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ntil about 1850, printing costs were sufficiently high that new works of fiction were published in short runs (editions), generally for lending libraries (who for purposes of broader circulation favoured the format of the triple-decker or three-volume novel). The abolition of the stamp tax in 1855 together with the removal of taxes on advertising in 1853 and of excise taxes on paper in 1861 paved the way for the economical production of high-volume serials and penny newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph (1855). Prior to the Victorian period, daily newspapers were limited to runs of five thousand, but by the time of the Great Exhibition at mid-century the new presses of a daily newspaper such as the Times could produce eight times that number in a mere four hours, and the type-setting machines of the seventies effected even greater volumes and better quality, at less cost. Another technological change that brought the costs of high-volume publication down markedly over the nineteenth century was the improved chemical processes developed over the sixties and seventies to overcome the rag shortage, so that domestic production increased from roughly 11,000 tons in 1800 to 100,000 tons by 1861. The result was not merely better paper, but cheaper paper, so that over the course of the nineteenth century prices dropped for 1 s. 6d. per pound "to three farthings, with the proportional cost of paper in publications falling from two-thirds to under one-tenth" (Webb 207). Then, too,

As costly methods of reproducing drawings, etchings, and engravings yielded to cheaper photomechanical techniques, illustrations became increasingly accessible, in color as well as in black and white, and in daily as well as weekly and monthly doses. Publishers provided the public with a proliferation of illustrated fiction in one-volume hardcovers and periodical serials, which were beginning to drive out the shilling monthly parts and the three-decker novel. (Cohen 229)

By the close of the 1850s, almost all quality British fiction was published by seven firms, the majority of whom were located in London: Chapman and Hall, Bradbury and Evans (publishers of the popular magazine Punch), Macmillan's, Longman's, Richard Bentley, George Smith and Alexander Elder (publishers of the Cornhill Magazine and The Pall Mall Gazette), and the long-established Edinburgh firm of Blackwood's, which had been publishing Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine since 1817. From 1821 until its serialisation of Conrad's Lord Jim in 1900, it was a purveyor of novels by first-rate writers, including Bulwer-Lytton and George Eliot. In 1859 as a result of changing technologies and increasing standards of public education, no less than one hundred and fifteen periodicals debuted in London alone. When the illustrated shilling magazines such as the Cornhill hit the market, the still- unillustrated Blackwood's began to look rather dowdy, and its circulation tumbled from 10,000 to 3,000. This proliferation of periodicals, the direct result of a burgeoning market of middle-class readers, was unprecedented: for example, by 1865, 554 periodicals and 1271 newspapers, which were also consumers of short fiction, were circulating in Great Britain, according to Alvar Ellegård in The Readership of the Periodical Press in Mid-Victorian Britain (1957). However, not all new writers, even in this sellers' market, could make money easily:

Unknown authors could be victimized by "payment against profits" schemes that left them owing money to the publisher even if the book were moderately successful. Among the firms that were willing to take chances — but often did not serve their authors well—were Tinsley Brothers . . . and T. C. Newby (Wuthering Heights). (Dean 654)

Related Material


Cox, R. G. "The Reviews and Magazines." From Dickens to Hardy. The New Pelican Guide to English Literature, ed. Boris Ford. Vol. 6. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958, rpt. 1983. Pp. 182-97.

Dean, Dennis R. "Publishing and Publishers." The Victorian Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York & London: Garland, 1988. 652-54.

Last modified 15 March 2008