5.2.2: 1910 - heden - Organisation of a printing/publishing business

Around 1900, publishers (of schoolbooks, academic books and general books) were small to middle-sized businesses, greatly influenced by the director-publisher. He conducted business with a large number of authors, whose manuscripts he 'took into exploitation' by publishing them in book form, offering them to foreign publishers to translate or exploiting them in a different way. In doing so the publisher tried to put his own mark on his list. He created the conditions for the publishing process (taking care of finance, personnel, know-how regarding copyright etc.) and entered into agreements with third parties who took part in the production process. That part could be immaterial such as editing or translating texts or providing illustrations, or material such as typesetting, printing or binding. For the purpose of distribution, the publisher had contacts among wholesalers and booksellers. The larger the company, the more extensive the division of work: editors worked on the manuscripts and numerous administrative employees looked after the correspondence and accounts, much of which was for a long time still done by hand.

The composing and printing rooms housed employees with various specialities: type-setters and printers, lithographers and chemigraphers. The bindery had bookbinders, stitchers and rulers. All these companies also employed many uneducated workers, often young boys and girls.

Publishing and printing developed gradually until the Second World War. In the thirties, attempts were made to introduce modern organisational methods from other industries into the book world, but at that time with little result. The industry suffered during the depression, leading to high unemployment in the trade.

From 1945 onwards, both publishing and printing flourished as a result of a compensating increase in demand. The diffusion of offset printing and the breakthrough of the paperback in the fifties led to overproduction, which in turn led to companies closing down or merging. The increase in scale, which began in the sixties, marked a fundamental change in the book trade. Economic considerations became much more important and a more efficient company organisation was continually pursued. In the composing rooms, new techniques took the place of typesetting by hand and the printing rooms saw faster and better presses. Text editing and all kinds of administrative processes were automated as computers gained ground. In the actual publishing business the initiative for certain publications shifted from author to publisher (a phenomenon which had already been seen in the publication of textbooks, academic books and general non-fictional books). The traditional division of work between the publisher on the one hand (who took the decision to publish) and the marketing people on the other (who were to sell the book) changed. The marketing possibilities of a manuscript were taken into consideration from the outset in the decision of whether or not to publish. The arrival of desktop publishing and 'printing on demand' allowed publishing companies to take on tasks which until then had been the exclusive domain of the typesetters and printers. Technological innovations not only influenced the traditional book; they also led to new data carriers (computer disks, CD-ROMs) and new possibilities in the on-line digital distribution of information. Gradually the publishing company evolved from being a producer of books to a trader in rights.

author: F.D.G. de Glas

Organisation of a printing/publishing business