IKE | The Hippocratic Oath for Publishers
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The Hippocratic Oath for Publishers

Alfred A. Knopf

The Hippocratic Oath for Publishers

Alfred A. Knopf was founded in 1915. It publishes a stellar list of authors and is one of the truly great publishing companies.

It is easy to spot their books because of the quality construction and the borzoi on the spine. Knopf was proud of his books and often took out lengthy advertisements extolling their virtues. For the centennial edition of the Atlantic Monthly, he printed the Borzoi Credo.

Sarabande Books has a recent tweet that the credo should be publishing’s version of the Hippocratic Oath. But, the credo on Knopf’s website differs from the version published in Portrait of a Publisher, 1915-1965: Reminiscences and Reflections. Two items have been omitted, and one item omits a single word that significantly changes its meaning.

Here are the items that were omitted:

  • I believe in keeping the price of the books as low as is compatible with quality, production costs, and the financial resources of the reader for whom they are intended.
  • I believe in the innate good taste of book readers and in their ability to recognize a superior book when they have it brought to their attention.

Are we to infer that Knopf no longer believes in low prices and the innate good taste of readers? I don’t believe that.

…and the one word that makes a difference:

  • I believe that I have never unknowingly published an unworthy book.

Mr. Knopf knew that there were a few stinkers over the years.

I agree with Sarabande Books that the Borzoi credo should be publishing’s version of the Hippocratic Oath. But, let’s use the version published in Portrait of a Publisher. Remember that doctors are also taught: primum non nocere (first do no harm). Knopf’s version should have been: primum non mutatio (first make no edits changes).

David Isaacson
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