A Literary Tour de France
Booksellers / Literary Demand

Because it did such a large business as a wholesaler in addition to its activities as a publisher, the STN corresponded with booksellers in virtually every city and large town in France.  It supplied many of them with books.  But its commercial relations were irregular and uneven.  Many retailers, enticed by the titles they found in the STN’s catalogues, which it distributed regularly through the mail, ordered a dozen or so volumes but rarely or never renewed their orders.  Having tested the STN’s service, they decided they could get more favorable conditions or more rapid shipments from other suppliers, usually those located closer to their shops.  Their isolated orders cannot be taken as an indication of the general character of their business, nor can the small number of copies they ordered serve as a measure of the diffusion of individual works.  For a reliable view of the book trade, it is necessary to study the dossiers of dealers who established fairly close relations with the STN and ordered regularly from it.

Trusted relations between wholesalers and retailers took time to develop.  The STN had one or two regular customers in some towns and none at all in others, depending on how its commercial ties evolved.  The survey of the book trade conducted by the French state in 1764 and the Almanach de la librairie of 1781 give exhaustive information about the booksellers in all French towns.  If compared with the list of the STN’s correspondents town by town, they show that the STN’s trade did not extend evenly everywhere.  (For background information, including the survey of 1764 and the Almanach de la librairie, follow the links attached to the sections on booksellers and on towns in this website.)  But when it did establish firm ties with particular booksellers, the STN’s commercial activities reveal a great deal about supply and demand.  The letters of those booksellers can be mined for reliable statistics and for inside information about the way the book trade actually operated.  Although most of them kept to the formal style of business letters, many contain personal details and reveal a great deal about the human element in the trade.

After studying all of the letters from all of the booksellers who corresponded with the STN, I have selected the following sample of the richest dossiers.  They complement the diary and correspondence of Favarger, because the booksellers were located at key points along his itinerary.   As explained in the linked essay on Sources and Methods, they can be taken, with some reservations, to represent the trade in all of France during the two decades before the Revolution.

Literary Demand

Explanation of original sources and methods used for compiling these statistics

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Books most in demand (including STN editions)

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Books most in demand (excluding STN editions)

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View statistics on all book orders across all booksellers

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