The economics of authorship in eighteenth-century Germany and Britain

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The relative backwardness of eighteenth-century German literature and the presumed ambivalence of German writers towards political power have traditionally been explained by the lack of a copyright law in Germany, which meant that German writers, in contrast to their British contemporaries, were often financially dependent on the state. This paper argues that the differences between British and German writers in economic terms have been overstated. British copyright law did not in fact serve the interests of writers to the extent that has traditionally been supposed. In Germany and Britain the situation of writers was determined more by the underlying economics of the publishing trade, especially the high cost of book production, which enabled publishers to pursue monopolistic practices and tilted the tables in favour of publishers and against writers. This argument has further implications for our understanding of the politics of German literature in the late eighteenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-182
JournalPublications of the English Goethe Society
Issue number3
Early online date25 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017


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  • PEGS Prize 2017

    Bell, Matthew (Recipient), 30 May 2018

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)


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