Bestsellers in the Pre-Industrial Age

Scientific meeting

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Begins on: Thursday 23 May 2019.
Ends on: Friday 24 May 2019.
Location: Glasgow
Bestsellers, TV series, spin-offs, fan fiction, are all deeply embedded in our perception of literary consumer culture today. Yet the notion of a bestseller with spin-offs is a very old one indeed. The consolidation of the printing press in the Renaissance led to the first major re-assessment of the book as an object of ‘mass’ consumption. Lower production costs, paired with a rise of literacy levels, brought more books to an ever-growing reading public. Printers and publishers devised marketing strategies to meet demand, such as serialisation and branding, the creation of abridgements and illustrated editions, spin-offs and games inspired by the most successful texts. Foreign and ancient texts were re-packaged in translation or alongside new commentaries. Bestsellers catered for all types of readers, or indeed users, with oral transmission playing an important part in the dissemination of texts.
While individual aspects of this production cycle have been explored – from popular print to the concept of a literary sequel, marketing strategies and readers’ reactions – there has been no attempt to investigate bestsellers as a phenomenon in the round. This conference takes a holistic approach by combining approaches to the materiality of the book, the economics of trade, and the socio-cultural factors behind bestsellers into a single interpretive perspective with the study of authorship, literary production and translation theories.
Related keywords: book trade, community of readers, economic history, economy of printing