Printed plays formed a very small part of the book trade. Relatively
few plays got into print. They did not sell in large numbers, and
were not particularly profitable. The companies of players were
not necessarily reluctant to have their plays printed, but the
uncertainty of profits may well have deterred publishers. The dramatists
themselves were unlikely to make money from the printing of their
plays. There was no law of copyright to protect their interests.
Once a manuscript play had been sold to a publisher, and he had
paid for its approval and licensing for printing, he had sole rights
over the work.
Several of Shakespeare’s plays, including Richard II and Richard
III, were popular enough to be printed in several editions. From 1598,
with Love’s Labour’s Lost, his name began to be added to
their title-pages as a selling point. Scholars have long held that Shakespeare
had no interest in the printing of his plays, but this is now being challenged.