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

university printers

Definition: a printer appointed by a university to publish scholarly texts produced in that university

letterpress printers

Definition: printer specialising in the printing of books.


Definition: 1. person who practises the craft of printing. 2. person or organisation responsible - usually to the publisher - for the printing of a publication.

printers' manuals

Definition: practical book of instruction on the technical side of printing, in which aspects of composing and printing are discussed.

printers' devices

Definition: symbol or figure (emblem, monogram) sometimes with an emblematic representation and/or accompanied by a maxim, used by printers in their publications to identify their company.

map printers

Definition: printer, specialised in the printing of geographical and topographical maps.

art printers

Definition: printer specialised in the printing of plates and prints.

state printers

Definition: printer who is appointed by the government to print the publications of central government.

government printers

Definition: printer employed by a governmental institution taking care of the publication of the official documents that are produced by this institution.

copperplate printers

Definition: printers who, with the help of a copperplate press, make prints of engraved metal plates; for the reproduction of prints and maps.

provincial printers

Definition: printer appointed by a provincial government to publish publications of the provincial government.

town printers

Definition: printer appointed by a town council to print the publications of the local government.

printers to the Provincial States

Definition: printer appointed by the States of a Province in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces to print the publications of the provincial government.