3.3.1: 1725 - 1830 - Introduction

There were drastic changes during the period 1725-1830 in the distribution of printed material. The usual form of trading in the previous period had been barter or exchange. From the second quarter of the eighteenth century onwards, this trading in kind was replaced by commission trading. The attractiveness of commission trading for publishers was that their publications were available to the public in a much larger number of bookshops. Smaller booksellers with a modest publishing list of their own were offered the opportunity to build up a wide range of recent titles without running too much risk as that remained with the publisher. Commission trading contributed both to the separation of bookseller and publisher and to the separation of the trade in new and second-hand books (the rise of the antiquarian bookshop).

From the middle of the eighteenth century, the introduction of correspondents represented a change in commission trading. Another innovation was the rise of public auctions, the sale of bound, second-hand books which, unlike the restricted auctions or trade sales, were freely accessible to both bookseller and private individual. In Leiden alone there were 1826 public book auctions in the period 1721-1805.

Another innovation was the sale of publishers' remainders at much reduced prices. A large number of booksellers from Amsterdam, in particular, attempted to get rid of their old stock in this way during the latter half of the century.

A last change was the rise of commercial reading and circulating libraries. In these libraries, which were established in the mid-eighteenth century and were often a sideline for booksellers, books could be borrowed for a modest sum or could be read on the premises.

A great unknown in the distribution was itinerant trading, hawkers in the cities and pedlars in the countryside. Was this a marginal phenomenon? The French authorities counted only 33 hawkers in the years 1811-1812 as opposed to 582 established booksellers. The established booksellers, however, complained bitterly about the hawking of printed material at markets and door-to-door.

The question is how to interpret these changes. For a long time the innovations were seen as the result of the increasing demand for books, but this obvious interpretation may not be the only one: the search for new sales channels could also indicate a stagnating market.

author: J. Brouwer