3.2.3: 1725 - 1830 - Relationship between publisher and author

The relationship between the publisher and the author had always been an area of tension where first one and then the other party dominated. Equality, at least in a legal sense, was only attained with the codification of the copyright act in 1817. Before this, the publisher-printer had copyright either through inheritance or by buying it directly from the author, although there were a few exceptions such as some Leiden professors. The author had to be content with the honour and a few author's copies. Only a hack or translator as, for instance, Jacob Campo Weyerman received a modest fee by way of a one-time payment.

In 1722, the young poet Hubert Korneliszoon Poot was the first to openly resist this situation in a principled polemic against his Rotterdam publisher, Arnold Willis. Poot claimed the moral right of a writer to his brainchild. In 1731, the playwright Pieter Langendijk demanded that the theatre governors paid him part of the proceeds from his plays instead of the usual complimentary seats.

An author could, of course, himself pay for the printing of his work, certainly when no publisher dared venture it, as for example Weyerman did in the case of a number of 'scandalous' verses. It was safer for an impecunious author to find an individual or collective sponsor who would be praised with a dedication ode and copy. Such patronage, however, still quite common in the seventeenth century, was no longer usual after 1750, perhaps because both provider and recipient of the funds felt more and more ill at ease.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the roles were gradually reversed as the artistic self-awareness of the author grew. Depending on their social position, poets such as Jacobus Bellamy, Rhijnvis Feith and Willem Bilderdijk in particular had more and more outspoken views about the publication of their work and often considered the printer-publisher to be only an exploiter of their ideas. No greater nuisance as far as this was concerned than the scrupulous Hieronymus van Alphen, who, to the despair of his publisher J.G. van Terveen of Utrecht, continued to refuse to enter into a formal copyright contract for his successful (and therefore often reprinted) children's poems.

Commercially oriented publishers such as Johannes Allart of Amsterdam ('books are as good as money but money is better') took advantage of the changing positions of power by flattering their authors with all kinds of empty promises.

On the other hand, in the last decades of the eighteenth century, we see how star authors such as Betje Wolff and Aagje Deken built up a friendly relationship with their publishers Isaac van Cleef in The Hague and the widow J. Dóll of Amsterdam. At the same time, Betje Wolff and Aagje Deken, reduced to poverty after 1795, were forced to conclude bitterly that friendship did not guarantee timely payment of their agreed translator's fee. When it came down to it, the publisher continued to hold the purse strings.

author: P.J. Buijnsters

Relationship between publisher and author