The three preceding chapters have addressed the creation of statutory copyright law, the rise of fair use case law, and the establishment of fixed-duration copyright terms (respectively) in eighteenth-century England. By extracting structured data from the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online database and the English Short Title Catalogue, these studies have used computational methods to assess a series of scholarly arguments about the ways each of these watershed moments in copyright history transformed the English book market. The results of this analysis may be summarized rather concisely.

In the first place, the foregoing analysis suggests that the decentralization of the British book trade began not with the introduction of statutory copyright, as previous scholars have suggested, but rather with the lapse of the licensing act in 1679, which allowed London printers to relocate to small towns throughout Britain. Alongside the growth of printing outside of London there arose an increasingly robust book trade concentrated in Dublin and Edinburgh dedicated to reprinting works that had already been successful in London. This reprint trade was granted more expansive copyright protections by the rise of fair use law in the middle of the century, and reprint rates continued their slow linear increase throughout the period. After the Donaldson v. Beckett (1774) case, however, London printers were able to reprint popular older works for which they did not hold the copyright, which allowed London printers to seize control of an even greater share of the book market. This landmark case failed to produce a revolution in reprint book prices, however, as printers in Dublin and Edinburgh had been steadily growing a reprint trade throughout the course of the century.

While assembling the elements of this narrative in the analysis above, we also uncovered a number of insights into the mechanics by which readers and publishers segmented the book market. Works of high literature such as poetry, satire, and librettos occupied the most expensive tranches of the market, while psalms, dictionaries, and fiction were among the cheapest, suggesting that the early novel struggled to achieve the stature that drama and poetry had long possessed in England. While genre is an important determinant in the price of a book, however, much more variance in book pricing can be explained by a small handful of other variables, with book length and format chief among them. Pricing was also highly stratified by printer location, with Dublin publishers leading the production of cheaper quality imprints with fewer images, more condensed text, and weaker impressions in smaller and more affordable formats. Additionally, normalized book prices kept pace with inflation across the course of the century, and even the cheapest books were increasingly printed in more luxurious editions with less cramped pages.

As we have noted in the preceding chapters, many of these observations put pressure on a number of arguments scholars previously endorsed. While these specific insights help advance the study of the early English book market, however, the chief ambition of this project is to demonstrate that computational analysis offers a wide range of ways to advance book history more broadly. By testing extant historical claims with both open source and vendor-curated databases, this study has attempted to show that analyzing massive digital archives gives us new evidence with which to re-evaluate extant hypotheses on the early history of print culture.

While the preceding chapters have sketched some of the possible applications of computational analysis within the study of the early book market, however, they have left much more work untouched. To help address these opportunities, the following section outlines a number of ways future scholars can elaborate upon the foundations established above in future work.

Opportunities for Future Research

One limitation of the present study is the fact that the body of research presented above begins with the introduction of statutory copyright in 1710. Comprehending the relationship between copyright law and the early book market, however, requires a broader analysis of the press regulations instituted by English monarchs since the introduction of printing in the fifteenth century.1 Fearing the proliferation of factious printing, King Henry VIII declared in 1538 that “sondry contentious and sinyster opinyon[s], have by wronge teachynge and naughtye printed bokes, encreaced and growen within this his realme of Englande” [Lowenstein 8]. To curtail the publication of these “naughtye printed bokes,” Henry outlawed the printing of any work “without his majesties speciall licence” [Lowenstein 8]. A printer who received his majesty’s licence for an edition was required to print “Cum privilegio regali” on that edition’s title page, as illustrated by the following examples (click to enlarge):

Each of the early English title pages above includes the "cum privilegio" statement required by King Henry VIII's 1538 regulation of the press. Little is known, however, about the kinds of works that did not include this royal sanction. From left to right, the titles above depict Eucharius Roeslin's 1540 Byrth of Mankynde [S116014], an anonymous 1541 Byble in Englyshe [S121975], John Amner's 1615 Sacred Hymnes [S122343], and Robert Baron's 1627 Disputatio Theologica [S100958].

While the title pages above proudly display the king’s approval with “cum privilegio” statements, however, many early English titles did not display these statements, despite the royal edict.2 Little is known, however, about the kinds of works that were published with or without royal permission in this early period, or about the ways early restrictions on printing influenced large-scale patterns in the publishing industry more broadly. Using computational methods will allow future researchers to begin asking these questions, and to thereby extend the historical scope of the present study to account for the legal dynamics of the pre-copyright era.

Another limitation of the present study is the fact that the analysis above focuses almost exclusively on publishing trends within Britain, and excludes any analysis of the relationship between printers in Britain and other countries. Perhaps the most significant omission in this regard is the lack of analysis on the relationship between printers in Britain and colonial America. Many scholars have suggested that early American printers relied heavily on the British press to provide them with successful works that could be reprinted in the colonies, which were not hampered by British copyright laws [Ochoa 919]. Shortly after the Virginia Gazette reprinted a selection from Daniel Defoe’s 1726 History of Discoveries and Improvements, for example, Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette and Thomas Whitemarsh’s South Carolina Gazette reprinted the selection for readers in Philadelphia and Charleston [Aldridge 163-164]:

Shortly after the Virginia Gazette reprinted a selection (pp. 236-240) of Daniel Defoe's 1726 History of Discoveries and Improvements [T70339], Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette and Thomas Whitemarsh's South Carolina Gazette reprinted the passage in turn. These reprintings are part of a vast network of early Anglo-American print circulation that has not yet been mapped.

While individual studies have started to track the ways early British and American authors established a network of print circulation, however, the higher-level dynamics of this network have not been mapped. Using commercial databases such as Adam Matthew Digital’s Eighteenth Century Journals, and ProQuest’s British Periodicals—as well as non-commercial collections in HathiTrust and Google Books—future scholars will be able to trace the vast network of print that circulated between Britain and the nascent American colonies.

Further analysis of the complex relationships between printers would also greatly enhance our understanding of the early modern book market. While the present study treats publishers largely as atomic agents of print production, even a cursory analysis of the data within Michael Turner’s London Book Trades Database helps reveal that publishing was a highly social activity in which publishers worked together in complex ways. By plotting the connections between each publisher and their apprentices as identified in Turner’s database, one finds that a significant proportion of printers in early modern London were part of a single massive training lineage spanning back to late medieval times:

The plot above depicts the master-apprentice relationships captured in Michael Turner's London Book Trades Database, a vast archive of printers and book makers in early modern London. Each point in the plot above represents a different printer, and each line connecting two printers indicates a master-apprentice relationship. As one can see, a significant number of printers in early modern London grew out of a single training lineage spanning back to late medieval times.

While databases such as the London Book Trades Database and the British Book Trade Index capture a rich archive of information on early printers, however, large-scale trends within the relationships between printers remains to be explored more fully. The ways in which publishing congers formed and dissolved, as well as the ways publishers helped influence the kinds of materials they printed, need further analysis at scale to be fully understood. By combining the digital archives discussed above with print databases of book trade members, future scholars will be able to trace these strategic lines of influence and control and thereby better understand the relationships that united and divided early printing networks.3

Book historians would also benefit from a computational analysis of the relationship between copyright provisions and the rise of the author in the early modern period. Michel Foucault argued years ago that “texts, books, and discourses really began to have authors … to the extent that authors became subject to punishment, that is, to the extent that discourses could be transgressive” [Greene 10]. For Foucault, the author is called into being by the creation of a legal code that sought to regulate the press, and that therefore required both authors and printers to be stable, identifiable subjects. Foucault suggests the government’s need to identify the authors of controversial works inspired the creation of early printing prohibitions against anonymous publications, a practice that nevertheless persisted throughout the early modern period:4

The points and vertical lines in the plot above represent the sample means and standard deviations (respectively) of annualized anonymity rates within the ESTC. These statistics are based on 1,000 bootstrapped samples, each containing 240,000 samples (with replacement) from the complete 480,000 ESTC records. The data in this plot suggests that anonymous publications became increasingly prevalent leading up to the start of the English Civil War (1642-1651) and Glorious Revolution (1689). Note however the inflation of anonymous works in half-decadal years (1770, 1775 ... 1795), which is almost certainly due to the fact that ESTC editors attribute works with uncertain publication dates to the likeliest half-decadal year.

Little is known, however, about the particular social, economic, and religious concerns that motivated anonymous publication, or about the legal conditions that inspired and effectively curtailed the publication of anonymous works. Future computational work may begin to fill some of these gaps and chart the relationship between early copyright regulations and modern authorship practices more broadly.

Future computational scholars may also offer significant insights into the ways in which early copyright provisions influenced the publication of serial publications such as journals, periodicals, and newspapers. These latter forms of print material have a special place in copyright history, for as Eleanor Shevlin explains, “when a printer took it upon himself or herself to publish essentially the same newspaper under a similar or even the same title but for different financial backers, the original proprietors … had no legal protection against such actions” [Shevlin 67, Harris 88]. Indeed, as Will Slauter notes, “no eighteenth-century court seems to have addressed the question of whether a text first published in a periodical could be protected against unauthorized republication in another periodical” [55]. Due to the lack of copyright protection for periodical publications, newspaper printers are rumored to have often cribbed material from rival publications, though there does not appear to be any formal evidence for these claims. By using resources such as ReadEx’s Early American Newspapers collection and Adam Matthew Digital’s Eighteenth-Century Journals database, future scholars will be able to trace the circulation of borrowed passages within the periodical press and thereby assess copyright’s influence on the transmission of knowledge in early print culture.5

Finally, future research on the relationship between copyright law and the early book market may also benefit from databases of early English legal records. One of the most intriguing and difficult aspects of studying early copyright law in England is the fact that so little is known about the set of relevant legal cases from the period. Recently, however, HeinOnline has made an enormous quantity of these documents available online in their English Reports database, a digitized version of the 178-volume collection of court documents from cases tried in England between 1220 and 1866. While Richard B. Sher has claimed that studying legal cases “often reveals surprisingly little about what was actually going on in the trenches of the trade” [61], analyzing eighteenth-case law en masse could offer significant insights into trends in the interaction patterns between authors, publishers, and the courts. By analyzing the massive archive of cases collected in the English Reports and other digital repositories, future computational research will likely identify a great number of copyright disputes that are currently undiscussed in the secondary literature, which will greatly expand our understanding of the ways common law rulings affected trends in publishing throughout the early modern period.6


1. For a brief introduction to the pre-history of copyright in England, see [Syme 1968]. For a longer treatment of the same, see [Lowenstein 2002].

2. At some point after Hogarth’s Act introduced copyright protections for images in 1735, illustrators began engraving “printed according to the act” below their published images to signify that their works were protected by statutory copyright. A computational study that traced the emergence and spread of this practice would be useful for early copyright historians, as it would help to show the rate at which visual copyright was adopted and endorsed by the publisher world. This timeline could the be compared to the adoption rate of statutory copyright protections for printed texts, some provisions of which—including fixed-duration copyright terms—went completely unobserved through much of the eighteenth century.

3. There are many print resources that offer structured information on early modern printers and book makers. For a nearly exhaustive bibliography on the subject, see the archive of over eight hundred printed sources in the bibliographical page within the British Book Trade Index.

4. The English government was rather concerned with anonymous printing throughout the early modern period, and often attempted to prevent the publication of anonymous works. Shortly after the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, the English Parliament delivered an edict that mandated “Printers do neither print or reprint any thing without the Name and Consent of the Author” [Rose 22]. Likewise, following the Restoration, King Charles II passed a statute that required “every person … that shall hereafter print or cause to be printed any Booke … shall thereunto or thereon print and set his or theire owne Name or Names and alsoe shall declare the Name of the Author thereof” [Eyre 430]. Nevertheless, anonymous publications persisted throughout the period [Robertson 24].

5. For compelling recent work tracing “scissors and paste journalism” in nineteenth-century American print culture, see Garvey 2012 and Cordell 2015.

6. Analyzing the court data vis-a-vis publishing trends from the period could also help further identify the degree to which influential figures in the legal sphere impacted who and what got published. Throughout the century, the role of Lord Chief Justice in England—the highest ranking judge of the English courts of law—was filled by large personalities including Lord Hardwicke (1733-1737), Lord Mansfield (1756-1788), and Lord Kenyon (1788-1802). While recent research has shown that the style in which legal opinions are written impacts the subsequent influence of those opinions [Hume 143, Varsava 2], there are no studies of the ways legal writing in the eighteenth century influenced the reception and circulation of opinions. The documents within The National Archives would be an ideal data source for computational analysis of this sort. The English Reports and Old Bailey Online databases discussed above would also facilitate study of trends in legal language and types of cases reported throughout the long eighteenth century.


Aldridge, Alfred Owen: "Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards on Lightning and Earthquakes" Isis 41.2 (1950): 162-164.
Cordell, Ryan; Smith, David; Mullen, Abby: "Computational Methods for Uncovering Reprinted Texts in Antebellum Newspapers" American Literary History 27.3 (2015): E1-E15.
Eyre, G.; Strahan, A.: The Statutes of the Realm (1225-1713), Vol. 5. Dawsons of Pall Mal, London. [1819] 1963.
Garvey, Ellen Gruber: Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance Oxford University Press: 2012.
Greene, Jody: The Trouble with Ownership: Literary Property and Authorial Liability in England, 1660-1730. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
Harris, Michael: London Newspapers in the Age of Walpole Associated University Presses, 1987.
Hume, Robert J.: "The Impact of Judicial Opinion Language on the Transmission of Federal Circuit Court Precedents" Law & Society Review 43 (2009): 127-150.
Lowenstein, Joseph: The Author's Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright. University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Ochoa, Tyler T; Rose, Mark: "The Anti-Monopoly Origins of the Patent and Copyright Clause" Patent & Trademark Office Society 909 (2002): 909-940.
Robertson, Randy: Censorship and Conflict in Seventeenth-century England: The Subtle Art of Division. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.
Rose, Mark: Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Harvard University Press, 1995.
Sher, Richard B.: "Corporatism and Consensus in the Late Eighteenth-Century Book Trade: The Edinburgh Booksellers' Society in Comparative Perspective" Book History, Volume 1, ed. Ezra Greenspan, Jonathan Rose. Penn State Press (1998): 32-93.
Shevlin, Eleanor: "'To Reconcile Book and Title, and Make 'em Kin to One Another': The Evolution of the Title's Contractual Functions." Book History 2 (1999): 42-77.
Slauter, Will: "Upright Piracy: Understanding the Lack of Copyright for Journalism in Eighteenth-Century Britain" Book History 16 (2013): 34-61.
Syme, S. A.: "The Regulation of the English Book Trade 1484 to 1547" The Journal of Library History 3.1 (1968): 32-38.
Vareschi, Mark: Everywhere and Nowhere: The Anonymous Text, 1660-1790. Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers University, 2011.
Varsava, Nina: "Computational Legal Studies, Digital Humanities, and Textual Analysis" Computational Legal Studies: The Promise and Challenge of Data-Driven Legal Research, ed. Ryan Whalen (forthcoming).