book price differentiation in early-modern England

Book size and binding type significantly differentiated books in early-modern England.  Book sizes varied by paper size and extent of folding to form multiple book pages.  Common paper sizes were called post, crown, foolscap, and pot; other paper sizes were Imperial, Royal, and demy.  Folding of the paper produced, depending on the extent of folding, folios, quartos, octavos, duodecimos, 16mo, 24mo, 32mo, 48mo, and 64mo.  The largest book sizes were huge: the Imperial folio (30 x 22 inches) and the Royal folio (20 x 12.5 inches).  The smallest books were tiny: the 64mo was 1 5/8 x 1 inches.[1]  Because paper cost was a significant component of book cost, the book price depended significantly on the book size.

Bindings also varied considerably.  Binding prices varied with the size of the book.  In 1669, binding prices for a Bible varied from 1 shilling for Bibles in 12mo and 24mo to 12 shillings for large, folio-sized Bibles.  Binding prices also varied with the quality of the binding.  Standard binding types for binding a quarto Bible varied from 1.5 shilling for a binding with ovals to 5 shillings for a binding with “edges extraordinary.”[2]  In 1785 an English bookseller offered a one-volume edition of Shakespeare in seven bindings with the book price varying from 15 shillings (bound in boards) to 63 shillings (bound in tortoiseshell).[3]  Different sizes for such a volume would imply even greater price differentiation.

The reduction in prices for books over the past four centuries has occurred in conjunction with a reduction in price differentiation for instances of a particular work.  Electronic books could separate books from physical objects and eliminate book-attribute price differentiation. However, most books are bought for the psychic value of purchasing rather than being actually read.  Moreover, the book industry is likely to reap higher revenue with more book price differentiation.  Those two factors create incentives to bind electronic works to price-differentiated objects that offer different perceived experiences of possession.

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[1] For a brief note on early-modern English book sizes and formats, see Stuart Bennett, Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles 1660-1800 (Oak Knoll Press, 2004) p. 168.

[2] See book-binding prices in 1669.

[3] Bennett (2004), cited above, p. 8.


2 thoughts on “book price differentiation in early-modern England”

  1. Hello Douglas,
    Thanks for your two Gooogle spreadsheets, especially this. Also, thanks for drawing attention and upload Edward Derring’s Book of Expenses.

  2. *attention to, and uploading. I mean. Goofed up while trying to concentrate on the HTML tags. 😛

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