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Peter Mallory's Blog


By pmallory - Posted on 20 June 2012

15 December 2011

All the orders for both the collector and standard editions have now been shipped, and I believe the various challenges we have encountered delivering to places UPS says don't exist in their computer, places from West Virginia to Slough to Lausanne to Warzawa to Viernheim to Wainoni have now been overcome. (Still don't have yours? Contact me immediately. pmallory@rowingevolution.com)

Now every day I receive wonderful emails and even hand-written letters expressing surprise, delight and profound thanks from around the world. Keep them coming! They all mean so much to me, but I wanted to share with all of you one email in particular. It is from Charles Carroll of Saulsalito, California. He posted the following to a local newsgroup in response to a man named Justus who asked him where he could obtain a copy of "Peter's Masterpiece."

When I was young and trying to write fiction, I wrote the following passage. The background for it is that a young lady has become frustrated with an older man who refuses to be pinned down. In exasperation she asks,

“Well, what then do you believe in? Do you even believe in anything?”

“What do I believe in? I believe in the conversation. I believe in life as a process, a movement from one point to another, a discontinuous, not always regular, stepping forward and stepping aside, stepping backward and forward again. I believe that the conversation is our way of trying to satisfy that old desire to know. We exchange thoughts and experiences, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. This is what I mean by 'the conversation.'

"It is that arduous labor of rediscovering, reproducing, reviving old questions, perhaps even adding new questions, of defining and enlarging upon what has already been said. It is what literature, and in a more general sense Western Tradition itself, is all about.

"My own experience has taught me that the conversation reaches its highest point in what I have come to think of as an exchange of bafflements, that is, when we trade myths and narratives, stories, poems, philosophies, meditations upon questions without answers which must be understood with more than the limited power of the words through which they are conveyed. And it is this kind of story, this dimension of tradition, for which those who write ultimately strive. It is also what makes the writing of one person worth another person’s time.”

Well, Justus, if you made it through the above paragraphs, then let me explain that I think it pretty much describes what Peter has done in The Sport of Rowing. Peter has written a history of a conversation that has taken place over two and a half centuries. The conversation is about rowing, and it is easily the most comprehensive discussion on the sport that I know of.

Peter’s great achievement is that he has let the participants in this conversation speak for themselves. It is really an extraordinary achievement. It is hard to imagine that anyone interested in the sport of rowing would be willing to part with Peter’s book.

Warmest regards,

Charles

Of course, Charles didn't really respond to Justus' original query: Where can I get a copy of "Peter's Masterpiece?" The sad answer is that I have none left. They're gone, and since I also have been asked the very same question for weeks now, I am writing this issue of my newsletter to tell the world exactly why.

They're gone? How could that be?

Most people know that David Halberstam aside, no book about rowing has ever made money. The Sport of Rowing was conceived from the very start as my gift to the world rowing community, and what an expensive gift it has turned out to be! I haveamassed the largest digital archive of rowing films in the world, burned through three laptops and seven long years of my life, innumerable trips across the U.S., several trips to Europe and even a trip to New Zealand, but should anyone feel sorry for me? Oh my, no! Just look at this photo of me rowing with the 1956 Yale Olympic Champion Eight (That's me in the sungllasses amongst Es Esselstyn, Bob Morey, Tom Charlton and Bill Becklean.), and I'm sure you'll believe me when I say I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world!

I have also been surrounded by a group of dedicated volunteers who have helped me turn my dream of a truly great rowing book into reality. About this time a year ago, we got together on a conference call and brainstormed how to pay for the book. We decided that the only way to possibly do it was to pre-sell the entire print runs of both the collector and the standard editions to help pay for the up-front costs for image rights and printing. And that's what we did. It turned out that each edition sold out before a single set was shipped. So far so good.

But as our estimate of image rights went from $10,000 to $20,000 eventually to more than $30,000, it became increasingly evident that it was going to be impossible to pay all the costs to produce the book with just sales proceeds. Someone would have to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Meanwhile, the publisher, River & Rowing Museum, did not have any money in its budget to allocate to printing the book, even considering that a large print run would potentially lead to generous downstream profits for them. And remember that a year ago The Sport of Rowing was still just a figment of my imagination, and since nothing like it had ever succeeded before, nothing like it had ever even been imagined before, making a financial investment or even a charitable contribution to fund such an improbable project was a difficult leap of faith for any sensible person or institution.

Such a realization was actually a liberating experience for my team and me as we continued our brainstorm session with a discussion as to how much we should charge for the collector edition. We seriously considered $500 or even more, and the books have turned out to be well worth it. There is every chance we would still have sold out, certainly by this holiday season of 2011.

But eventually we settled on $295 for four gorgeous volumes full of color illustrations in a beautiful slipcase, each set numbered, dedicated and signed by me. Our decision was to make it as affordable as we possibly could. It was more important to us, it was more important to me, that as many members of the rowing family as possible have the wherewithall to purchase a copy of this book. We were also very grateful that people were willing to pay for something sight-unseen, something that did not yet even exist, and wait more that six months for delivery, and so pricing it as low as we did was our way of saying thanks for the enormous faith so many of you showed in us.

Well, if the collector edition was $295, what should we sell the standard edition for? After a long discussion and weeks of emails, we settled on $95, absurdly low considering that within each soft cover set are the same 2,500 pages of text and color illustrations, but we wanted it affordable, affordable affordable above all other considerations.

As publication drew nearer, the purchase price of the few standard editions left was raised to $125 plus shipping, and to ₤125 in Britain. I have since encouraged the River & Rowing Museum and Richard Way Booksellers, both in Henley, to use their judgement in selling the few standard sets they still have on hand and to charge whatever the market will bear.

Why were so few sets printed?

Altogether 300 limited editions and 500 standard editions were printed. Why not more? Good question. Because even up to today as I write this the printing costs have not been fully covered by our best efforts at fundraising, and my wife and I have had to make up the difference, an amount that is in the tens of thousands of dollars. In order to have printed more, Susan and I would have had to put up even more of our own money, and we believed we had done enough. Still do. Simple as that.

Will there ever be a second printing?

Will there be a second printing? No. Not as long as the first printing is not fully paid for. And no, Susan and I are not willing to provide the up-front costs of a second printing even if we would probably recoup our investment later. Again, we have done enough.

So the answer to Justus' query is no, and I am sad about that. I am also sad that with the exception of the LA84 Foundation, Kent School and St. Andrew's School, no copies are going to school libraries or boathouse collections. So it goes.

To those of you who have your copy, I thank you again for your belief in me, my team and our book, and we wish you months and years of enjoyment and inspiration. To those of you who still desperately want a copy or who desperately want to help the legions of others who also missed out, the American Friends of River & Rowing Museum, a 501(c)(3) organization, is gladly accepting donations. It's tax planning time in the U.S. Consult your CPA. A generous tax-deductible charitable contribution just might shake loose a collector edition or two, a holiday present for you and for the rowing family we are all a part of. Set #1 along with a few others have been set aside for just such a purpose. Contact me directly if you are interested, 310-471-7671, and I'll put you on the list.