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The rise of the publisher: the transformation of the British book trade 1780-1840

Miraeus lecture, Wednesday 19 February 2014
John Feather

At the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Britain was transformed economically, politically and socially. It became the world’s first industrial economy, and at the same time the world’s leading political and military power. No aspect of British life was unaffected by these profound changes, including the book trade. There were specific changes within the trade – some technical developments in papermaking and printing, increased activity outside London, changes in the understanding of copyright law – but also some wider developments – population growth, increased literacy rates, greater demand for printed matter of all kinds – which enabled some of the more enterprising spirits in the trade to change their businesses. They became more specialised, working for example as wholesalers or distributors rather than combining these with other functions. Above all, this was the period in which the publishing function – the organisation, management and financing of the publication of new books – became a separate and distinctive function.

This lecture will trace these developments, focussing on how the traditional London book trade – introspective, complacent and deeply conservative -was transformed by internal and external pressures to become a publishing industry in the modern sense.


Free entrance
Venue: Nottebohm Hall of the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience
Hendrik Conscienceplein 4
B-2000 Antwerpen
The Miræus Lectures are an initiative of the Flanders Book Historical Society and are supported by the Antwerp Bibliophile Society and the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience.