4.2.2: 1830 - 1910 - Organisation of a printing / publishing business

The layout and the organisation of the print shop changed as a result of drastic technical changes. The wooden presses, operated by two men, were replaced by steam-driven presses and later by electrically driven presses (including, among others, the platen press), cylinder presses and rotary presses. The introduction of type-setting machines (Linotype en Monotype) also completely changed the printing shop. An increase in the production capacity was combined with a decrease in production time, resulting in an increasing amount of pressure on the relationship between masters and printers. A strongly hierarchical structure still existed in the publishing and printing industries between the owner and the employees and among the employees themselves. The printing industry employed, in addition to the owner (employer), a foreman, trainees, craftsmen, type-setters, printers and correctors. A separate designer did not yet exist. The foreman was, next to the employer, the head of the printing shop to whom obedience was owed. He provided fire and lighting, closed the printing shop and had an overview of all work and equipment. Depending on the size of the printing shop, the organisation was more or less complicated. The increasing number of printers (1850: 175, 1880: 425, 1890: 683 and 1909: 1000) included a mixed company. It varied from the small commercial printing shops with just one or two platen presses, serving in particular the local and regional markets, to shops operating on a national scale and employing several cylinder presses, which were forced to produce a continuous stream of new editions. The printing shops and publishing houses often were family businesses. Here too, the publisher-printers A.W. Sijthoff (Leiden) can be mentioned as an example.

The various tasks in the publishing house, such as bookkeeping, correspondence with authors, engravers, draughtsmen, binders, dispatching the items from the publisher's list, and the storage of paper and list items were still in one hand, but as a firm grew, these tasks were left to several head clerks (bookkeepers). The firm of A.W. Sijthoff employed nine persons in 1851, but this number had risen to 118 by 1890.

The organisation in the publishing house was mainly still a matter of personal insight of the owner in the acceptance of manuscripts, contacts with authors and a good exploitation of list items. The publisher-bookseller learned his trade through experience, especially by working as an apprentice in established firms at home or abroad. The acquisition of new list titles was an important goal of the publisher with new and old, original Dutch or translated titles making up the list. The acquisition of list items took place at list auctions, by acquiring translation rights of foreign titles or by attracting new authors. A good exploitation of the list was achieved not only through diversification in format (see 4.1.4), but also by annual visits to the bookshops, at first by the publisher-bookseller himself, later by agents. On these trips (usually in March/April) the annual accounts over the past year were made up on the basis of the items delivered and returned.

When in the course of this period the modern publisher (without a bookshop) became completely dependent on the sales to retailers, an active and alert attitude became increasingly necessary in a growing market with increasing competition. Using prospectuses, advertisements, shop posters, reviews and premiums, the publishers could bring newly published titles to the attention of retailers and private persons; old titles were exploited again via reissues, price reductions (for retailers as well as for individual customers) or by selling them off at list auctions.

author: B.P.M. Dongelmans

Organisation of a printing / publishing business

antiquarian bookshops

Definition: company trading in prints and old books which are no longer available in the regular bookshop.

general bookshops

Definition: bookshop focusing on a wide, general public, offering fiction as well as general non-fiction.


Definition: business or shop of a bookseller, a company, a chain or a buyers' co-operative.

French bookshops

Definition: term for the 18th-century production and sale of books in French, used to distinguish it from the trade in Latin books which was still predominant in those days.

Dutch bookshops

Definition: term for the 18th-century production and sale of books in Dutch, used to distinguish it from the trade in French and Latin books.

import bookshops

Definition: 1. trading in imported publications. 2. bookshop specialised in the sale of imported publications.

Internet bookshops

Definition: bookshop which offers books for sale on the Internet and sells them to order; without a shop or large stocks, but with the means of transporting books on demand quickly from the publisher to the consumer, making a varied supply possible.

children's bookshops

Definition: bookshop specialised in the sale of children's books.

second-hand bookshops

Definition: bookshop which sells books that have been used before.

women's bookshops

Definition: bookshop specialised in the sale of books on women or written by women.

academic bookshops

Definition: bookshop aimed at providing publications for academic education and research, often for the benefit of specialist institutions in that field.