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Where publishing books is more of a calling than a business

The remarkable history of Beacon Press (“A Boston institution looks to the future,” Tuesday Stories, May 5) grew from the principle that publishing books that needed to be published was more important than making a profit. Samuel Eliot, president of the American Unitarian Association for 27 years, set forth that principle: “Books which appeal to the higher instincts . . . do not, as a rule, command a large circulation, and cannot therefore be handled by publishing houses, which are primarily commercial enterprises.”

In 1910 the Unitarian Yearbook reported: “The best books by no means always have the largest sales; . . . four-fifths of the books [published in the last three years] would have not seen the light had they not borne the imprint of the Association.”

When we published “The Pentagon Papers” in 1971, we knew that we would take a huge loss — thousands of pages on how we were drawn into Vietnam would be an important source for researchers but would hardly be a bestseller. We also knew we would face a costly lawsuit from the Nixon administration. We did it because it needed to be done.


Edwin A. Lane

The author was chairman of the Beacon Press board when “The Pentagon Papers” was published.