1.3.1: 1460 - 1585 - Introduction

The art of printing, which facilitated the production of a number of copies of a text considerably, influenced the distribution of the book. Printers preferred to establish themselves near trading routes for reasons related to the supply of paper; as booksellers they were even more oriented towards the trading centres. A region was, after all, often too small to be able to sell an edition. Thus, as early as the late fifteenth century, Antwerp was the primary production and distribution centre, a role which would be taken over a century later by the trading towns in the Northern Netherlands. In the meantime there was a lively trade across the borders where large annual fairs and, from the sixteenth century onwards, the Frankfurt Book Fair played a major role. All this involved large transports of books which, as other moisture-sensitive wares, were packed in barrels.

Other book trade channels were those of colportage and street trading while administrative bodies, churches, and schools also circulated their own publications. The ecclesiastical libraries and city libraries seldom lent books and were yet of minor importance in the distribution of the book.

This distribution network gave the books a wide range, even in difficult times. When during the Reformation and the uprising against Spain the trading routes became blocked and the dissemination of many publications was forbidden, books still continued to find their way to the readers.

The printers and publishers gradually developed marketing strategies for this new mass product. The attractive title page appeared and the first prospectuses were distributed. After an uncertain start, supply was matched as well as possible to demand which appeared to be primarily for theological works followed at some distance by classical texts and schoolbooks.

author: W. Heijting