Rietje van Vliet on “Print and Public in Europe 1600-1800”

Eliot, Simon, and Jonathan Rose, eds. A Companion to the History of the Book. Oxford/Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007. Z4 C73 2007; ISBN 978-1-4051-2765-3.

The rise of the print industry:
This chapter is framed by the claim that while bookstores – with title page advertisements on the windows and shelves full of unbound books (in folio, quarto, octavos, and duodecimos) – remained the same throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, the book industry was growing and changing rapidly. This change occurred unevenly due to “the extend of urbanization, the Church’s influence, and the sovereign’s ambitions.”  In the sixteenth century Venice was the center of the publication market, but that transitioned to Spain, and then Russia due to religious censorship. By the eighteenth century the Dutch Republic was the largest player in the international book trade due to its “political structure, enormous economic growth, excellent commercial relations, comparatively broad religious tolerance, and the presence of trade and investment capital.” However in 1750, The French government under the rule of Louis XV loosened their censorship restrictions to allow for the publishing industry to become economically competitive. At the same time, under Fredrick the Great Berlin also grew to become the center of scholarly publishing. The sheer volume of books published in Germany was well ahead of the rest of Europe in “1755, there were just 1,231 titles. in 1775; there were 2,025 titles; and by 1795 the number had risen to 3,368 titles.”
The changing economy of the print industry:
The system of trade also shifted during this period. First, the rise in commission selling in which publishers sent retailers books on commission made it possible to get more new titles in more frequently. Also, up until this point it was custom to have payments made in printed sheets of the same value, so printers were generally also publishers. However, that tradition gradually changed to booksellers being publishers who contracted out their printing to countries with lower salaries and cheaper paper and ink. In fact, between 1751 and 1825 only 13.7% of publisher-booksellers did their own printing.
The role of the writer:
Pushing away from the tradition of dedicating their texts to a patron in order to receive remuneration for their work, writers began to seek publication rights in the seventeenth century. Up until this point publishers were free to do whatever they saw fit with copies of a text within their geographical boundaries. This created a system of piracy, that in many cases was supported by the governing bodies. In some ways piracy prevented “monopolies, inadequate distribution, and high prices,” however it also caused writers who intended to live off of their writing to begin negotiating with publishers to ensure they had control over their work. This led some writers to print their work at their own expense, or join together to establish collective printing companies.
The audience:
In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jurgen Habermas defines the public sphere as “the medium by means of which private persons can debate in public. In doing so, they make use of a rich array of cultural media: reading societies, literary societies, learned societies, libraries, theaters, museums, coffee houses, salons, and so on. Free debate could happen orally, of course, but also in books, newspapers, and other periodicals.” The demand for these printed public forums spread with the rapidly increasing literacy rate. It is difficult for scholars to give accurate numbers in regards to literacy rates in this period, but it is certain that they varied between countries, and that there were disparities between men and women, Catholics and Protestants. Yet, based on the volume and diversity of titles publishes, sociologists claim that the second half of the eighteenth century was a reading revolution, especially in Germany, France, England, and Italy – all countries included in the Republic of Letters. It was also at this time that new genres entered the market, such as novels, encyclopedias, scholarly journals, and popular magazines. And new circulating libraries reached new demographics, including the middle and lower classes. instead on a small portion of the population re-reading a few books intensely with the intention of memorization, a large portion of the population read books, magazines, and newspapers extensively. By the end of the eighteenth century every European country was familiar with a wide range of periodicals in the fields of fashion, literature, music, theater, and the fine arts, as well as having access to journals dedicated to special interests such as educational theory, technology, or physics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *