Why Are Books Expensive in the 1800s?

were books expensive in the 1800s

During the 1800s, the cost of books was very high. The rise of paperbacks and piracy had a huge impact on the price of books. And, the introduction of the Universal-Bibliothek and circulating libraries also helped to reduce the cost of books. Lastly, the invention of the steam engine helped to bring books to a wider audience.


Despite being a staple of the reading public, paperbacks were not cheap. While the average book cost a hefty three shillings, periodicals were priced at one d or two shillings. However, as literacy rates soared, and average wages went up, the demand for reading material increased. And it was not just books that were on the rise. Agricultural and industrial revolutions also helped fuel the book business.

Paperbacks of the modern era are not as rare as they once were, but they are still an affordable option to the average consumer. Most countries have at least one large-scale paperback house, and many have more than one. In some cases, big publishers have ventured out on their own to produce books in non-traditional formats.

Serialised fiction

During the 19th century, serialised fiction was a very popular form of publishing. It was cheaper than full novels, and publishers enjoyed greater profits. This form of publishing was largely discontinued after World War II. However, it is coming back in new forms.

Serialised fiction was initially published in newspapers and periodicals. Many acclaimed authors wrote their works in this format, including Henry James, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Traditionally, serialised novels were published in magazines, but they have also been published on various platforms such as the Kindle Vella and Kindlevella. As publishers continue to look for ways to make their fiction more accessible to the masses, there is a renewed interest in serialized fiction.

Serialized fiction became popular during the 19th century, thanks to Charles Dickens’ work. His novel The Pickwick Papers was originally published as part serial format. Thousands of copies of the novel sold in just a single month. The Pickwick Papers is a story about an elderly gentleman who travels in the British countryside. It features wit and commentary.


During the 18th century, pirated British novels were reprinted in America without permission. The publishers knew that the novels would sell well in the New World. Their agents were eager to be the first to market a legal American edition of the work.

However, in order to achieve this, the publishers had to engage in a form of literary theft. The reprinters would reproduce the books with the original author’s name, but would not pay the author.

As the rights holders sought to expand the legal definition of “piracy,” they were successful in broadening the definition of the “pirate.” They defined “piracy” as any act they did not like. This definition has become the standard, but the word “pirate” itself does not indicate that the activity is legal.

Reclams Universal-Bibliothek

Among German book publishers, Reclam’s Universal-Bibliothek stands out. These are the slim paperbacks that fill the shelves of German libraries. The company’s flagship series is a collection of literary classics published on budget paper.

The company has had a long and varied history. In fact, it’s been around for more than a century and a half. It was founded in 1828 by Anton Philipp Reclam in Leipzig. After World War II, the company was split into two independent companies. Today, it’s located in Ditzingen, near Stuttgart.

The company’s flagship Universal-Bibliothek series is the biggest paperback series in Germany. Approximately 3,500 titles are available in the series. The best selling item in the series is the Wilhelm Tell, a novel by Friedrich Schiller that has sold 5.4 million copies.

Circulating libraries

During the nineteenth century, circulating libraries were not only popular, but also affordable. For a fee, a subscriber could borrow a certain number of volumes from a library. This allowed the borrower to read hundreds of books for less than the cost of buying the books.

The circulating library was also a social center. In addition to lending books, it often featured “reading rooms” where patrons could read aloud to an audience. This was highly efficient and was strongly encouraged.

The average three-volume novel cost a guinea in the 1815s. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the average price dropped significantly. This was because it became cheaper for the middle class to buy books. The circulating library’s profits were based on two main sources: fines for late or damaged books, and deals with publishers.