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

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Among Berlin’s lending institutes, only the Nicolaische Buchhandlung* [Nicolai Bookstore] acquires new publications in greater numbers than Last. Of all the other lending libraries in Berlin, barely 300 purchase new volumes from the press at all; these acquisitions, however, are mainly limited to new publications by recognized authors, and only rarely do they put up more than one copy of any work.

Are these few hundred copies of a book really supposed to destroy all desire to buy? – “Yes,” we hear the argument, “the lending librarian is able to satisfy a thousand readers with one copy!” Oh, if those dear gentlemen would only once look at a book that has passed through just 50 hands, and then decide whether it is still usable. In the case of many works printed in recent years, 20 readers often suffice to render further use impossible.

Authors, publishers, booksellers, and lending librarians all work together in the service of literature; so why the discord? The disadvantage of one cannot be the advantage of the other. Friendly cooperation, however, may help the author’s claim to royalties against the lending librarian succeed.**

* As a lending library, it went under the name F. Borstell.
** After 1882, the Allgemeine Deutsche Schriftstellerverband [General German Authors’ Association] discussed the introduction of a charge for lending libraries to compensate for the commercial use of intellectual property. As a representative of lending libraries, Albert Last agreed to such a subsidization of authors in principle, but the ensuing media controversy about the relevant provisions failed to produce a concrete result.

Source: Albert Last, Der Einfluß der Leihbibliotheken auf den Roman-Absatz [The Influence of Lending Libraries on the Sale of Novels], in Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel [Financial Newspaper for the German Book Trade] 51/162 (1884): pp. 3246-49.

Original German text reprinted in Max Bucher, Werner Hal, Georg Jäger, and Reinhard Wittmann, eds., Realismus und Gründerzeit. Manifest und Dokument zur deutschen Literatur 1848-1880 [Realism and the Founding Era: Public Statements and Report on German Literature 1848-1880] 2 vols., vol. 2, Manifeste und Dokumente [Public Statements and Reports]. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 1975, pp. 669-71.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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