2.2.5: 1585 - 1725 - Co-operation

In the course of the seventeenth century, the co-operation between booksellers, printers and others involved in the production of books changed: besides old institutions such as the guilds or family and religious ties, new forms developed in the latter half of the century which found a place alongside the existing ones. This change was the cause of the unprecedented increase in scale of Dutch book production. A major share of these books was intended for the local market and less for export. Towards the end of the century, local sales decreased and export sales increased. The import of books was small in relation to the number exported and international annual fairs and other old distribution channels remained important until the third quarter of the century. The exchange trade, however, largely disappeared.

The guilds in the seventeenth century cannot be compared with the traditional medieval guilds with their strict rules to protect the market and maintain traditional production methods. The seventeenth-century book printers and booksellers' guild was more of a co-operative that guaranteed business propriety, for example by fighting piracy, by assisting in solving financial conflicts, problems of succession and suchlike.

Family ties played a large role in seventeenth-century society and marital or family ties went hand-in-hand with business ties among printers and booksellers. In the religiously fragmented Netherlands, relationships with others of the same faith also played a role. A Mennonite printer turned to others of the same faith for a loan and a Contra-Remonstrant publisher such as Marten Janszoon Brandt often had his books printed by printers who were just as doctrinally sound as himself.

The relations among publishers and printers can often be seen in imprints: the publisher on the title page, the printer usually to be found at the back of the book in the colophon. This latter became less usual from the middle of the century. There are, for example, less than a dozen books showing the name of the Amsterdam printer Baccamude who worked for all the large publishers and who must have printed hundreds of titles. The relations among publishers became closer as the century progressed. Especially in large editions was the risk shared by publishers working together. Sometimes they shared the impression whereby each had his own title page, but more often we see a series of names and, at the end of the century, a simple indication as 'The Company'. These agreements were entered in notarial contracts down to the tiniest detail. Perhaps just as important as the relationships between publishers themselves, were the relationships between publishers and paper traders. These suppliers of the primary and most expensive raw material of the capital-intensive printing process actually financed most editions by providing credit at a low rate of interest.

We see various types of international co-operation over time. Large, academically-oriented printers such as the Elzeviers had an extensive, detailed international network and sometimes branches in other countries. Co-operation took place with agents who took care of local distribution and carried out all kinds of duties for the Dutch authorities and also acted as brokers in knowledge and books. Use was also made of the network of internationally operating scholars such as Athanasius Kircher. Books were produced in the Netherlands at considerably lower prices than in other countries. This led to the bulk export of, for example, bibles. The Jewish printer and publisher Joseph Athias of Amsterdam and his partner, the Catholic widow Schippers, were specialists in this field. Finally, there were publishers who focused on emigrants: the Huguenots who had fled to the Netherlands published books which were sold to others of their faith throughout Europe.

author: P. Dijstelberge