Regional Publishing Markets.

The Problem of Distribution

The productive growth of the mid-decade shows signs of an expansion of exchanges between multiple urban centres. However, the affirmation and stabilization of the institutions and functions of a national book market would still take several years. In order to overcome the barriers that limited the possibilities of interregional exchanges to the efforts that each individual agent was capable of carrying out, other specialists had to appear, new conditions of possibility. As evidence of the still predominant regional component of the trade, it should be noted that in many cases, publishing was a secondary activity of bookshops.

It can already be inferred that the key problem lies in the state of development of long-distance distribution; the possibility that distant brands competed near and far from their places of settlement. When a distribution system is not yet operating strongly, publishers themselves expand by founding branches in other cities or countries. The multipolarity of imperial Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Northeast) during the Republic was replaced by the slow imposition of the Rio-Sao Paulo axis. The textbook has always been at the forefront of the process of expanding market frontiers. Francisco Alves, a specialist in educational materials, based in Rio de Janeiro, but with Portuguese roots, was a pioneer in opening a branch in Sao Paulo at the beginning of the century. However, there are indications that the branch sought to compete for local supply and demand rather than integrate the markets of the two cities. Educational policies were a provincial concern. The secondary system did not have a federal law, and there were no universities. Universities did not become a reality until the mid-1930s. By then, Companhia Editora Nacional (founded in 1927) had already advanced with a branch in the country’s capital and Paulo Azevedo & Cia. (Francisco Alves) founded another branch in Belo Horizonte. Around 1937, Livraria do Globo channelled its rich literary vein (with Erico Verlssimo as its flagship author), together with school textbooks and dictionaries, increasingly important in the catalogue, through a warehouse in Rio de Janeiro.

If we take the case of Freitas Bastos, we can consider that another niche of captive readers offered safe conditions for the expansion of branches: the law, though only after the end of the predominance of provincial legislatures. The renowned bookstore had two stores in the capital, and in the late 1930s, opened a branch in Sao Paulo. A testimony from the person in charge of this new branch, however, shows the parity of interest in having adequate distribution channels and in owning a bookstore as a point for promoting the brand and bringing together the local elites:

My interest is essentially cultural. I want to contribute as much as possible to increasing scientific and literary exchange between Brazil and the most advanced countries in the world; also, to promote the strengthening of cultural relations between our States; to create in each capital an atmosphere of rapprochement between intellectuals, journalists and academics. With this objective in mind, the bookstore I opened in Sao Paulo will be the first of a chain that I intend to establish throughout the country. Soon we will open two houses: one in Recife and another in Bahia. (...) Another novelty [at the Sao Paulo branch] will be the friends’ room at the bookstore, which I am rushing to set up so that it can soon be presented to the Paulistas. I hope to make this room, which will be equipped with maximum comfort, a meeting point for intellectuals, where they can come to consult works for study, encyclopaedias and large series. (...) It will be very useful for those who do not have offices in the city centre. This has already been done and with great success in foreign bookstores (...) Freitas Bastos will contribute powerfully to raise the moral level of the book trade in Sao Paulo.

(“Ouvindo о livreiro e editor Freitas Bastos. As novidades que nos promete um livreiro inteligente e conhecedor do seu ‘metier’,” ABL 1939: 476 - my italics)

To open, contribute, reduce, promote, gather, exchange - verbs that the bookseller’s testimony expresses in future time, reveal the missionary character and cultural benefits that legitimized the opportunity to expand business beyond the carioca matrix. As bandeirantes (pioneers), certain types of book producers and traders perceived the possibility of expanding (and rationalizing) exchanges with other States, both from abroad and from units of a country in the process of legal, fiscal, educational-symbolic, and political unification.

Literature presented other risks from books for communities of captive readers (didactic, technical, religious). In places far from the city of settlement, literature publishers such as Jose Olympio promoted their products through individual actions, through personalized links.5 As it gained prestige, each bookshop-publisher added functions, as a literary agency (representing its authors) and as a distributor.

Companhia Editora Nacional (CEN) was also a pioneer in extending its distribution network from one city to another. In 1932, it acquired Civiliza^ao Brasileira, founded by Getulio Costa in Rio de Janeiro in 1929. CEN was the largest publishing house in the country and enjoyed prestige for a catalogue of national authors that included the work of Jose B. Monteiro Lobato, some titles by Afranio Peixoto, Paulo Setubal, and modernists from the 1920s. Above all, however, CEN promoted national thought through the Biblioteca Pedagogica Brasileira, a famous Brasiliana series.6 As well as distributing Paulista production, the acquisition sought to take over one of the main bookstores in the capital city and make Civiliza^ao Brasileira a label specialized in foreign literature. In the late 1930s, it also acquired the prestigious Ariel publishing house (created by critics Gastao Cruls and Agripino Grieco), which it transformed into a firm dedicated exclusively to the distribution of printed goods. In fact, it was one of the first companies dedicated to a specialty that slowly opened up the market during the 1940s. The distributors grew at the same pace as the expansion of the educational and technical book (e.g. law). Zelio Valverde, a Carioca bookseller and literature publisher, concentrated his interest in distribution during those years, representing such publishers as Pongetti, Freitas Bastos, Americo Bedeschi, Edas. Brasilia, Quaresma, Minerva, Federa^ao Espirita, Guanabara, J. Leite, Coelho Branco, Jacinto, H. Antunes, and Minha Livraria Editora.

Through this network, I can distribute books in the Federal District [Rio de Janeiro], an organization that allows me to gather all the publications that are emerging in districts far from the city, thus achieving a wide diffusion of good reading to places that until then lacked this initiative (...) A small bookstore in Meier, Madureira or any other neighbourhood will be able to acquire, through me, all the books published by the publishers I represent, with the usual discounts and terms.

(“An interview with publisher Zelio Valverde”.

ABL 1939: 474 - my italics).

Both the Carioca origin of its representatives and the urban range of distribution show the regional limits to the intentions of extending this specialized function to other regions of the country. Valverde only operated as “exclusive representative for the Federal District (RJ) and Niteroi” (ibidem).

Expanding the appreciation of books as objects of general interest (strategic for the formation of citizens; attractive to the reading public) was the goal of the actions of the National Book Institute and the Anuario Brasileiro de Literatura. The structural tension between the regions and the national territory was correlated with the growing articulation between the State and the publishers as entrepreneurs in search of differentiation as a body of specialists.

As suggested by the tone of the testimonies selected so far, the entrepreneurs present their individual or corporate achievements as the fruit of their visions and risks, as self-fulfilling prophecies. What they leave out is the fact that a market is never formed without political elements (Polanyi 1944). In the Modern Era, it is necessary to note the role of State power. Schools, libraries, literacy, and universities were not private works. Flowever, as we shall see, the State was not a collective spirit but a system of agents - a force field between private interests of different natures.

The government of the Alianga Liberal that brought Getulio Vargas to the presidency of the nation imposed a protectionist economy that encouraged import substitution and industrialization. The “strong” State began by installing essential national ministries, such as labour, education, and health. National laws were imposed, overriding provincial regulations. Decrees were issued for the organization of unions and corporations; for the unification of secondary education and the training of teachers in faculties of philosophy and letters; and for the creation of universities. Economic activity was ordered through the creation of institutes (for coffee, oil, etc.) to control the production of sensitive goods for the national wealth. After the closing of the congress that gave birth to the Estado Novo phase of the Vargas government, in November 1937, the authoritarian regime accentuated the control of the circulation of ideas through cultural and propaganda organizations (Oliveira 1998: 129). In a corporatist spirit, liberal activities were regulated first. In the month of December, the institution that I am going to examine here was inaugurated: the National Book Institute (INL).

 
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