1.2.3: 1460 - 1585 - Relationship between publisher and author

Fifteenth century printer-publishers attached hardly any importance to the maintenance of relations with (potential) authors. Printing enabled an ever larger public to have much sought-after texts within reach than had ever been possible with manuscripts. The publishers took advantage of this and initially published mainly old titles, especially classical texts, so that there were hardly any authors with whom to maintain a relationship. Between 1470 and 1480, the market was overwhelmed with these 'safe' titles and it was time to produce new titles.

The first Dutch printers whose names are known to us became active during these years. We see them to some extent emphasising first editions and less well-known works. The publishing of these works required an effort which needed the involvement of specialists: scholars who could introduce the right texts and then prepare them for publication and possibly apply corrections during printing. The humanist Willem Hees was perhaps active in this way on behalf of Ketelaer and De Leempt of Utrecht. It was particularly in this role of editor or corrector that authors entered the world of publishers. In the sixteenth century the importance of these positions increased, especially in the larger companies. At Plantin's, scholars such as Cornelis Kiliaen and Justus Lipsius even held key positions. Often, however, authors had no opportunity to correct their work unless they lived close to the printer. Even rarer are cases where the author had any influence on the design of a book.

In general, for printer-publishers the relationship with the institutions with whom authors were associated (schools, universities, ecclesiastical bodies) were more important than the relationship with the authors themselves. In towns with a grammar school this formed the basis for co-operation between the learned schoolmasters and the printers of schoolbooks. In Deventer the headmaster, Alexander Hegius, even lodged with the printer, Richard Pafraet.

The payment occasionally received by authors in the sixteenth century - a few copies of the book and sometimes some money - should not be compared to the modern fee where the term 'intellectual property' plays a role. The current idea of copyright, on which this term is based, did not yet exist. The first authors who had direct contact with a printer-publisher for the publication of their text could not claim any rights from their achievement. They were, after all, also unable to claim exclusive rights to the copies of their manuscripts which could be copied by whoever wished to do so. They were, however, able to fall back on the system of patronage where a dedication to a patron in the preliminaries of a book offered the prospect of financial compensation. The authors considered this to be more honourable than selling their manuscripts to a printer.

In time, the rise of printing contributed to a fundamental change in the position of the author. In the sixteenth century, however, not much changed. Sought-after authors could insist on a generous quantity of complimentary copies with which they could approach their patrons. If an author was less well-known, he could be confronted with a request to buy part of the edition. Only after the mid-sixteenth century did the position of authors gradually become somewhat stronger.

author: W. Heijting

Relationship between publisher and author