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E. W. Cole
Businessman, Publisher, Freethinker
aka 'Cole of the Book Arcade'

E.W.COLE OF THE BOOK ARCADE
Last week we mentioned E.W.Cole of the Book Arcade. Just a little more background on this remarkable Melbournian. Some articles refer to him as a remarkable salesman. This is not true – Cole was a shy man not suited to face-to-face sales. However, he was a remarkable marketer. He could be called the father of marketing in Melbourne. We mentioned the full-page advertisement he took out to promote his new book arcade. He also used the sane tactic to find a wife – a full-page ad in the Herald complete with detailed position description and his reasons for choosing this approach to finding a wife. Cole knew the value of brand marketing long before the term had been invented and created a striking rainbow motif (a century before the Nike swoosh) with which he branded his products. He would purchase large print over-runs from England and elsewhere, print his own cover (complete with rainbow) and sell them at cheap prices in his bookstore. In fact he really invented the concept of the remaindered bookstore in Melbourne. His book arcade was always full of colour, motion, entertainment and activity. You could watch the costumed jugglers, buy food and drink, or find a quiet corner to curl up with a book.

But all the time he was a man with a message. His Coles Funny Picture Books contains ideas that were quite subversive. His attitudes on religion, racism, social organisation and many other things were all politically incorrect at the time, but he managed to give it all a humorous sugar coating that enabled them to creep under the defences of otherwise closed-minded people. If you get a chance to pick up a copy of Coles Funny Picture Book at a fair or market, check to see when the particular edition was published. His family took over the business and the publishing, and over the years Coles ideas were bowdlerised and watered down. It is interesting to watch how by the later 20th century the descendents are finding Cole’s attitudes too radical and start to water them down with unfunny politically correct views from the present. I sometimes wander through Melbourne having conversations with E.W.Cole. “Tell me Mr Cole, what do you think about traders wanting buskers removed form the Bourke Street Mall during peak trading season?” “Great idea my boy. They should do what I did – invite them into their store. I had all sorts of performers in my Indian Bazaar in Howey Place. The crowds came in and usually went out with a few books.” “But things are different now Mr Cole. Book stores are facing competition from large overseas chains like Borders.” “Nonsense son. Bring them on. If local bookstores have had all that time to establish themselves and can’t compete with a few foreigners they shouldn’t be in the business. I could beat them on price, I could beat them on atmosphere, I could beat them on profitability and I could beat them on customer loyalty. If it has the rainbow on it, they will buy it. Some of your current day bookstores have made themselves a refuge for po-faced women from the middle suburbs who don’t want to deal with real life but want to live in an imaginary world pretending to be real life but expressing only a limited range of views. That’s not what a bookstore should be. Books are fun – books are for everyone –and books should expose people to new ways of thinking, not just reinforce their current attitudes. Darwinism my boy. Let me tell you I was pilloried for mentioning Darwin’s ideas in my day, but I got away with it and changed some thinking along the way. And I believe in retail Darwinism – the best adapted will survive.” “What about the protesters in the Mall, Mr Cole. Many of them are expressing unfashionable views. You must have some empathy with them.” “Not all of them my boy. You see, it is one thing to make yourself feel good by confronting people and repeating pre-prepared opinions. But that usually only hardens people in their current thinking. I am interested in changing people’s thinking rather than feeling self-righteous. That’s why I created the Funny Picture Book. Now tell me more about this Internet thing son, I think it may have some real possibilities.”

If you see someone wandering past Howey Place in intense discussion with an invisible stranger, it’s probably E.W.Cole and me.

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