3.3.5: 1725 - 1830 - Methods of distribution / advertising

Transportation of books usually took place by way of canal boat which was inexpensive. Publishers also made use of newspaper agents or postmasters for the distribution of their publications. Ambulant traders such as pedlars supplied town and country with printed material. In larger towns, hawkers, in co-operation with established booksellers, played an important role in the distribution of printed material. In the last few decades of the eighteenth century, a number of large, festive, book lotteries, mainly of Dutch-language books, were organised in which booksellers could convert a major part of their stock into cash.

In towns with a booksellers' guild, auctioning of unbound books was only permitted to local booksellers. However, early in the eighteenth century, trade sales were organised outside the book trading centres where any bookseller could buy and sell. In the second half of the century such auctions, which were held almost every year, were concentrated in the vicinity of the book trade metropolis, Amsterdam, and in The Hague for the trade in foreign books. From the 1740s onwards, material bought in these auctions was regularly remaindered.

In addition to direct delivery to the booksellers, publishers, in the second half of the century, made use of main correspondents for distribution purposes. Towards the end of the century the central position of the main correspondents in Amsterdam in the national distribution network becomes more and more clear and during the nineteenth century, nearly all distribution took place via these Amsterdam correspondents. The principals received their orders via their main correspondent in Amsterdam who also took care of the distribution of their publications.

The range in the bookshops could be enlarged due to the rise of commission selling which was used in particular for the sale of novelties, with the exception of rare and fragile works. From the mid-century, co-operatives of specialised booksellers emerged for the distribution of novelties. Distribution monopolies where a bookseller obtained the exclusive right to distribute an edition appear to have been rare in the Republic.

Information on the availability of editions appeared by way of advertisements in newspapers, periodicals and prospectuses which informed both bookseller and public about new editions, subscription projects, the supply of older books at reduced prices and also auctions. A rapid growth can be seen from 1720 onwards in the number of booksellers' advertisements. In the late 1730s various bibliographies appeared of new books and lists of books available with the retail price for private individuals, initially at irregular intervals and then, from 1790 to 1832, on a monthly basis.

The range of books that could be provided by individual booksellers was made known through publisher's catalogues and stock catalogues and by stock lists at the back of books (and sometimes at the front). In 1750 two new organisation forms appeared which made reading without buying possible on a larger scale: the commercial circulating library and the private reading society. The lending library holders published catalogues showing the retail prices of the books, partly with a view to sale so that the circulating library catalogues also served as catalogues of books in stock.

Antiquarian and second-hand books were distributed via bookshops and public auctions. The public were informed of what was on offer through stock catalogues and auction catalogues. The former initially contained both old and new titles but, around 1750, a number of booksellers changed to publishing separate catalogues with prices for their antiquarian books. This marked the beginning of the separation of the distribution channels for old and new books.

Booksellers mostly kept to the prices set by the publishers. Price was used as an advertising instrument for special offers and subscriptions. Many books appeared in instalments which were relatively cheap with the intention of coaxing more potential buyers into buying them. Diversification in the appearance of books and the associated price differences were also used to reach more than one segment of the market.

author: H. van Goinga

Methods of distribution / advertising