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ERB: Bucks & Editors

David Bruce Bozarth

ERB Distribution in Today's Market

Breaking into PRINT (magazines, books, newspapers) is difficult, time-consuming, and costly. Print editors have long enjoyed an exclusiveness of product simply because it is difficult, time-consuming, and costly for the other guy to produce a work that is, in effect, a duplicate competing for the customer's dollar. There is a substantial difference between print and electronic venues, however.

You can bet your bottom dollar that ERB, if alive and well and producing tales the public wants to read today, would actively explore every venue of distribution possible. Simultaneous publication to print and electronic resources would be utilized as widely as possible--he was that kind of a businessman author. (See Porges for his efforts to reprint in newspapers and magazines while hard cover editions were just appearing after the pulp first runs.)

ERB: The Buck and The Editors—How a writer makes money...

Much has been said that ERB was a bear as regards words and editors–-the words were his and the editors should best leave them alone. Yet, Ed Burroughs was no idiot. He had a heyday when whatever he said went with most of his editors because he was a great draw for the pulp reading audience. But in the end (circa 1936-1942) Burroughs was singularly desperate for any venue and glad to find one when it appeared.

Over the years of his writing career a number of side events put Ed Burroughs in REAL financial difficulties the last decade of his life, though some began in the mid-Twenties, from which he never entirely recovered, financially.

These factors whittled away ERB's one-time prominence as the king of the adventure pulps. However, Ed Burroughs had learned early in his career that Burroughs unpublished was Burroughs not making a buck. He made minor adjustments to his business practice (writing and selling stories) ever striving to remain profitable. One area where he "eased up" began in the early 1930s; I have little doubt the editors of his various publishing venues often inserted their words and phrases, or chopped whole sections, either to avoid public commentary, or to make the story fit their predetermined formats/lengths. Ed, the author, took it on the chin as long as the revisions were not too outrageous and the initial payments and royalties rolled in.

Some of us tend to forget that the REPRINTS and SECONDARY PUBLICATION RIGHTS were ERB's main bread and butter. I have posted an interesting list/graph of ERB's FIRST magazine publications and the publisher monies paid thereof at Words and Wages. If one adds all those dollars up--though while a considerable sum--that total amount does not constitute sufficient wealth to survive nearly 4 decades of writing, raising a family, divorcing two wives, buying several homes, an airplane, cars out the wazoo (he collected automobiles), dabbling in real estate, a high life-style, nor all the Scotch and cigarettes consumed. Burroughs real income came in form of royalties or licence agreements for reprints of his copyrighted works in various print formats (books, magazines, newspapers) or film, promotion, or advertising use (Trademark TARZAN name recognition on products such as bread, ice cream, or petroleum).

The reprint distributions, for the most part, would ultimately yield more dollars than the initial edition. For example, Tarzan of the Apes paid $700.00 from All-Story. Let us say, for the sake of simplicity (and because we do not have all the publisher paid amounts documented) that ERB earned at least that amount for the McClurg edition. Let us also assume the same amount again for each of the Burt and G&D editions.

For the same amount of work writing Tarzan of the Apes one time in 1912 he might have earned $2,800.00 overall–a number probably low by a significant amount. Add to this book related income the newspaper syndication, at perhaps a fourth of that amount for the comic strip version, a rate which was probably renegotiated annually, times the number of newspapers (at one time 300 or so) and the numbers add up very quickly!

Guess-timating a thirty year gross income of $200,000 for Tarzan of the Apes in print; book, magazine, and newspaper alone, is probably WAY too low. Apply those same numbers to the first 9 Tarzan tales (ignoring all other equally popular and nearly as often reprinted ERB works) and we soon begin to realize that ERB was, at one time, a very wealthy man.

It is interesting to see what was initially paid for his various novels, but one needs to keep a firm eye on all the REPRINTS that Ed negotiated over his career output. The latter is why ERB Inc. ultimately ended up with a potful of monies starting in the 1960s which they have since leveraged (via licence of the Tarzan Trademark) into millions since the author's death. The most recent license is that granted to the Disney company which produced an animated version of Tarzan of the Apes.

What Ed Burroughs did back in 1924, when he incorporated himself under California law was to create a company that had as a resource all of his published works which could continue to extract every dollar possible out his imaginative labors. Burroughs published his own books in later years to maximize the profit possible and the many ERB Inc. first editions and reprints (as they appear) continue to "make a buck" off Ed's "damphool litrachoor!"

Despite some early mismanagement of the company during the first decade after his death, Ed Burroughs' business model for authors was ultimately vindicated during the 1960s when the family-owned corporation finally exercised the company's collective copyrights as regards the company's vast and unique resource: control of the output of one of literature's (and "litrachoor's!) most famous and enduring authors.

I'll bet Ed is sipping a Scotch and smoking a cigarette at a poker table with Dumas, Twain, Howard, and Heinlein right now in Writer's Heaven. He would be feeling mighty proud of what he accomplished, and how he managed to squeeze every dollar possible for producing flights of fantasy for a buck.