8.04 Profits

Most of Humanism For Sale says very little about prices or profits. Some documents exist for studies of book prices in local markets, but they are complicated by a variety of uncertainties. Inflation rates, the effects of political events on currency values, and the persistent use of credit and discounting in book sales at every stage in distribution all mean that the many numbers we can find in local archives cannot be aggregated or compared with those in other sources or other cities. The rare studies available on large, international publishing houses demonstrate that textbooks and other minor genres played an important role in the overall profitability of these firms. Individual genres or single titles, however, cannot be evaluated clearly in terms of their contribution to the bottom line.

Profits to authors are an even trickier subject of study. Authors who failed to profit or who felt they did not do so sufficiently complained loudly enough. (We saw the examples of Antonio Mancinelli and Jean Pellisson in sections 3.01 and 3.02.) But those who profited adequately did not record the fact directly. In any case, rewards in the educational market were widely and unevenly distributed. An author might be paid in several ways. He might get a commission, fee, or honorarium; he might receive a portion of the print run in return for his services; or he might take his profits less tangibly in the prestige of a publication or in the convenience of having his textbooks readily available for use in his own school. He might profit in all these ways at once. We have good evidence for all these forms, but there are not enough figures to allow for quantification or comparison, much less meaningful generalization. There is no way to know if a given contract or payment was frugal or generous, standard or exceptional. The cases for which we have the greatest amount of detail -- Bonciari in Perugia, for example, or Mancinelli at Velletri and Rome -- suggest that local traditions of study, provincial reputations, personal networks of patronage, and small-town civic pride were the most important factors in how well a given teacher was paid and how well his brand of humanism sold on the print market. His textbook sales are never mentioned.

In larger, less provincial cities, textbook authors did not usually profit directly from repeat sales. Once a given textbook had proven itself in the market, it was up to the publisher to decide whether it merited the added investment of a second or further editions. The "Despauterian" case is particularly telling in this way. De Spauter himself tinkered with his textbooks throughout his later life. He may have profited from the new editions, but there is no direct evidence for it except that his publishers continued to encourage and advertise his revisions. Similarly, Jean Pellisson apparently did not profit from or even authorize any of the early reprints of his own elementary textbook; but he did re-assert control of it when he revised it for a later edition. In a second stage of his publishing career, Pellisson edited and abridged De Spauter for the French market. Presumably he was paid for that work, but again the texts he devised got away from him and were widely reprinted throughout France during his lifetime and after. Still later, Pellisson's "Despauterian" textbooks were imported into the Italian market, and it was up to the Italian publishers to decide whether they were marketed primarily as Pellisson's work or De Spauter's. Neither author profited at this point. Theirs had become brand names for a pedagogical style, used by many publishers who sold textbooks marketed under the emblematic logos of their own presses. Similarly, Andrea Alciati probably never profited directly from his popular emblem collection. After a period of attempting to correct and add to it, he abandoned it to the realm of pure celebrity.

Humanism was for sale, then, in many ways, but it did not have a single market or price structure. Textbooks offer some of the most concrete evidence we have for the economic dimensions of humanism, but even they can only tell us part of the story. They offer hints as to the needs of students and the desires of parents. They tell us a great deal about the role of printers and publishers in creating a market for learning. Textbooks also tell us about the internal logic of the school disciplines, both traditional and new ones. Many textbooks offer windows on the classrooms of local schools with local traditions of pedagogy and printing. Most vividly, however, textbooks represent the highly self conscious, highly rhetorical presupposition of their authors that learning was a goal in several ways: for professional advancement or other practical reasons, for moral improvement, and as an end in itself.

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