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Grumpy Old Bookman: Printing money

Michael Allen explains the big bucks behind big books

There has always been big money in publishing. I’ve never seen much of it myself, and you probably won’t either – but it’s interesting to know how it’s earned.

So we’ll start with Sir Walter Scott. In the early nineteenth century Scott was a highly successful novelist, but he was also a partner in a printing firm owned by his friend James Ballantyne. In 1825 this firm went bust. Scott was left with a personal liability for debts which amounted, in present values, to over £9.6 million. He refused the many offers of help and dedicated himself to writing more books at a prodigious rate. By the time of his death in 1832 he had almost paid off the debt, and it was fully discharged shortly after he died.

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