The announcement made last month concerning the proposed Daily Paper has naturally excited considerable comment. Whatever may be the ultimate result of my offer, one thing already stands out quite clearly. That is, the soundness and the utility of the scheme which I set forth as that by which a newspaper can be financed.
The idea, for which I can claim no credit, came to me nearly four years ago as I was walking across Charing Cross Bridge on my way to the Pall Mall Gazette office. Like all journalists, I suppose, I was chafing a little at the difficulty which the lack of capital imposes upon the editor, when the question was put to me within: "Why don't you raise your capital by giving it away?" I laughed at the paradoxical suggestion, but it was repeated and pressed upon me until I began to see that there was something in it. Before I had got to the other end of the bridge, I saw that there was everything in it, and from that day to this I have only waited for a suitable opportunity of putting the suggestion to a test. Even if there were no adequate response to my offer, that would not prove that the scheme was unsound. It would only prove that I was not wanted to edit a daily paper. A journalist who was wanted, might take up the scheme, and find in it the short and easy solution of his difficulties.
I have no patent rights in the idea. As it was given to me so I give it to the public. If any should ask who gave it me, and by whom was the question asked that started the suggestion, I can give no answer. Sometimes on a calm summer day there floats down slowly through the air a white downy feather. It does not come down as a stone falls. Its motion is slow and graceful, and sometimes it seems to pause as it descends. But at last it reaches the ground. Where does it come from? From some bird obviously. But as far as you can see up into the infinite azure of the sky, you see no plume from which this fluffy fragment of down could have come. Yet it is there, and a bird grew it somewhere and sometime. Of that you can be sure, but only of that. So it is with this idea; it came to me from without as much as that feather does. All ideas must originate in some mind somewhere, and as this one did not originate in my consciousness, I have accepted it gratefully as a free gift of grace from the Not Myself.
In carrying this idea into effect I should prefer, undoubtedly, to receive my 100,000 subscriptions from 100,000 individuals. That was why I made the offer last month to the readers of THE REVIEW OF REVIEWS. But as a matter of business such an arrangement was almost inconceivable. The business value of the suggestion made to me, upon which I have acted, only comes in when you can deal with the shares in blocks of fifty or a hundred. A one pound share even at ten per cent. is somewhat of a nuisance, unless you can put several of them together. The question has repeatedly been put to me whether any one can apply for more than one share. I reply, "Certainly, but if you do, you must subscribe for as many papers as you want debentures." To which the answer is, "But I don't want more than one copy of the paper." Thus here arises at the very outset the necessity for the bête noire of modern Socialism, the middleman. And a very interesting problem arises as to whether the associative principle has gained sufficient hold amongst us for this offer to be utilised for the purposes of financing all manner of good causes, or whether it will fall into the hands of the trade.
Everything of course depends upon whether the Daily Paper—a sample copy of which is issued with our Christmas Number—is likely to catch on. I have my own ideas on that subject, and if those ideas are correct, and are shared by others, it is merely a question whether my £100,000 are snapped up by the trade, or are made the means of financing various forms of philanthropic enterprise. Any active local secretary of any association, social or religions, who believes that the paper would go to the extent of a hundred copies in his district, could put £100 into the treasury of his society, by standing out of £130 for twelve months. He would get the money back in the daily pennies which any newsagent would collect for him on the usual terms, and at the end of the year he would have£100 in five or ten per cent. debentures. Any society with a hundred branches throughout the country, each of which could secure a hundred subscribers, might obtain a permanent endowment of £10,000 yielding from £500 to £1,000 per year.
No such offer has ever been made in our time. For instance, an association for the general advocacy of the Woman's Movement—which I mention because I should probably be in more general accord with it than with any other political or social society—might be financed into a position of opulence which no other society occupies, if its founders were to take up, say, 50,000 subscriptions for one year. At the end of the year they would have had £65,000 worth of papers to dispose of, by which they could have recouped themselves for every penny of their outlay; and they would then find themselves in possession of £50,000 debentures bearing from five to ten per cent. interest, which would supply offices, secretaries, and agents on a scale possible to no other Woman's Society in existence.
The immense premium offered for the purposes of launching the Daily Paper will in the natural order of things fall into the hands of the trade unless means are promptly taken to intercept it by societies or associations, existing or to come into existence. The trade will naturally look at the question solely from this point of view: Will the Daily Paper catch on? If it is certain to catch on, then there is £100,000 to be scrambled for, that at least is quite clear. For if the paper, of which they have now a sample before them, will sell on its own merits as THE REVIEW OF REVIEW[S] sells, or as Tit Bits and Answers sell, then the newsagents can put £100,000 into their pockets without the least risk, and at the same time increase their own business. Take for instance the largest newsagents in the world— Messrs. W. H. Smith and Son. Suppose for a moment that they knew as a positive certainty that next year 100,000 copies per day would be sold of the Daily Paper. In that case they would be no less certain to have the handling of 30,000 of them. If they put it only at 25,000, which is far below their minimum proportion of the sales of a daily paper of 100,000 circulation, they could (of course, I know they will not, and I am taking their case because there will be no suspicion of any attempt to appeal to the firm that is named), by subscribing in advance for 25,000 copies of the paper, in return for the laying out of £30,000 for twelve months, put £25,000 in their pocket. They would, in addition, have the profit upon the supplying of 25,000 copies through the trade in the ordinary course.
I know Messrs. W. H. Smith and Son would never dream of making a deal on such terms. They will sell the paper in the ordinary way, as they would sell any other paper, but beyond that they will not go. But the possibilities are the same for any newsagent, only on a smaller scale; i.e., a newsagent, wholesale or retail, who was confident that he could dispose of 2,000 or 5,000 copies in the ordinary way through the trade, only needs to raise £3,000 or £6,500 to make over 75 per cent. interest in the first year; whichever way it turns, the newsagent must gain. The subscription price of the paper has been placed at the full rate of a penny a day, without allowing any discount for payment in advance, in order to avoid any appearance of underselling the trade through whom it is probable the paper will be chiefly distributed.
The terms upon which its distribution will be undertaken will naturally be subject to an arrangement between the Daily Paper and the newsagents. At present, the custom of the trade is well-established. The newsagent undertakes to get orders, to take the risk of bad debts, and to pay the cost of carriage. In return for this service, he receives his present commission, and that, of course, is the basis upon which the negotiations between the trade and the Daily Paper would rest. Upon that point there need be no misunderstanding. Whatever the terms ultimately arrived at may be, they will start upon the basis of existing rates, as adjusted to existing circumstances. In matters of business no one expects any one to work for nothing, nor do I wish to complicate a revolution in newspaper finance by undertaking at the same time a revolution in news distribution. The offer which I make, if taken up by the trade, would practically make them assured partners to the extent of five or ten per cent. in an enterprise all the risks of which will be borne by myself.
But I close as I began. From the point of view of sympathisers, everything depends upon the degree of personal confidence which they have in me. From the business point of view, that element does not come in. The dominating factor in the question, looked at as a financial speculation, depends upon the opinion which each possible subscriber in the trade, or out of it, forms as to the probabilities of such a Daily Paper as that which is published with my Christmas Number, commanding a circulation and becoming a property. If they do not think it will catch on, they will wisely have nothing to do with it. On the other hand, if they believe, as many who have spoken to me do believe, that the Daily Paper is built on lines that are certain to render it a great success, then there is £100,000 to be scrambled for, and my part in the matter is now limited to seeing that the applicants share fair all round. The question is now entirely beyond my control, or beyond any possibility of my exercising any influence upon the matter. In proof whereof, as the lawyers say, I write these lines on the eve of sailing for New York. I shall not return to this country until after the December REVIEW has gone to press. Before that time, the die will have boon cast, one way or the other. Which way the lot will fall I know not, nor any mortal. All that I know is, that whatever the decision may be, I will accept it loyally, cheerfully, and with a conviction that I shall then have got my marching orders.