Bookselling is the commercial trading of books, the retail and distribution end of the publishing process. People who engage in bookselling are called booksellers or bookmen. The founding of libraries in 300 BC stimulated the energies of the Athenian booksellers. In Rome, toward the end of the republic, it became the fashion to have a library, and Roman booksellers carried on a flourishing trade.
The spread of Christianity naturally created a great demand for copies of the Gospels, other sacred books, and later on for missals and other devotional volumes for both church and private use. The modern system of bookselling dates from soon after the introduction of printing. In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries the Low Countries for a time became the chief centre of the bookselling world. Modern book selling has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet. With major websites such as Amazon, eBay, and other big book distributors all offering affiliate programs, book sales have now, more than ever, been put in the hands of the small business owner.
Bookstores (called bookshops in the United Kingdom, Australia and most of the Commonwealth apart from Canada) may be either part of a chain, or local independent bookstores. Stores can range in size offering from several hundred to several hundred thousands of titles. They may be brick-and-mortar stores or internet only stores or a combination of both. Sizes for the larger bookstores exceed half a million titles. Bookstores often sell other printed matter besides books, such as newspapers, magazines and maps; additional product lines may vary enormously, particularly among independent bookstores. Colleges and universities often have their own student bookstore on campus that focuses on providing course textbooks and scholarly books, although some on-campus bookstores are owned by large chains such as WHSmith or Waterstone's in the United Kingdom, or Barnes & Noble College Booksellers in the United States, which is a private firm controlled by the chair of Barnes & Noble.
Another common type of bookstore is the used bookstore or second-hand bookshop which buys and sells used and out-of-print books in a variety of conditions. A range of titles are available in used bookstores, including in print and out of print books. Book collectors tend to frequent used book stores. Large online bookstores offer used books for sale, too. Individuals wishing to sell their used books using online bookstores agree to terms outlined by the bookstore(s): for example, paying the online bookstore(s) a predetermined commission once the books have sold. In Paris, the Bouquinistes are antiquarian and used booksellers who have had outdoor stalls and boxes along both sides of the Seine for hundreds of years, regulated by law since the 1850s and contributing to the scenic ambience of the city.
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Greek and Roman booksellers
In the book of Jeremiah the prophet is represented as dictating to Baruch the scribe, who described the mode in which his book was written. These scribes were the earliest booksellers, and supplied copies as they were demanded. Aristotle possessed a somewhat extensive library, and Plato is recorded to have paid the large sum of one hundred minae for three small treatises of Philolaus the Pythagorean. When the Alexandrian library was founded about 300 BC, various expedients were used for the purpose of procuring books, and this appears to have stimulated the energies of the Athenian booksellers. In Rome, toward the end of the republic, it became the fashion to have a library as part of the household furniture. Roman booksellers carried on a flourishing trade. Their shops (taberna librarii) were chiefly in the Argiletum, and in the Vicus Sandalarius. On the door, or on the side posts, was a list of the books on sale; and Martial, who mentions this also, says that a copy of his First Book of Epigrams might be purchased for five denarii. In the time of Augustus the great booksellers were the Sosii. According to Justinian, a law was passed granting to the scribes the ownership of the material written; this may be the beginnings of the modern law of copyright.
Abbasid Caliphate in the east and Caliphate of Córdoba in the west, encouraged the development of bookshops, copyists, and book dealers across the entire Muslim world, in Islāmic cities such as Damascus, Baghdad, and Córdoba. According to Encyclopædia Britannica:
|“||Scholars and students spent many hours in these bookshop schools reading, examining, and studying available books or purchasing favourite selections for their private libraries. Book dealers traveled to famous bookstores in search of rare manuscripts for purchase and resale to collectors and scholars and thus contributed to the spread of learning. Many such manuscripts found their way to private libraries of famous Muslim scholars such as Avicenna, al-Ghazālī, and al-Fārābī, who in turn made their homes centres of scholarly pursuits for their favourite students.||”|
In 1810 Napoleon created a system by which, a would-be bookseller had to apply for a license (brevet), and supply four references testifying to his morality, and four confirmations of his professional ability to perform the job. All references had to be certified by the local mayor. If the application was accepted, the bookseller would have to swear an oath of loyalty to the régime. The application process was conducted to ensure that the new bookstore was not a place that distributed rebellious publications. The brevet process continued until 1870.
The spread of Christianity naturally created a great demand for copies of the Gospels, other sacred books, and later on for missals and other devotional volumes for both church and private use. Before the Reformation and the introduction of printing, scribes and stationers who sold books formed guilds. Some of these stationers had stations built against the walls of cathedrals. Besides the sworn stationers there were many booksellers in Oxford who were not sworn; for one of the statutes, passed in 1373, expressly states that, in consequence of their presence,
|“||books of great value are sold and carried away from Oxford, the owners of them are cheated, and the sworn stationers are deprived of their lawful business. It was, therefore, enacted that no bookseller except two sworn stationers or their deputies, should sell any book being either his own property or that of another, exceeding half a mark in value, under a pain of imprisonment, or, if the offence was repeated, of forfeiting his trade within the university.||”|
The modern system of bookselling dates from soon after the introduction of printing. The earliest printers were also editors and booksellers; but being unable to sell every copy of the works they printed, they had agents at most of the seats of learning, such as Anton Koberger, who introduced the art of printing into Nuremberg in 1470.
The religious dissensions of the continent, and the Reformation in England under Henry VIII and Edward VI, created a great demand for books; but in England neither monarchs of the Tudor nor Stuart dynasties could easily tolerate a free press, and various efforts were made to curb it.
The first patent for the office of king's printer was granted to Thomas Berthelet by Henry VIII in 1529, but only such books as were first licensed were to be printed. At that time even the purchase or possession of an unlicensed book was a punishable offense. In 1556 the Company of Stationers was incorporated, and very extensive powers were granted in order that obnoxious books might be repressed. In the following reigns the Star Chamber exercised a rather effectual censorship; but, in spite of all precaution, such was the demand for books of a polemical nature, that many were printed abroad and surreptitiously introduced into England.
In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries the Low Countries for a time became the chief centre of the bookselling world, and many of the finest folios and quartos in our libraries bear the names of Jansen, Blauw or Plantin, with the imprint of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden or Antwerp, while the Elzevirs besides other works produced their charming little pocket classics. The southern towns of Douai and Saint-Omer at the same time furnished polemical works in English.
Queen Elizabeth interfered little with books except when they emanated from Roman Catholics, or touched upon her royal prerogatives; and towards the end of her reign, and during that of her successor, James, bookselling flourished. So much had bookselling increased during the Protectorate that, in 1658, was published A Catalogue of the most Vendible Books in England by William London. A bad time immediately followed. Although there were provincial booksellers the centre of the trade was St. Paul's Churchyard. When the Great Fire of London began in 1666 the booksellers put most of their stock in the vaults of the church, where it was destroyed. The Restoration also restored the office of Licenser of the Press, which continued until 1694.
In the first copyright statute, the Statute of Anne (1709), which specially relates to booksellers, it is enacted that, if any person shall think the published price of a book unreasonably high, he may make a complaint to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to certain other persons named, who shall examine his complaint, and if well founded reduce the price; and any bookseller charging more than the price so fixed shall be fined £5 for every copy sold. Apparently this enactment remained a dead letter.
Modern book selling has changed dramatically with the advent of the computer. With major websites such as Amazon, eBay, and other big book distributors all offering affiliate programs, book sales have now, more than ever, been put in the hands of the small business owner. Micro niche sites, as they are called, specialize in selling a particular product through an affiliate program.
Selling and publishing
For later times it is necessary to make a gradual distinction between booksellers, whose trade consists in selling books, either by retail or wholesale, and publishers, whose business involves the production of the books from the author's manuscripts, and who are the intermediaries between author and bookseller, just as the booksellers (in the restricted sense) are intermediaries between the author and publisher and the public. The convenience of this distinction is not impaired by the fact either that a publisher is also a wholesale bookseller, or that a still more recent development in publishing started a reaction to some extent in the way of amalgamating the two functions. The scheme of The Times Book Club (started in 1905) was, again, a combination of a subscription library with the business of bookselling and it brought the organization of a newspaper, with all its means of achieving publicity, into the work of promoting the sale of books, in a way which practically introduced a new factor into the bookselling business.
During the 19th century it remains the fact that the distinction between publisher and bookseller—literary promoter and shopkeeper—became fundamental. The booksellers, as such, were engaged either in wholesale bookselling, or in the retail, the old or second-hand (now includes rare and very old books trade, called antiquarian books), and the periodicals publishing or retailing trades.
Coming between the publisher and the retail bookseller is the important distributing agency of the wholesale bookseller. It is to him that the retailer looks for his miscellaneous supplies, as it is simply impossible for him to stock one-half of the books published. In Paternoster Row, London, which has for over a hundred years been the centre of this industry, may be seen the collectors from the shops of the retail booksellers, busily engaged in obtaining the books ordered by the book-buying public. It is also through these agencies that the country bookseller obtains his miscellaneous supplies. At the leading house in this department of bookselling almost any book can be found, or information obtained concerning it. At one of these establishments over 1,000,000 books are constantly kept in stock. It is here that the publisher calls first on showing or "subscribing" a new book, a critical process, for by the number thus subscribed the fate of a book is sometimes determined.
What may be termed the third partner in publishing and its ramification is the retail bookseller; and to protect his interests there was established in 1890 a London booksellers' society, which had for its object the restriction of discounts to 25%, and also to arrange prices generally and control all details connected with the trade. The society a few years afterwards widened its field of operations so as to include the whole of the United Kingdom, and its designation then became "The Associated Booksellers of Great Britain and Ireland."
Bookselling in the United States
The history of bookselling in the United States is of special interest. The Spanish settlements drew away from the old country much of its enterprise and best talent, and the presses of Mexico and other cities teemed with publications mostly of a religious character, but many others, especially linguistic and historical, were also published. Bookselling in the United States was of a somewhat later growth, although printing and bookselling was introduced into Cambridge, Massachusetts, as early as 1640 by Hezekiah Usher and by Usher in 1652 in Boston. Bookselling was happening in Philadelphia in 1685, and New York in 1693. Franklin had served to make the trade illustrious, yet few persons were engaged in it at the commencement of the 19th century. Books chiefly for scholars and libraries were imported from Europe; but after the War of 1812 printing-presses multiplied rapidly, and with the spread of newspapers and education there also arose a demand for books, and publishers set to work to secure the advantages offered by the wide field of English literature, the whole of which they had the liberty of reaping free of all cost beyond that of production. The works of Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Moore, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and indeed of every author of note, were reprinted without the smallest payment to author or proprietor. Half the names of the authors in the so-called "American" catalogue of books printed between 1820 and 1852 are British. By this means the works of the best authors were brought to the doors of all classes in the cheapest variety of forms. In consequence of the Civil War, the high price of labour, and the restrictive duties laid on in order to protect native industry, coupled with the frequent intercourse with England, a great change took place, and American publishers and booksellers, while there was still no international copyright, made liberal offers for early sheets of new publications. Boston, New York and Philadelphia still retained their old supremacy as bookselling centres. Meanwhile, the distinct publishing business also grew, until gradually the conditions of business became assimilated to those of Europe.
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- History of the book
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References and sources
- Brown, Richard & Brett, Stanley. The London Bookshop. Pinner, Middlesex: Private Libraries Association, 1977 ISBN 0-900002-23-9
- Chambers, David. English Country Bookshops. Pinner, Middlesex: Private Libraries Association, 2010 ISBN 978-0-900002-18-2
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bookselling". Encyclopædia Britannica 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 233–235.
- "education", Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008, retrieved 2008-09-30
- Lyons, Martyn (2009). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications. pp. 144–146. ISBN 978-1-60606-083-4.
- Chisholm 1911.
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