1.3.5: 1460 - 1585 - Methods of distribution/advertising

The transportation of books took place by wagon or by ship. Although books were a product of little volume and high value, they were heavy and also very vulnerable. In order to protect them against water and other damage, books were transported in bales or barrels. In this form we see them repeatedly pass the toll on the Lek at Schoonhoven. Printed books were sent, as were manuscripts, in gatherings and binding was done at the place of destination. Trading in books over great distances often involved the necessity of transferring them one or more times. In order to counter the problems of transfers in long-distance trade, publishers quickly discovered the advantages of trade centres as a place to set up business. This is one of the explanations for the dominance of Antwerp in the period up to 1585.

Distribution took place at local, regional and international level. Retail trade in the place of residence of the printer-publisher took place in the bookshop attached to the workshop. Colporteurs and hawkers were sent to the smaller towns and villages in the area. Hawkers, incidentally, also played a major role during the time of the Reformation in the dissemination of banned books over long distances as, for example, was shown in the trial of the printer Harman Schinckel of Delft in 1568. The publisher could establish a factor on a more or less permanent basis in towns somewhat further away: leading to the creation of a local bookshop that could separate itself from the parent company after some time. Thus had Geraert Leeu, during the period he was established in Gouda (1477-1484), a sales point in Antwerp at the Minderbroederpoort.

Books produced as stock and offered to an unknown market had to be promoted. In the books themselves the readers were addressed enticingly in a foreword or more often on a title page. The first Dutch-language title page was from Bellaert (1483). Colporteurs and booksellers announced their wares with posters in strategic locations. Such a printed sheet is extant from 1491 by Gheraert Leeu (by then already in Antwerp) for his Melusine. In the course of the sixteenth century it became usual to use a leftover blank page to announce other titles by the same author or on the same theme. The printing of complete publishers' catalogues at the end of books dated from just after this period, but separate publishers' catalogues may have existed before 1585 as can be understood from evidence in neighbouring countries. The oldest (not surviving) known catalogue by Plantin dates from 1566. A catalogue from 1567 has survived of a bookseller from Emden whose activities were mainly aimed at the English market. As publishers-booksellers not only sold their own editions but also those of colleagues, such catalogues often contained works not just from their own lists. Publishers made sure that they personally attended annual fairs to advertise new and intended publications. The correspondence network of humanists and diplomats and other scholars functioned accordingly for scholarly books.

author: K. Goudriaan

Methods of distribution/advertising