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The Influence of Lending Libraries on the Sale of Novels (1884)

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In the past, family members came together every evening, needlework in hand, to read and discuss a few chapters of a book. They occupied themselves with a novel by Paalzow* or Bulwer for eight to 14 days. Even today, we see the after-effects of this, since a very large percentage of the novels that appeared 40 years ago are still being passed around today from one lending-library patron to the next; no lending institute can manage without these works.

A novel absorbed in such a way remains in the consciousness of readers, is passed on from parents to children over generations, to this very day. And isn’t it true that new editions of these novels are still being published in our day? Why then were lending libraries unable to prevent this?

Literary production in those days allowed the reader the leisure of calm enjoyment. If those very same novels that have held their own over 40 years were published today for the first time, they would soon be forgotten or achieve no prominence at all.

Lending libraries that are up-to-date or, to put it better, that meet the demands of their readers, carry those old, established novels, a selection of the best works of recent decades, and the new books of the season, the majority of which can no longer be found in the next catalogue that appears. This also explains the aversion of some authors who search the catalogues in vain, looking for their names. So far, we have hardly found any writers of significance on the opposing side. Important writers know from experience just how much lending libraries have done to spread their reputation among all strata of the population; they know that of the ten editions of their works, barely more than one has gone to lending libraries, and that this one has certainly helped bring about the other nine.

One can readily admit that the circulation of mediocre novels by lending libraries deters the reading public from buying them, but one can hardly reproach libraries for this. We at least prefer to think that [this circumstance is] greatly to their credit.

* Henriette Paalzow (1788–1847), a popular storyteller of the Vormärz [pre-1848] period (Godwie-Castle, 3 vols., 1836), whose writings were among the preferred reading of the Prussian court.

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