“The Book Available to Everyone”: Towards a National Book Market

Despite the phenomena observed here, it is necessary to highlight the fact that, until the First World War, book publishing was not a differentiated activity. It depended on the commercial logic of the bookstore, private or official patronage, and a printing world dominated, above anything else, by the production of newspapers and periodicals. By the 1880s, the Anuario Bibliografico by Navarro Viola estimated the production of newspapers in Argentina from the following statistical count: La Prensa, Slid America, and other important newspapers appealed, in a discontinuous way, to the publication of newspaper serialized novels by fascicles (booklets -folletm in Spanish) that, in some cases, were later put together in paperback. But among all the newspaper companies, the main one responsible for the popularization of the book and the consequent formation of a market with national dimensions was La Nation.54 In 1901, it launched the Biblioteca La Nacion (La Nacion Library) series. The decision to create the series was promoted by Director Emilio

Table 1.1 Regular publications of periodicals by frequency of appearance

Regular publications of periodicals by frequency of appearance




Published daily
























Source: Author’s calculations on the basis of data from Anuario Bibliografico de la Republica Argentina, Volume IX, 1888: 129. Bibliographic source on public domain.

Table 1.2 Regular publications of periodicals by language of edition

Regular publications of periodicals by language of edition








Other languages




Source: Author’s calculations on the basis of data from Anuario Bibliografico de la Republica Argentina, Volume IX, 1888: 129. Bibliographic source on public domain.

Mitre when the newspaper introduced Linotype machines. The technological innovation would have left 400 workers unemployed. Book publishing would help avoid this social problem and continue taking advantage of manual composition machinery, ancient at the time. The direction of the series was under the charge of Roberto J. Payro and Jose Maria Drago. On the pages of that newspaper, Ruben Dario mobilized Americanist modernism. Roberto Payro stood out in this movement and asserted himself among the few writers who began to make a living out of their writing, in their double status of writers-journalists.55 The fact that autonomous literary creation was subsidized by the big journalistic companies is at the basis of the ambivalences in Payro’s thought. He adhered to defending “utilitarian art” in line with Saint-Beuve, but also promoted a disinterested art opposed to the new values of the commercial and industrialized world (Rivera 1985: 335).

Until the end of its cycle in 1920, Biblioteca La Nacion published 872 titles and 1,500,000 copies (Severino 1996: 57-94). Accompanying the geometric multiplication of the literate population (an increase by 250% between 1895 and 1914) (De Sagastizabal 1995: 47), it was the main means of publishing both world and Argentine literature in Buenos Aires during those years. Based upon the new tastes of a middle class that was becoming literate, the catalogue included classics of “universal” literature (e.g.: Goethe, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Chejov, Twain, Ega de Queiroz, Tolstoi); a great deal of literature that was widely accepted by the public of that time, especially French literature (e.g.: Zola, Verne, Dumas, Jules Mary, Paul Feval, Salgari, Stevenson); and only 20 Argentine authors, who, however, assured the greatest symbolic revenues in return for the risks of a series that did justice to its name. As stated by Auza and Trenti Rocamora, Biblioteca La Nacion

includes, among its titles, many of the texts belonging to the 19th-century Argentine classics and makes them available to the public, which would not have had the chance to read them otherwise, seeing that many of them were unpublished and others had been issued in old and short editions, completely out of print by then. Naturally Bartolome Mitre, but also D. F. Sarmiento, Vicente Fidel Lopez, Miguel Cane, Martin Garcia Merou, Lucio V. Mansila, E. Echeverria, among others, appear in the catalogue of this library, tinging national thinking with the message conveyed by the most representative writers of world narrative.

(Auza and Rocamora 1997: 24)

In summary, this library represented the first Argentine publishing project intended for a general public.56

By confirming the existence of a wide reading audience,5/ the success of the Biblioteca La Nacion signalled a strategy marking the history of the book in Argentina: low-cost book publishing; products to be distributed through non-traditional channels to make “the book available to everyone”. By 1920, when Biblioteca La Nacion ceased to appear, the mass dissemination of the “cheap book” already guided the profile of the two main publishing projects developed in the country between 1915 and the 1920s: “La Cultura Argentina” (1915-1925) and “Biblioteca Argentina”,58 series created and directed by Jose Ingenieros and Ricardo Rojas, respectively. The names and slogans of the two series-publishers reveal the gold mine to be exploited by Argentine publishing during the war and its subsequent years. The slogan of La Cultura Argentina was “Publication of National Books”; that of Biblioteca Argentina was “Monthly Publication of the Best National Books” - books about the nation and preferably by Argentine authors. Both sought to become independent pedagogical projects of mass diffusion. The types of reader envisaged were the student, the worker, and the immigrant, to be put on an equal footing; and hence, an affordable price was the central production and sale factor.59 The two series sought to create alternatives for the publication of books by authors “as the publishers themselves” and reissue “classics of Argentine thought” which, except for the few titles edited by Biblioteca La Nacion, had never been published on a large scale. Both series were not the projects of commercial publishers but of dominant intellectuals who devised an autonomous series to be printed by an important workshop (Roso) and by a bookstore (Libreria del Colegio), whose names appeared soberly on covers or colophons. The same applies for a third major impact publishing project developed in 1916: Cooperativa de Buenos Aires. This was led by writers Manuel Galvez and Uruguayan Hora- cio Quiroga.60 Despite the sales success of their literary works, these authors created a cooperative amongst peers, since they were dissatisfied with the possibilities of publishing contemporary national literature. In short, these were major projects of “publishing without publisher”.

These series were decisive for the creation of the first canons of literature and Argentine thought. The disputes between these imprints and many others for the publication of the authors representing the national letters, history, philosophy, and politics marked a change in publishing, intellectual, and educational spaces. Since the beginning of World War I, the publication of the national literary and intellectual production began to match the fund of translations that was the basis for the genesis of Argentine intellectual and publishing spaces.61 Rather than replacing what was foreign with what was national, my hypothesis is that the success achieved through the “national book” series was correlative to a fall in the translations of foreign literature, with the exception of widespread authors such as Anatole France or H. G. Wells. The gold mine of translated literature of public appeal was continued by Editorial Tor, founded in 1916 by Spaniard Juan C. Torrendel, who radicalized the cheapening and popularization of the book.

Cover of Mitre у Vedia, Bartolome

Figure 1.1 Cover of Mitre у Vedia, Bartolome. 1902. Paginas serias у hu- mon'sticas, Buenos Aires, Biblioteca La Nacion series © Bibliographic source on public domain - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library.

Cover of Zola, Emilio. 1957. Nana. Buenos Aires

Figure 1.2 Cover of Zola, Emilio. 1957. Nana. Buenos Aires: Tor © Bibliographic source - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library.

Cover of Echeverria, Esteban. 1915. Dogma socialista. Buenos Aires

Figure 1.3 Cover of Echeverria, Esteban. 1915. Dogma socialista. Buenos Aires: Libreria la Facultad - Biblioteca Argentina series n° 2 © Bibliographic source on public domain - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library.

Cover of Ameghino, Florentino. 1915. Doctrinas у descubrimientos. Buenos Aires

Figure 1.4 Cover of Ameghino, Florentino. 1915. Doctrinas у descubrimientos. Buenos Aires: La Cultura Argentina © Bibliographic source on public domain - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library.

The material forms of printed objects are an entry point for observing the increasing differentiation of Argentine publishing and cultural space towards the end of the 1910s. The books in Biblioteca de La Nacion (1.1) were small (16.5 x 12) with grey or brown covers and flyleaves in art nouveau style. Most of the books in this series were in hardcover and paperback. The forms of the series by Ingenieros and Rojas (1.3 and 1.4) were in line with “modern” parameters: sober covers of a single light colour, straight lines, and the icon of each placed in the centre. The covers of Tor’s books (1.2) show consistency with those in illustrated magazines: they were colourful, with simple drawings and an indication, on the back cover, of the variety of genres included in this publishing line. Following the Spanish tradition, the authors’ names were given a Spanish form.

The idea of the worker and the student as readers was what guided the emergence of the Editorial Claridad publishing house founded by Antonio Zamora62 based on the Los Pensadores series (“The Thinkers. Weekly publication of selected works”). It began to be published in February 1922 with a title by Anatole France. While this launch was a safe bet, Sarmiento’s motto “Educate the Sovereign” on the cover of each title in the series expressed the idea that the publishing house “should not be a commercial enterprise, but a kind of popular university”. 3 To guarantee this vocation, the leaders of Claridad offered a tribune that was “uncontaminated, non-commercialized, and firm in its pacifist orientation par excellence, secular, revolutionary, and eclectic”.64 Zamora was born in Zaragoza, Spain, and was affiliated with the Socialist Party. The creation of Claridad magazine in July 1926 was sponsored by leaders Alfredo Palacios, Mario Bravo, and Juan B. Justo. The name was inspired by Clarte (league of intellectual solidarity for the triumph of the international cause), created in Paris in 1921 by Henri Barbouse. The icon of the publishing house was Rodin’s The Thinker. Although, between 1930 and 1959, Zamora was elected several times and held important public positions, the publishing house did not work as a Party organ. It did keep strict internationalist guidelines. Its editions made up the bulk of the libraries in the socialist centres through which large contingents (both Argentines and foreigners) of the popular neighbourhoods in the main capitals were made literate.

As shown by Luis Alberto Romero, Claridad and Tor promoted a strong cultural change. In the genealogy of generalist^ publishing houses that we have been following, Tor and Claridad disseminated their work at a time when it was possible to accelerate the real arrival of the cheap book to the outlying neighbourhoods, to the new literate groups (immigrant foreigners, workers and rural migrants), and to those living outside the capital and in other Latin American countries. Romero (1990: 46) states that, despite the representation of the “popular public” manifested by the series of Ingenieros and Rojas, La Cultura Argentina and Biblioteca Argentina objectified the demand for a reader public already trained and engaged in the intellectual debates of the 1910s and 1920s. From the beginning, Los Pensadores bet on high circulation and large distribution. At least 5,000 copies of each issue were published and sold at 0.20 cents. In the mid-1930s, it had already been estimated that Claridad magazine had a circulation of 10,000 copies, half of which were marketed, along with the books of the publishing house, in a network of bookstores and newsstands all over the continent. The books were published in lined cardboard covers and in larger format (13 x 18) than the previous series. In general, these were volumes of more than 200 pages and its price was only one peso, one-third of a worker’s daily wage, which is an unthinkable proportion for the current value formation schemes of publishing goods. The location of the publishing house and its printing workshop in the south of the city of Buenos Aires fitted the system of cultural and political choices.66

In literary terms, Claridad was one of the publishing platforms and the favourite meeting space of the “Boedo” literary group (name of a popular neighbourhood in the south of the city of Buenos Aires). Writers Leonidas Barletta and Cesar Tiempo, for example, accompanied Zamora in the management of the company. As opposed to the pure aesthetics cultivated in the “Florida” literary circle (which included Jorge L. Borges, Oliverio Girondo, Ricardo Guiraldes, and other writers that were descendants of Creole elites, who lived in aristocratic neighbourhoods such as Palermo and Recoleta), Claridad rested on realism and social criticism. Unlike the above series of “national books”, Claridad regenerated the translation and dissemination of authors of diverse national and linguistic origin. To some extent, the genetic function of the national cultural field that required the consolidation of a reading public continued. As Patricia Wilson states, translation continued to support “the acquisition of a cultural heritage, entertainment and an awareness of social problems”.67 On the one hand, the demands of literate elites continued to be supplied by the careful editions of booksellers and bibliophiles such as Felix Lajouane. On the other hand, the literary avant-garde launched its editions through booksellers and publishers such as Manuel Gleizer and Samuel Glus- berg, oriented to the reproduction of a circle of restricted intellectual production.

Between 1900 and 1935 in Argentina, 2,350 titles were published.68 Although it is not easy to estimate the significance of these numbers in relation to the population of the country and the evolution of the education system, it can be affirmed that the publication of Argentine books started to be imagined as a pillar for the presentation of the national culture on the international stage, especially the Flispanic American one. This may be shown from the impact of the First National Book Exhibition in 1928.69 A spokesperson for that event among the individuals of the book in Argentina was Alberto Gerchunoff:

Argentina reads. It reads excessively, immensely, with the anxiety with which one reads as soon as one has learned to read. And the time will come when it will not have read to no avail. It reads well and reads badly. The Argentine man has understood the value of the book, has begun to take refuge in the book, to love that delicious and faithful, confidential and melancholic thing, which is the hidden treasure that the open page offers us.70

The significance of the triumphalist speech of the author of Los gauchos judt'os (The Jewish Gauchos) resides in his exemplary fixation of an idea that emerged with the mass sales of Martin Fierro, settled with the series of cheap books initiated by La Nacion and influenced the bets in the mass public of publishers who, such as Gonzalo Losada, Arnaldo Orfila Reynal, or Boris Spivacow, cross the century and emphasize the belief in a country of readers, a unique fact among the publishing markets of Latin America.71

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