5.3.6: 1910 - heden - Forms of trading/payment

Around 1900 there were two ways in which publishers did business with booksellers. One was for the publisher to send books on consignment to the bookseller, who then sold them on a commission basis. The other was for the bookseller to buy titles at his own risk. Gradually standards were set for the bookseller's cut of the retail price: for schoolbooks 30%, for academic books 25% and for general books 40%. In actual fact it was more complicated than that, because there were various discounts for the text block on the one hand and the bookbinding on the other hand. The discounts were also partly paid in kind, for instance if a bookseller bought twelve copies, the thirteenth was free (this was called the '13/12 premium').

Traditionally there was a clear difference in interest between publishers and booksellers in the system of discounts given. The booksellers also had to contend with the unfair competition from all kind of pseudo-booksellers and the fact that publishers were free to give extra discounts to third parties. In 1924 the Reglement voor het verkeersrecht in den Nederlandschen boekhandel (Regulation for trade law in the Dutch book trade) laid down the principle of the fixed book price. This regulation was based on four pillars:

(1) a final price determined by the publisher (with very little discount allowed);

(2) a term of four years during which the publishers had to maintain that price;

(3) a list of recognised booksellers who were allowed to trade books;

(4) its own arbitration authority within the Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels, to monitor the adherence to these rules, the Trade Commission.

Publishers retained the right to negotiate discounts with the booksellers. They also continued to come to individual agreements regarding credit, payment terms and the so-called right of return (the right to send back unsold copies after a certain period of time). In 1918, a bound book in the fiction genre costs around 2 guilders (about € 0.90), a sewn book around 1.75 guilders (about € 0.80); children's books were a little cheaper, non-fictional books a bit more expensive. Until 1940, these prices only rose marginally.

After the Second World War, the increase in scale and competition spelt changes to the way in which business was done and payments were made. The bookshops limited the traditional customer service of sending prospectuses and books on approval. Besides the self-service in the shops, cash payments also became commonplace. Under pressure from the publishers, the Regulation was amended so that cheap books (below a certain price) could be sold in other places as well, at first in book stands in stations, later in museums, hotels and other types of outlet. In 1961 the fixed-price term was reduced from three years to two and the book block and bookbinding discount was replaced by a 'flat' discount percentage. Book prices rose steadily in the period after the war to an average of 15 to 20 guilders (about € 8.-). The dispute between publishers and booksellers over discount percentages flared up again in the eighties and nineties, when the publishing business experienced 'horizontal' concentrations (publishers merging with publishers). In reply, booksellers merged as well (in large bookshop chains such as AKO or Bruna or independent co-operation forms such as LIBRIS, Parnassus/Apostrof) in order to be able to obtain larger discounts.

author: F.D.G. de Glas

Forms of trading/payment