5.2.10: 1910 - heden - Financing, print-runs and prices

In the early twentieth century, many smaller publishers worked with family capital. Larger firms also brought in external capital. After 1945, large publishing companies came into being, partly quoted on the stock exchange. The larger publishers had always had 'mixed' businesses, for instance books and magazines or books and newspapers. Within the book publishing business, divergent genres were often combined, such as textbooks and general books (as did for instance W.L. & J. Brusse, Meulenhoff and Nijgh & Van Ditmar). Book publishers basically operated at their own costs and risk, often aided by so-called internal subsidies. Popular list segments or titles, such as non-specialist literature, crime novels etc., made it possible to publish books that were not cost-effective, but were nonetheless considered to be important, such as poetry.

In the first decades of the century, print runs were usually limited to a few thousand copies. For popular children's books, novels or much-used schoolbooks, the number could be much higher; for poetry and specialist non-fictional works, the number would be lower. After 1945, the average number of copies per impression rose, sometimes with peaks of many tens of thousands of copies. Both translations of fictional and literary books and original Dutch works could reached very large numbers, sometimes within a short space of time, in other cases because the work of certain authors (A.M. de Jong, Antoon Coolen, the steadfast repertoire of children's books, some classics such as Camera obscura or Max Havelaar) remained in demand for decades.

In the seventies and eighties, bookshops and publishers developed marketing instruments (Book of the Month, Book Top Tens, television promotion, sponsored literary prizes) which focused the attention on a small number of books. In the eighties and nineties this often led to print-runs of over 100,000 copies, both for original Dutch and for translated books.

How was the price of a book determined throughout the years? The making of books required a large number of activities, all of which entailed certain costs. The technical production costs per copy had always been calculated on the basis of the size and appearance of the manuscript (i.e. the font type, type size, line spacing, type area and layout). This amount, multiplied by a certain factor (for instance 4, 5 or 6) would constitute the retail price. The difference had to pay for all other costs, such as editing costs, the publisher's overhead, the author's fee, distribution and the bookshop's cut. And if possible, the publisher was to be left with a net profit as well. In the calculation of costs for, for instance, a novel that would cost 29.50 guilders (about € 13.40) in the shop, the technical production costs would be around 6 guilders (about € 2.70). The author would receive 3 guilders (about € 1.35), the bookseller 12 guilders (€ 5.40) which would leave 6 guilders for all other costs, including the publisher's profit.

This method of calculation made reprints particularly profitable for the publisher. The fixed costs had already been paid for, increasing the profit margin considerably. In the last two decades, financial planning and control in the book business has become much more precise. Internal subsidies have thus been overtaken by the requirement that titles must be able to stand on their own two feet financially.

author: F.D.G. de Glas

Financing, print-runs and prices