Olaf Simons

The Production and Consumption of Books in Early Modern England and Germany: A Comparative Analysis of Markets

Intellectual Geography / Tuesday 6 September, 2011

It is not difficult to identify a number of striking structural differences between the German and English book markets in the early modern period. The former was organised through networks of booksellers meeting at annual fairs, while the latter was centred on London, the nation’s capital. The former was influenced by complex religious divisions, the second one far more by ever-shifting frontlines on the battlefield of political confrontations. The former was driven by an academic demand for books, the second far more by a fashionable urban elite discovering the book as an object of prestige and entertainment. Fundamental circumstances differed: cities of 15,000 to 40,000 inhabitants do not offer the anonymity or range of consumption options that a city of half a million can offer. Media develop differently under these conditions. Both markets were on the other hand synchronised, and equally open to imports (most strikingly of Dutch books published in French). I will present statistics that attempt to quantify differences and chart divergent developments within these two distinctive commercial contexts over space and time. I will argue that these differences can only be properly appreciated and understood if they are conceived not as a problem of divergent national literatures, but rather as one of markets. While the physical space of seas and mountains was readily transcended and hence marginal to the constitution of markets, other kinds of geography—of networks, distribution, religion, language, taste, and urbanism—were fundamental to this complex process. Moreover, markets themselves are perhaps best conceived spatially, as ‘places’ in which a certain demand meets its supply.