4.3.5: 1830 - 1910 - Methods of distribution/advertising

In the nineteenth century, reading material could be obtained in numerous ways. Besides buying in the shop, in the street, at one's front door, or directly from the publisher via a subscription to a serial publication, reading matter could be found in commercial libraries, 'reading museums' and reading circles. The libraries were associated with a bookshop, or were set up by a charity or Sunday school. Readers paid a certain sum per year by means of a subscription and/or an amount per book borrowed. The reading museum was another word for a reading room, where books could be read on the spot. Especially at the beginning of the nineteenth century, reading circles were a frequently used supplier of literature, and thus an important sales outlet for the publishers. The reading circles, founded by the 'better class public', mainly ordered novels and magazines. In the course of the first half of the nineteenth century auctions began to appear of what we would now call remainders. Some traders specialised in buying up dead stock. The Englishman B.S. Nayler was involved in this and thus cleared the path for the ascent of the traders in second-hand books D. Bolle, Gebr. Koster and Gebr. Cohen, precursors of De Slegte.

The nineteenth century is a period in which advertising of books greatly increased. Publishers who produced for a mass market, such as Gebr. Diederichs, A.W. Sijthoff or Gebr. Koster, did not adjust their supply to the demand, but created the demand themselves, by means of advertising campaigns, premium gifts or other means of attracting customers. As more and more booksellers purchased books on credit, and therefore had to share in the risk of a new publication, it was also necessary to market books with a fair amount of noise, so that success seemed to be guaranteed. Books were often published on a subscription basis. In this way the interested consumer, in a manner of speaking, subsidised the book being created, and the publisher knew more or less exactly the print run figure. Subscribers received small advantages varying from a discount on the total price to a gift, or merely the announcement that the book would be available only through subscription. It is noteworthy that books that had to be subscribed to were often published in instalments that had not yet been written at the time of subscription. For many customers buying a whole book at once was too expensive. The instalments could be picked up for 50 cents (€ 0.23) or 1 guilder (€ 0.45) per week or per month at the bookshop where the subscription had been taken out. If one takes the trouble to calculate how much the book had cost in the end, one will see that publications in instalments were actually quite expensive. Door-to-door salesmen were often used to show the first instalment to the inhabitants of the most remote villages to lure them, by means of a premium or a lottery number, into subscribing to the entire book. Such a premium could be a book or a subscription, or a reproduction of a well-known painting. The lottery number gave the subscriber a chance to win a wall clock or a set of furniture. Publishing by subscription seems to have decreased at the end of the nineteenth century, but this aspect needs to be studied in greater depth. The religious, and especially the Protestant, book had its own distribution channels through the Sunday schools, Bible societies and book clubs.

In newspapers and magazines the 'recently published' from the beginning of the nineteenth century can be seen to change into loud texts, with many recommendations by well-known persons and financial advantages for those who ordered quickly. Besides advertising space in newspapers and magazines, the book trade made use of so-called shop posters (bills), prospectuses, circular letters, list catalogues, premiums and lotteries. Any book worthy of the name in the nineteenth century was accompanied by an advertising prospectus containing not only information on the book, but also the terms of delivery and sometimes a prepublication.

author: L. Kuitert

Methods of distribution/advertising