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American West publisher to move


Bob Clark, Arthur H. Clark Co. president, is the third generation to run  the business. 
 (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Bob Clark, Arthur H. Clark Co. president, is the third generation to run the business. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

A Millwood publishing company with a worldwide reputation for books about the American West has decided to head east, announcing its recent sale to the University of Oklahoma Press.

The Arthur H. Clark Co., in business since 1902, will move to Norman, Okla., this summer and continue to operate as a division within the university’s press, said Robert Clark.

Clark, 57, is the grandson of Arthur H. Clarke, who started the publishing company in Cleveland and focused his efforts on historical accounts of America’s westward growth.

Bob Clark’s father moved the company to California in the 1930s. After his father handed him the business, Clark moved the company in 1989 to the Spokane area from Glendale, Calif.

Clark’s two daughters didn’t care to take over the business, forcing him and his wife, Sheila, to decide whether to carry on the company alone or find a possible buyer.

After more than two years of discussion, the Clarks announced the deal, saying they’re glad that OU Press will carry on the name of the company.

The university is paying more than $300,000 to acquire the company’s booklist and book rights, said Clark.

“In this way, they’ll keep the imprint alive, and our life’s work gets to carry forward with the added resources of their press,” Clark said.

The two and a half years of negotiations had nothing to do with haggling, Clark said. “It’s just a very slow process working with a university,” he said.

While considered one of the major publishers of books and journals about the history of the American West, Arthur H. Clark Co. didn’t generate huge sales. “Small publishing is not a profession in which you make money. There aren’t enough people who buy these kinds of books,” Clark said.

Only two of the company’s five Spokane workers – Clark and his wife – will relocate to Oklahoma. He’ll carry on as director of the Arthur H. Clark group, working on acquiring new works for the university press.

The company’s inventory of 20,000 books will also be hauled to Oklahoma where they will be available for sale to collectors, libraries, researchers and fans of American history.

Among its still-coveted titles are books like “A Matter of Chastity: The High Plains Saga of a Woman’s Revenge” and “Sacagawea’s Child: The Life and Times of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau.”

John Drayton, director of OU Press, said the purchase will benefit Clark by giving him time to focus on acquisitions. “We have our own marketing, sales and editing people, which were things he had to do himself. This will give him the opportunity to devote his energy to what he does well,” Drayton said.

Bob Carriker, a history professor at Gonzaga University, said it’s sad to see Spokane lose a company with the history and stature of Arthur H. Clark Co.

“They were very innovative and creative in being able to sustain themselves,” he said. The company pioneered the selling of series of books themed to topics like the Western fur trade, pioneer diaries and regional interests.

Carriker said the sale at least places the legacy in good hands: “The University of Oklahoma is a good organization for them to be part of.”

The OU Press is one of the largest in the country devoted to Western American books, said Drayton. It has about 1,100 titles still being published.

Even so, the OU Press is a whippersnapper compared with the Clarks’ publishing house. “We were started in 1928, and Bob celebrated his centennial about four years ago,” said Drayton.

Clark said the company has 85 titles currently in print along with a backlist of about 650 books.

 

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