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uct at the lowest possible cost to the consumers. It must not only make, but hold its trade ly high-grade goods at final low-cost to buyers.
A corporation so organized and operated in good faith quite naturally finally comes to be regarded as a public benefaction, rather than a menace to the public weal. It gives regular employment to labor, pays its hire with equal regularity, distributes its products at lowest cost to consumer, and secures to labor low-cost supplies. It is itself a powerful and constant consumer (of crude material) and, as a constant patron of transportation, contributes to the social conditions of the community by providing constant employment for labor. Some corporations have come to be called by odious names, as “combines,” “monopolies,” “trusts," and so forth, implying gross, if not criminal, disregard for the public interests. All corporations, however, cannot justly be thus characterized; and with the abuse of the principles attempted to be set forth herein this paper has no concern. Our anxiety is with the application of proper modern methods to the business of the Church.
The real problem seems to be to reduce cost of production to the minimum, maintain the grade of product at maximum, provide abundant supply constantly, and thus secure lowest cost to consumption. How can we best apply the principles stated to the manufacturing business of the Church, namely, our publishing houses ? Are their present organization and methods consistent with these principles as applied in similar manufacturing plants conducted by the business world of to-day? Is it on as potential a basis for its greatest usefulness as it may be and should be placed ?
The Book Concern belongs to the preachers of the Methodist Episcopal Church. It is the oldest of all combines, and the most worthy--that of all the preachers for the production and distribution of books, periodicals, and denominational literature for the educational and spiritual elevation of the membership; it has the further commendable object of providing supplementary support for superannuated preachers and the widows and orphans of deceased preachers. None of its appointments should be on a scale so small as would defeat the former or diminish the latter, and no hesitation should be felt in increasing them to such im. portance and extent as will most effectively secure these original purposes of its organization. No such part of the profit should be withlield from needed increase of working capital as would cripple the efficiency of the Concern in supplying in abundance and at low-cost the literature contemplated; and no such part of it should be so used as to diminish the earning or the distribution of profits to the beneficiary contemplated. The object is a dual one-the production of low-cost denominational literature and a liberal supplemental support to the worn-out preachers; the policy required is such as will meet both these objects and thus justly carry out the original purposes. What bearing have these propositions on the conditions of the manufacturing plant, merchandise, and investment accounts of our Book Concerns-for we have more than one
Our first thought should be as to the location of the plant for production. This should obviously have reference, not only to low-cost real estate, but to abundant and constant supply of all crude material required in our manufacturing, and to competent labor, mechanical appliances, abundant fuel; and, quite as much, to facilities for easy and low-cost distribution of product to centers of consumption. Full reflection might suggest a single manufacturing plant, centrally located, on a railroad having ramifying lines reaching all points readily, rather than two or more such plants. Should it not be also near a coal center, and in command, readily and cheaply, of supplies of paper and all the other requisite material of a book publishing and manufacturing business? Such a happy coincidence of needed conditions seems unlikely to be found in any of our seacoast or border cities. High-cost real estate, labor, material, and so forth, are unfortunately the accidents of all such metropolitan places. Our plant, being a purely manufacturing concern, would not, therefore, seem wisely located at either of these points.
Beyond all question so large a manufacturing business must needs have distributing houses, and as many of them as the distribution of product to possible centers of consumption requires. But could not these be also established on the same principle ? Let them be fixed at centers of Methodist population and influence, so that our literature, having been first produced and distributed to them at low-cost, may be readily and cheaply redistributed from them to the constituent territory.
In our case these depositories may have been already most wisely located. But may they not be more wisely situated in the places in which they have been located ? In storerooms less costly and pretentious, in streets less conspicuous, and less controlled by the demands of high pressure, competitive retail business ? Our objects are not those of a general, competitive business, but to supply our own people with our own literature in acceptable form, at the lowest cost consistent with a beneficiary profit for the “Conference claimants.” Surely the operation and maintenance of expensive storehouses and display rooms are not really necessary to this. Will our people not gladly seek out our sales rooms at so little cost to personal convenience as is involved in their going from conspicuous thoroughfares in our great cities to those a little more remote from the travel of trade ?
If now it is thought necessary our Advocates and other journals should be printed and distributed from these depositories or subcenters direct, rather than from the central manufacturing plant, so be it. That would seem, however, to be a question of accommodating a printing establishment to the depository, rather than the accommodating an entire manufacturing plant to the printing office, or rather minor departments of our book publishing house. We seem to be operating our book business in a sort of inverted column-from the circumference to the center, rather than from the center to the circumference of our originally proposed objects, that is, for the benefit of plant investment, rather than benefit to the patrons of our literature and the Conference claimants.
Would not worldly wisdom, in as great an enterprise, having in view the same objects, speedily change all this? Such a policy as is herein only too poorly set forth would soon release a very large amount of unprofitably invested capital for more beneficent and wiser, and perhaps more legitimate, uses, and at the same time enable our agents to operate the entire business at greatly reduced expense. Some such plan need not necessitate any radical changes in the general arrangement of the details of managing the business, nor in the personnel of the management. But even if it should require some modification of one or both these, and even require the sale and relocation of the present manufacturing plants and the resituating of some of the sales rooms in cheaper property, is the matter not even then worthy of the careful consideration and provision of our Church ?
No changes should, however, be hastily advised or undertaken. No changes for change sake. Perhaps it may be better—but is it?—to linger a decade longer under the shadows of a traditional policy than to enter upon untried experiments, to the successful issue of which either our methods are not yet adapted, our agencies not trained, or our thought not clear. Necessity only should dictate reform; reform should suggest caution; caution command conservatism, and conservatism combine with progress in this matter. But do not both conservatism and progress both justify and demand a careful consideration of this subject? Covington, Ky.
R. T. MILLER.
A MEDITATION. Ar the present day the thought of many of our most energetic and progressive business men tends in the direction of gigantic enterprises. They talk of combination of interests, consolidation of capital, and reduction of expenses, and claim that millions can be saved by putting a business under one management, thereby effecting a saving to the consumer and great dividends to the fortunate stockholder. If this method should become general is it not a question as to its effect upon the public at large? There are many features connected with the formation of a combine that are very attractive to those who make it. It will be noticed that these enterprises are capitalized for a large amount. It could not be otherwise, for it usually means the taking of valuable property and the creation of a surplus that can be used for any emergency. It enables an individual to dispose of a business, not only without sacrifice, but at a great profit--one in which he may have put the energies of a lifetime, and, in the extension thereof, invested a fortune. Should he continue for a time to be a large shareholder, or possibly assume control of a new and enlarged enterprise, in the event of failure anything he may have put aside for private investment would not be involved. When we consider the small percentage of men who go through life
without failure is it any wonder that they are willing to allow the investor to take a share of the risk ?
It must be admitted, too, that in a strictly business point of view there are many other advantages to be derived from consolidation. It sometimes happens that business plants have not been worked to their full capacity, and it pays to reduce their number. A writer on the infiuences of trusts says the trusts lessen competition in two directions, namely, buying and selling. “Without organization the units of a trade are fierce competitors in open market for raw material, the result being to advance prices. They are competitors for the sale of the manufactured product, and, in their eagerness for trade, cut down profits and keep the industry unprofitable.” It remains to be seen what the result will be when rival trusts and combinations of various kinds come into competition; it will probably be, as with many railroads, reorganization. It has been charged that a director in a corporation will sometimes countenance a thing he would not do as a private individual, and it is a proverbial saying that “corporations have no souls.” Now, admitting there is a saving in consolidation, are the parties uniting influenced by that consideration, or are they aware that there is a great amount of capital, both at home and abroad, seeking investment; that first-class securities are not only scarce and high, but pay a low rate of interest ? Therefore, is it not a good thing to put industrials on the market? A statement was made a few days ago that money was cheaper in New York than in London; a thing that has not happened before in the world's history.
The question that interests Methodists is this: Are the agents of the Methodist Book Concern, together with the Book Committee, aware of the fact that, whatever may be the cause, business within the past few years has undergone a great change, and that a much larger volume of business must be done to insure even a moderate amount of profit ? We believe they fully realize the situation and are constantly adopting plans to meet the present requirements. The management in New York has inherited some things that they would not have created, and it will take a little time to get everything adjusted to new conditions. The agents and Local Committee spent several weeks last year considering the policy of removing the manufacturing plant to a cheaper location. They had under consideration sites with splendid railroad facilities and other necessary accommodations for their manufacturing business, but, after mature deliberation and consultations with leading manufacturers, they decided unanimously that New York City offered advantages that could not be obtained elsewhere. There is danger that in this commercial and practical age we will lose sight of the fact that the most prominent feature of our Book Concern work should be the production of such books and periodicals as will best contribute to the culture and spiritual growth of our membership, and at prices that will put them within the reach of the masses. This is of the greatest importance; dividends should be a secondary consideration. When we remember that the world is our parish, and that evangelistic and educational work is making rapid progress in our mission fields, both at home and abroad, it is reasonable to expect that there will be an ever-increasing demand for our literature in our home fields, and that in the near future large consignments of Methodist books and periodicals will be needed in foreign lands. Where can we find a more convenient place for shipment to foreign countries than in New York, the greatest commercial city on the continent, and destined to become the greatest in the world ?
There is no place where labor, both skilled and unskilled, can be obtained with greater facility than in a large city. The members of : whole family are often engaged in different occupations as bread winners, and will not be separated. Even the coal we use can be carted a few blocks from the river and put in our vaults at a less price than it costs many manufacturers on the line of coal roads and many miles nearer the mines, owing to the competition between the companies bringing their coal to the various shipping points in the vicinity of New York harbor. The immense quantity of paper used in New York City enables the manufacturer to send it in bulk and afterward distribute it at a nominal cost; and the same may be said of all other supplies.
The real estate of the Book Concern on Fifth Avenue is valuable, but the difference between the original cost of our property and its present valuation woulu buy many sites in a cheaper location where real estate values would not materially advance for many years, if at all. When we consider that elegant stores in the immediate vicinity of our property in Fifth Avenue are taking the place of private dwellings, and that recovery from the serious business depression of several years is now evi. dently beginning, may we not reasonably expect that the increase in valuation will be greater in the future than in the past? Any increased valuation will not increase our taxes, as in this State the Book Concern property is exempt from taxation.
It has been found that even the upper stories of our building are too valuable to be used for manufacturing purposes, and this has led to the erection of an addition on Twentieth Street. When that is completed a large amount of rentable space will be available in the Fifth Avenue building. It has also been found that there is no longer any profit in the sale of miscellaneous books from other publishers, and that part of the business will soon be eliminated. The sale of our own publications can then be conducted in a less expensive part of the building.
New presses, typesetting machines, book folders, and other labor-sav. ing machinery of the most approved pattern have recently been purchased. Departments have been consolidated and new men selected for their superintendence. The cost of printing our papers and periodicals and also that of making books will be greatly reduced, and as the times improve it is to be hoped that the income from rentals in our building will be greatly increased,