5.0: 1910 - heden - Introduction

In the nineteenth-century Dutch book trade, the printing, publishing and bookselling was often done by the same person. By around 1900, these segments had become independent. The book trade became a professional line of business, in which the various professions formed their own organisations. In 1912, the new Copyright Act created a new basis for the rules regarding intellectual property. In the course of the twentieth century, certain traditions were established in the different fields of book production regarding the contracts between publishers and authors.

In the course of this century, the material form of the book underwent extensive changes. Paper production, printing processes and binding processes became more efficient and cheaper. New book forms appeared such as the pocketbook, the paperback, the loose leaf book and the book in newspaper form. The increase in the number of book publications (original Dutch titles, translated titles and foreign titles, either first editions or re-impressions) developed rapidly. The title production in 1900 (around 3,000 titles) grew to around 6,500 in 1939. After 1945, the title production reached around 15,000 in 1979, peaking a second time, after a lapse, to over 18,000 publications in the mid-nineties. A considerable part of that production was intended for the export market: Dutch titles of course for the Flemish market, but a fair number of foreign-language titles were also produced (after 1945 these were mainly academic publications in English). Within the ever-increasing titles production, a growing diversification of genres took place. Since the turn of the century, three main areas could gradually be distinguished, i.e. the academic book, the schoolbook and the other genres, the so-called general book. The latter segment in particular saw an explosive growth, among other things as a result of the increase in all kinds of genres of popular fiction (crime novels, romance novels, regional novels and science fiction) and non-fictional books (non-specialist literature, hobby books, travel literature etc.). The position of translated books, which after 1945 were mainly books translated from the English, also became much more prominent.

The second half of the twentieth century saw a strong increase in the scale of production, resulting in the establishment from 1965 onwards of large publishing companies. The strong professionalisation of the book trade resulted in the initiatives for new publications in all areas (academic, educational and general books) by the publishers rather than the authors. Rising costs and higher demands from subsidisers and sponsors necessitated a more professional organisation of printers and publishers. The profession turned to other branches to learn how to professionalise company processes and market approaches, and adopted a large amount of English terminology in these areas. Over the last few decades, books have had to contend with competition in the form of new data carriers, such as the computer disks, CD-ROMs and on-line databases.

The distribution chain also saw a rapid development in the twentieth century. The main outlet for books, the bookshop, became more diverse: large or small in size and range, or specialising in certain areas. Other types of outlet were established such as book clubs and direct sales. Besides these channels for the sale of books, there was also an increase in the possibilities for borrowing books. The expansion of the extent to which the authorities took care of culture after the Second World War led to a close-knit national network of library facilities. Especially when in the seventies the public libraries allowed young people to borrow books free of charge, the number of books borrowed from libraries rose sharply and was around six times as large as the number bought.

The strong expansion of the market for books in the twentieth century included both functional reading (for education, study and profession) and recreational reading. The former was a result of the high level of literacy reached at an early stage in the Netherlands and the continued extension of compulsory education. From the thirties onwards, new sections of the population were entering all forms of secondary and vocational education and after 1970, higher education saw an explosive growth. Reading for personal development and recreation was particularly encouraged after 1945 as a result of the gradual increase in wealth and spare time (eight-hour working days, no working on Saturdays), better pensions, the range of inexpensive books on offer and the availability of books for next to nothing in the public libraries. In the first few decades of the twentieth century, until around 1950, books were seen mainly as cultural objects with a special status, usually sold in book stores with noticeable cultural and social barriers. From the fifties onwards, with the arrival of the cheap paperbacks, books increasingly became consumer goods, easily obtainable from walk-in bookshops where customers could choose for themselves from a wide range of new titles.

Despite the continued increase in title production and sales figures in the sixties and seventies, a certain limit to the reading culture began to show in this heyday of the post-war book trade. Empirical research into the purchase, borrowing and reading of books among the Dutch population repeatedly showed that (despite the abundant supply at low prices) around one in three people hardly read any books or none at all and around one in six only rarely. From these years onwards, books also had to fend off increasing competition from other forms of recreation, such as the television. The last decades of the twentieth century saw a certain narrowing of the reading public for general books, with the number of women and the highly-educated growing proportionally. Especially young people, and less-educated young people in particular, increasingly turned away from reading in favour of television and the new media.

author: F.D.G. de Glas