Books: The Prophet's Profits

In 1916, Alfred A. Knopf, then 23 and a newcomer to the book-publishing business, was introduced to a Lebanese artist-poet in a Greenwich Village cafe. Knopf had never heard of Kahlil Gibran, but his young publishing firm needed authors, and during the next four years he published three Gibran books; all sold dismally. The Prophet, brought out in 1923, did slightly better.

Of a rather ambitious first printing of 2,000, Knopf managed to sell 1,159 copies, and with that, presumably exhausted the market for Gibran.

To Knopf's surprise, the demand for The Prophet doubled...

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