3.2.10: 1725 - 1830 - Financing, print-runs and prices

The primary form of financing in the book trade continued to be the investment of one's own capital, but funds were also still supplied by the paper merchants in the form of interest-free payments in instalments. Books were sometimes given as a security, thereby involving paper merchants in the book trade. Important merchants who also financed the book trade were usually booklovers or members of the family of publishers.

Interest-free payments in instalments, which had been usual in the book trade since the seventeenth century, gradually made way for cash payments. The booksellers' bonds, with which the large booksellers had in fact financed the book trade, slowly disappeared.

An important way to finance the publication of expensive works was the forming of a company. Booksellers with smaller businesses, who were unable to produce enough titles to exchange on a large scale as rebate was only granted on larger quantities, often pooled their resources and bought jointly in order to auction the books among themselves.

The limited amount of data which is available for the eighteenth century suggests extremely varied print-runs from 250 to 500 for a scientific or literary book to 3000 for popular titles. The print run for 'ordinary' books varied between 750 and 1250. For consumer books such as bibles, psalm books and almanacs or for pamphlets, the figures were considerably higher. Journals had to have a minimum circulation of 500 to be profitable. Some sporadic details on best sellers give higher figures. The print-runs of the first two editions of Jan Wagenaar's Vaderlandsche historie (retail price ƒ 63.- (about € 29.-)) are estimated to have been 5000 to 6000 copies. Johannes Allart produced 6000 copies of the first edition of J. Martinet's Katechismus der natuur (1777).

There is hardly any data available on the print-runs of books intended for the foreign market. The number of copies printed by the Huguetan firm varied between 675 and 2000. Luchtmans usually produced 1000 copies or a little more. In 1748, Elie Luzac and Marc-Michel Rey produced 3300 copies of the Anti-Lucretius by Melchior de Polignac, and in 1761, Rey produced 4000 copies of Rousseau's Nouvelle Héloise.

In the Bibliographie de l'empire français for 1811-1812, the average print-runs for novels appeared to be between 500 and 800 with exceptions for valued authors of up to 1100. The editions of non-specialist works and edifying books were at that time usually higher than for the novel, while journals varied greatly in their circulation figures. In the years under review, the Konst- en letterbode appeared in 425 and 385 copies respectively, the Vaderlandsche letteroefeningen in 1500 and 900 copies resp. and the Boekzaal der geleerde wereld in 1800 and 1600 copies. The print-runs for almanacs appeared, on the other hand, to run into many thousands. The extent to which these numbers were influenced by the troubled times is open to debate. Data from Ten Brink and De Vries for the years 1810-1821 show that the print-runs for their publications varied from 500 to 800, even in the period of recession from 1810 to 1811.

Only rarely is the cost price of books and the calculation of the booksellers' prices mentioned. In brochures and advertisements, figures about the print-run and the price were sometimes given for books published on subscription with an occasional calculation of the cost price. A series of expense calculations over a longer period is to be found in the Luchtmans archive. Paper continued to be the greatest cost item for nearly every publication. The share of paper and printing costs decreased proportionally if there were additional costs for engraving, fees or translation, but the costs per copy increased.

author: H. van Goinga

Financing, print-runs and prices