell them they're luxuries. That'll get them! People have to work so hard in this life they're shy of necessities. A man will go on wearing a suit until it's threadbare, much sooner than smoke a thread bare cigar.

GLADFIST--Not a bad thought. You know, Mifflin here calls me a material-minded cynic, but by thunder, I think I'm more idealistic than he is. I'm no propagandist incessantly trying to cajole poor innocent customers into buying the kind of book I think they ought to buy. When I see the helpless pathos of most of them, who drift into a bookstore without the slightest idea of what they want or what is worth reading, I would disdain to take advantage of their frailty. They are absolutely at the mercy of the salesman. They will buy whatever he tells them to. Now the honourable man, the high-minded man (by which I mean myself) is too proud to ram some shimmering stuff at them just because he thinks they ought to read it. Let the boobs blunder around and grab what they can. Let natural selection operate. I think it is fascinating to watch them, to see their helpless groping, and to study the weird ways in which they make their choice. Usually they will buy a book either because they think the jacket is attractive, or because it costs a dollar and a quarter instead of a dollar and a half, or because they say they saw a review of it. The "review" usually turns out to be an ad. I don't think one book-buyer in a thousand knows the difference.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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