Before we answer the question of whether the lending library is responsible for the decline in book sales, we believe it is necessary to examine whether sales of belles lettres have decreased at all. It is so easily claimed that the public no longer buys novels, that publishing novels is no longer possible without lending libraries.
However, this view, which is almost generally accepted, is fundamentally wrong. No other period has seen more fiction sold to the reading public than ours.
Until ten years ago, we would never have witnessed any novel selling up to four, ten, or even twelve editions; today it is no longer a rare occurrence at all. This certainly proves that the public’s desire to buy has not stopped but has increased. To be sure, it concentrates on the products recognized to be good; but who would regret that? It is a result of overproduction.
What right do we have to demand that the public pay our usual high prices for books of questionable merit? For books that one leafs through and never picks up again? It is certainly undeniable that the majority of our recent publications belong in this category. Is it not enough that the lending librarian uses his own hard-earned money for this purpose, and is he not compelled to regret this later in many cases? The hundreds of periodicals and daily papers [that we have] generate an enormous amount of novels and novellas. Must every last one of them return to the market in book form? The author should content himself with magazine royalties, which are generally decent, rather than squandering them on a book edition, whose lack of success he will then blame on the public and the lending librarian.
The writer complains that reading today is done in haste, that books are no longer calmly enjoyed and digested. This is true, but who is to blame for this other than the writer himself and his publisher, for it is they who present the public with new products on a daily basis. The copiousness of the mediocre has generated this rapid turnover, transforming the thoughtful and enthusiastic reader of the past into a superficial one.