Cosmopolitan comes right out and says it: when you work at Simon & Schuster ” You can go home with as many books as you can carry, every day”. Maybe that’s how it is at S & S, though I find it hard to believe. For my part I always felt a reluctance to go hog wild. I have a feeling that any employees observed struggling out every day under armfuls of books would be spoken to.

We publishing people do get spoiled. It’s so easy to take a book for the perfectly legitimate reason that you want to read it, and then find that these objects turn out to be somewhat sticky so that they end up on your shelf rather than back in the office. Maybe you read chapters 1 and 2, and really do plan to return later to finish the book. I don’t know if any publisher actively encourages staff to help themselves. I know places where there is a shelf or two of books which, if employees don’t take them will end up in the garbage or perhaps in better organized houses being picked up by a used-book bookseller. I did once have a semi-formal employment contract which entitled me to free subscriptions to The Times and The Irish Times, as well as a copy of every book I worked on. I can be seen here reading my Times. Naturally most of the books I worked on were terminally dull, and although I thought about it, I considered that grabbing books and selling them down the street would be in violation of the spirit of the contract, if not its letter. So I only “acquired” books that I had a high chance of reading — and I still expect that I’ll eventually get round to them all.

The manufacturing department always gets some advance copies for approval and then distribution around the office. It takes so little to “hurt” a book (damage it so that it becomes unsaleable) that you end up not even inflicting the injury. “It was about to drop on the floor onto is corner, so I took it home to save it from becoming unsalable.” Because we all know that there are liable to be a couple of copies lying around any manufacturing department there grew up (in my days at least) a sort of informal trading network around the New York publishing house. “Do you happen to have a copy of this book lying around. Of course if you need any of our books, just let me know.” This would become quite frenzied before the start of the academic year, and I always tried to stay above this marketplace. One node in this bonanza would lay on multi-publisher swaps so that he’d get a book from publisher Z to give to someone at publisher Y, so he could get one of Y’s books for a friend at publisher X in return for a book from publisher W which his nephew needed.

As all costs increase publishers tend to see the cost of returning books to the warehouse as prohibitive. Additionally I’ve never observed any office workers who could pack a box! Dropping books loosely into a carton and taping it shut just guarantees that after their trip to the warehouse the damaged books will go straight to the hurts bin: better to have kept them. If you can’t afford to send books back where they’ll incur a restocking charge, what are you to do? One place I worked would save them up and run a sale every year where staff could buy copies for $1. There’d be a bookseller sitting in the corner, who’d end up with all the leftover books free of charge. For the paltry sums this raised, it would have seemed to me better just to allow people to take the books.

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