2.2.10: 1585 - 1725 - Financing, print-runs and prices

During this period as well, a major role was to be played by the paper traders in the financing of printed matter. Paper was very expensive and although printer-publishers necessarily ordered small quantities at a time, many were in debt to their paper supplier as can be shown, for example, by the list of creditors made up in the event of a publisher's bankruptcy. In joint ventures between publishers and printers, the wealthiest publisher sometimes also acted as a supplier of paper as well and, in return, would receive part of the print run from the printer.

Many publications were brought about with borrowed money. The problem was that the turnover rate of books at that time was generally very low: decades after their publication books could be found in the bookshop in sheets, i.e. as new. An investment was repaid very slowly causing the problem of a long-term interest burden and the rental of warehouses.

If an edition had to be financed with one's own capital, publishers could try to limit the risk of piracy through protection by way of a privilege (which, incidentally, also cost money), by sharing the edition with a colleague, by forming a larger joint venture (a company), by ensuring the support - alone or together with an author - of a patron or of the authorities (in return for the dedication of the book to the person or authority in question), by having an author or translator provide the finances or through publication by subscription.

There is little information about print-runs due to a lack of publishers' archives. The print-runs for different categories of printed matter obviously differed enormously. Fewer copies of a beautifully illustrated and therefore expensive folio edition would be printed than of a schoolbook or an almanac. If a publisher wished to provide quality, the print-run could not be too large as the type, but especially the copperplate, would show signs of wear. Copperplates could, however, be refurbished. An average print-run in the seventeenth century amounted to about 1000 to 1500 copies: longer production times meant higher interest charges for the loans taken out. If a publisher knew for certain that a book would do well, he could consider a larger print-run which was cheaper than having to compose a new issue after only a short time.

The prices for printing were, of course, dependent on production costs, especially paper costs and the wages of translators, compositors, correctors, printers, engravers, gatherers and collators. Account had to be taken of additional costs for freight, privileges, the production of an index and suchlike. Something is known of this due to price specifications in a number of stock lists and warehouse catalogues. Around 1600 and in 1628, the price for books without illustrations on good paper appeared to be about half a stiver (about € 0.01) per sheet. This price could be lowered - certainly in reissues after printed copy - by using lesser quality paper and inferior woodcuts in larger print-runs, as was the case in much of the so-called popular literature. The price per sheet could in this way be reduced to a quarter stiver. These are nearly always minimum prices for booksellers for unbound books; discounts were only given to colleagues who paid cash. Consumer prices were 20-40% higher, certainly for bound books, but whether prices were higher or varied in towns other than those where production took place or in the country due to, for example, transport costs is not clear.

author: P.J. Verkruijsse

Financing, print-runs and prices