5.3.7: 1910 - heden - Foreign trade

In the course of the twentieth century, the trade balance with other countries improved gradually. At the beginning of the century, there was a limited amount of export from the Netherlands. Whilst the imports continued to increase, the Netherlands managed to regain its position in international academic publishing, especially after the Second World War.

The import book trade had since the last quarter of the nineteenth century been in the hand of just a few specialist importers who were mainly specialists in a certain language area, for instance Feikema Caarelsen and Nilsson & Lamm for French and Italian and J.G. Robbers and Kirberger & Kesper for English. There was, however, also a division in the nature of the material, to the extent that one importer (N.V. Van Ditmar's Newspaper Import and Kiosk Company) traded almost all newspapers and magazines. The larger bookshops bought their books directly from foreign publishers. Dutch publishers saw importers as competition and they were not allowed to join the Koninklijke Nederlandse Uitgeversbond (Royal Netherlands Publishers' Union).

The international orientation of the Netherlands in the period between the wars also included the book trade. Popular fiction in particular was imported, which, in the twenties and thirties, led to the fear that these books, of a 'lesser literary quality' would be unfair competition for the Dutch book trade, which was already suffering as a result of overproduction.

After the Second World War, during which only books from Germany had been imported, the imports increased again. The annual book fairs (Frankfurter Buchmesse) and international trade fairs played an important part, with the trade in books increasingly making way for the trade in rights. Exhibitions of English books in particular were organised to stimulate export from the participating countries and to re-establish contacts with the rest of the world. English books, which had already been gaining an advantage over French and German books, flourished as never before. This was true for both fiction and academic books. Besides bookshops which exclusively sold English books (in the Randstad urban area), almost all bookshops in the Netherlands offered a considerable range of English books. In the early nineties, the importance of the export market (the Netherlands imported the largest number of English book per capita) led to a phenomenon called the 'early export paperback'. By publishing an early paperback edition of a new British or American novel in the Netherlands, foreign publishers tried to skim the market before the Dutch translation was published. At the end of the century, Nilsson & Lamm and Nijgh & Van Ditmar were the two largest importers.

With the exception of Flanders, there was no significant export market for Dutch books (as an overseas territory the Dutch East Indies did not count as an export market). There was one, however, for non-Dutch academic books. At the end of the nineteenth century, the international academic publishing business was showing signs of recovery, with companies such as Nijhoff, Brill and Sijthoff. In the twentieth century, especially after the Second World War, it grew strongly, with Elsevier, Mouton, North-Holland Publishing Company, Rodopi, etc. At the end of the century Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer were among the top academic publishing companies in the world, but only a small percentage of their production took place in the Netherlands.

Besides academic publishing houses, international academic bookshops also flourished after the Second World War. As they were known for their international orientation, many foreign institutional customers bought from Dutch international bookshops; Houtschild, Nijhoff International, Erasmus, Nedbook and others were active all over the world.

author: A.H. van der Weel

Foreign trade

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.