The University of Manchester - The University of Manchester Library
First Impressions

Book fairs and booksellers

We often associate technology with speed. Today information in the form of text messaging means that the communication of thoughts and ideas can be almost instantaneous. The technology of the printing press allowed the printed word to reach its audience far more quickly than in the days of manuscripts - in days rather than months or years. Before printing, manuscripts were distributed through networks of scribes, scholars, merchants, and aristocrats, who were often the patrons responsible for commissioning new books.

While manuscripts continued to be produced, read and circulated, the spread of printing increased the number of books in circulation and led to the emergence of book fairs where printers, booksellers, authors and publishers could gather together to trade, barter and show off their new titles. New books were sent across Europe and by 1500 were a regularly-traded commodity. There was a major trade in Latin books imported into England from the major centres of continental printing. Expensive editions, often elaborately decorated, were collected by aristocrats and the gentry; scholars and churchmen were eager to transmit and receive the latest ideas through the medium of print; a rising middle class sought education and entertainment in books; all were keen to take advantage of this new and exciting technology. Great trading centres such as Venice soon had established networks of professional booksellers and bookshops. Print workshops became highly competitive and regularly published lists of the books they currently held in stock.