2.2.2: 1585 - 1725 - Organisation of a printing / publishing business

During the Golden Age there was still no strict distinction between the activities of publisher, printer, bookbinder and bookseller. Nevertheless, it can be observed that producers of books did not always have their own press and can be considered to be publishers. On the other hand, there were printers who printed (almost) exclusively for publishers and other printer-publishers. The separation of functions is shown from a publisher's address on the title page and mention of the printer in the colophon. Specialised artwork printers and map printers often only had an engraving press. The list of one who exclusively publishes often looks more specialised (religious works for a particular denomination; popular literature; editions of classical texts; maps and atlases; music books) than that of printers who had to keep their presses running no matter what. Binderies could be associated with every type of company (many printer-publishers began their careers as binders) and small printers in particular sometimes had the most varied sidelines, such as trading in spirits and seeds.

A printer-publisher's company required a large investment in accommodation (workshop and/or shop, often equipped with a suitable shop sign or plaque), one or more presses and other printing materials, but especially paper, warehouse rental and labour. Printing presses were not especially expensive: at the end of the seventeenth century, the price for a new press is quoted as 140 guilders (about € 64.-). Good paper, on the other hand, was expensive: a substantial folio volume with engravings printed on one of these cheap presses, cost no less than 18 guilders (about € 8.-). Inventory lists show that many printers owed money to paper traders. The high price of paper often forced printers to co-operate with a publisher who was given part of the edition in exchange for supplying the required paper. Marriages between the sons and daughters of book producers were good for co-operation and often led to flourishing family firms and publisher's dynasties.

The role played by the publisher in the production of books is by no means always clear. He sometimes went looking for copy, sometimes authors or translators came to him to sell their products, sometimes he worked for his own account, another time he might ask money from an author or government body, sometimes he would protect himself against financial risks by working on a subscription basis, by participating in a company or by applying for privileges. Some printers attempted to maintain a fixed relationship with a government body in the form of an appointment as State printer, provincial printer or town printer or with a prestigious institution such as a university (academy printer), the Amsterdam theatre, the Admiralty, an illustrious school or the Council of State. A special position was held in this period by the United East Indies Company (VOC) which appointed special printers, not only in the Netherlands, but also in Batavia.

Depending on the size of the company, many people could be involved in the activities of a printing shop from copy through to the bound book. After a publisher had accepted the copy of an author and (possibly in consultation with the author) the typographical design had been determined, then ideally the following people would be involved in the production process: a compositor, for illustrated books an engraver or woodcutter, a layout man, an ink maker, someone to prepare the paper (paper had to be moistened before it could be printed), two printers-inkers who operated the press together, a corrector, a paper finisher (the printed sheets had to be dried and flattened), a distributor to distribute the composition from the formes which had been used back into the type cases, a gatherer who gathered together copies from the printed stacks, a collationer who checked whether the gathered copies were complete and, finally, a binder who bound a copy at the request of a customer.

author: P.J. Verkruijsse

Organisation of a printing / publishing business