graphic Shakespeare and the Book

Publishers, Printers, and the Printed Book
Publisher and Editor Dedications

1.4 Beaumont and Fletcher Folio, The Stationer to the Readers, (1647): 

Although authors and companies are now associated most often with plays, the physical forms of these plays were decisively shaped by early modern printers and publishers. Printers and publishers belonged to the Stationers' Company, the guild of those active in the book trade-printers, booksellers, book binders, clasp-makers, etc. Printers physically manufactured books: the compositors in a print shop set type that workers at the shop's printing press (or presses) then inked and impressed onto paper. Publishers, on the other hand, paid for books to be produced, speculating on their future profitability: they acquired a book's text (a manuscript play typically cost about £2), covered its pre-publication legal fees and Stationers' Company fees (an outlay of about 10d.), provided printers with paper for the book, paid the printers to produce several hundred copies, and then sold the finished, unbound books to other stationers and directly to customers. If a book sold well, publishers reaped the profits, but if it sold poorly, they were left with a loss. Unlike today's publishers, however, no stationers in early seventeenth-century England only published books. Instead, publishers were typically printers or booksellers-stationers who sold books in a retail shop-or even a combination of the two.

The following sections explore some of the different ways that printers and publishers shaped the appearance and presentation of printed plays. Because publishers had the greatest financial stake in a book's success, they generally determined the content of title pages, the dominant mode of book advertising in the period. In addition, like authors, they wrote dedications and addresses to the readers, epistles that often reveal important information about the production and distribution of plays in the period. These stationers also affected the layouts of printed plays, commissioning commendatory verses from poets and inserting advertisements for other books at the end of plays. Printers, moreover, determined the quality of a play's printed text and the book's overall physical appearance. In short, early modern printed plays were the products of a wide range of individuals, but especially of printers and publishers.

Images: Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Technology: Columbia Center for New Media Teaching & Learning