3.3.6: 1725 - 1830 - Forms of trading / payment

Barter was still used but no longer in the form of exchanging sheet for sheet. The quality and the size determined the price and books of equivalent value were exchanged. Buying on an annual account came to dominate but did not really differ from exchange in its results if between two equivalent trading partners. This system was disadvantageous to smaller booksellers with few editions because the amount purchased was larger than the amount sold. The difference had to be paid in cash at the annual settlement.

From about 1725 onwards, commission selling began to dominate the domestic book trade. The publisher ran the risk of receiving returned copies of his book damaged at the annual settlement, for some a reason to supply sought after or expensive books only on a firm order.

Larger booksellers who, from the 1740s onwards, took care of distribution for the publishers as main correspondents, supplied the books for the same price as the publisher and were given a discount of 4 to 5%, usually in the form of a free copy for every 20 or 25. Many publishers, however, continued to trade directly with booksellers.

Private buyers also bought on an annual account as is shown from a number of surviving customer books. It is not known whether there were, in addition, customers who could not, or did not wish to, buy on account. Cash was probably paid for cheap printed matter both in the shops and in street trading. Cash payment was also usual for works which appeared on subscription, for editions with a special discount and for books which were lowered in price.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, publishers calculated book prices using a price per sheet. Luchtmans gave a 30% discount on that price in the final settlement. In addition, certain sought-after books were settled `in cash' which may have been `pure' money (i.e. without a discount) or `cash' money (with 10% discount). This settlement in various types of money slowly disappeared in the course of the eighteenth century and a rebate of 20 to 25% was usually given on the retail price. In the case of direct delivery from publisher to bookseller of commission goods a discount applied of 16 to 20%. Street vendors had to purchase their goods for ready cash, but it is not known if they were given a discount.

A fixed retail price had been usual among booksellers from the beginning of the century, brought about, on the one hand, by the large publishers who brought sought-after editions on the market and were therefore in a position of being able to stipulate a fixed price for their publications. On the other hand, many companies entered into agreements about fixed retail prices, thereby stimulating uniform prices. Commission trading may have contributed to the creation of a fixed end price for customers. From about 1725 onwards, booksellers specified the retail prices more and more often in their advertisements obliging them to stick to them. From the late 1730s onwards bibliographies appeared of available books with their prices, from 1790 these were published annually.

Around 1740 the first remainders appeared and in the 1760s remaindering became very popular. Many books entered the remainder circuit through auctions of unbound books. From 1818, a single annual trade sale sufficed which did not offer much of interest. In the latter decades of the eighteenth century, booksellers developed a new strategy to quickly convert large stocks of new publications, remainders and antiquarian books into cash: book lotteries, often combined with valuables.

For booksellers as well as private buyers, cash payment was the rule in the second-hand and antiquarian book trade in as far as it was carried out via public auctions, antiquarian catalogues or street vendors. There was also some experimentation in the antiquarian book trade with the fixed-price sale or 'vente à l'amiable'.

author: H. van Goinga

Forms of trading / payment