Aspects of the Victorian Book
  Production   Publishing
Queen Victoria  

British Publishing 1800-1900

The communications industry, of which publishing and printing was the most important part in the nineteenth century, accelerated the processes of economic, social and cultural change by dramatically increasing the volume and speed with which information, news and entertainment flowed through society. The Victorian period saw the emergence of the publisher as a dominant force within the book trade, with a keen eye for marketing opportunities and strategies, and an increasingly professional approach to author-publisher relations.

The Publishers' Circular was one of the major trade journals of the time. In every fortnightly issue it listed the new (and some reprinted) titles of the last fourteen days. The graph below represents titles, and not numbers of copies. As the century progressed certain titles would have been produced in very large numbers (for instance, school text books, bibles, popular novels). The sudden rise of title production around the early 1850s was due to a number of factors: the Great Exhibition, the death of Wellington, the start of the Crimean war and various religious controversies.

Titles Listed in the 'Publishers' Circular' 1840-1901


Monthly Title Production

The first graph shows the monthly percentage share of books listed in an early nineteenth century trade journal, Bent's Monthly Literary Advertiser. Between 1824 and 1839 the most important period for book production was the traditional Spring season (March-April). During the1840s and 1850s October-December became more important, with the invention of Christmas as a marketing opportunity. The second graph shows how predominant the Christmas book season had become by the end of the nineteenth century. Both indicate that the summer season (June-August) was a low point in title production.

Titles Listed by Month in 'Bents' 1824-1859

Titles Listed by Month in the 'Publisher's' Circular 1880-1899


The Subject Profile of Books

Subject listings in the Bibliotheca Londinensis for the period 1814 to 1846 show a predominance of traditional subjects, in particular religion with over 20% of all titles. Geography, travel, history and biography (GTHB) were also of great importance (17.3%) and larger than ‘Fiction and Juvenile’ works (16.2%); ‘Poetry and Drama’ represented no less than 7.6% of total titles. By the 1890s the mix of subjects was very different. Religion's share had been more than halved, GTHB had shrunk to 11.7%. ‘Fiction and Juvenile’ now towered over all other categories with 31.5%; in contrast ‘Poetry and Drama’ had shrunk to 4.3%. ‘Miscellaneous’ has increased because books were being published on a much wider range of subjects which did not fit into the old-fashioned classification system still being used by some of the trade journals.


Subject Categories in 'Blbliotheca Londinensis' (1814-46) and 'Publisher's' Circular (1890-99)

[Key:GTHB=Geography, travel, history, biography; ASMI=Arts, science, mathematics, illustrated books; PSEMN=Politics, sociology, economics, military, naval; LPB=Logic, philosophy, belles-lettres]

Book Prices 1811-1895

Until 1825 most books listed by Bent's Monthly Literary Advertiser were classed as expensive; medium prices dominated in 1835 and 1845, and it was only in 1855 that books at 3s. 6d. or under formed the largest category. The figures from The Bookseller show that the period 1858-1895, on the other hand, was dominated by books at 3s. 6d. or under. All these were cover prices. Before 1828, and between 1852 and the 1890s, books were not subject to retail price maintenance, and buyers could expect up to 3d in the shilling discount. However, even a discounted 3s. 6d. represented a significant proportion of a working class family's weekly disposable income. It is likely that for most of the period books had to be priced in pennies rather than shillings if they were to be bought regularly by members of the working class.

Price Structure in 'Bent's' 1811-1855


Price Structure in the 'Bookseller' 1858-1895


Newspapers and Periodicals 1801-1901

In the early years of the 19th century newspapers were taxed in order to keep them expensive, and thus out of the hands of the potentially revolutionary lower classes. The tax took the form of a stamp duty, paid and recorded on every copy. Despite the tax, newspaper sales continued to rise, reaching a peak during the climax to the Napoleonic wars; they were given a further boost in 1836 by the reduction of duty to 1d. With the repeal of the newspaper stamp duty in 1855 information about the number of copies sold ceased, and all we are left with is a list of the number of titles of newspapers and magazines per year between 1865-1901. Although books were an important feature of the period, it was clear that the real success story, in terms of sales, readership and profit, was cheap newspapers and magazines.


Stamp Duty on Newspapers 1801-1849

Newspaper and Magazine Titles in Existence 1864-1901

Simon Eliot

Illustration: Queen Victoria by the photographer J.J.E. Mayall, from the opening issue of The Queen, 7 Sept. 1861. Colindale


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