Printers in Paris

Printers play a key role in the book publishing chain, but in Paris they did not form a homogenous group. There was a hierarchy between workshops. A few powerful printing firms financed their publications themselves: they chose the books they would print, kept a number of presses running and also were responsible for distribution. This is the case with the major Parisian workshops, such as those of Josse Bade, the Estienne family, Simon de Colines, and the Kerver family.

Many smaller printing workshops paled in comparison with these powerful undertakings. Whereas the Estienne and Kerver families had five or six presses, a number of workshops had only two, and even one. A few printers were without printing presses altogether, and had to lease equipment on the basis of the commissions they received. This was the case with Adam de Saulty, who rented presses from the Estienne family. With their limited means, small printers did not put out any editions at all, and had to wait for orders from powerful booksellers. Such a hand-to-mouth existence often led to bankruptcies and printers seeking other careers.

Printers play a key role in the book publishing chain, but in Paris they did not form a homogenous group.

More inequalities were to found within the workshop itself. The master at the head of the firm gave orders to a group of several workers (an average of two or three per printing press), and dictated both their working hours and rates of production. At the bottom of the ladder were the apprentices, who performed the most menial tasks. Once their training was completed, apprentices became journeymen – they were now independent, paid workers who were generally hired for short periods of six months or a year. Journeymen included both pressiers, who were unskilled labourers, and typesetters, who worked at the type case, and who often had had some schooling. Only a small proportion of journeymen, usually the sons of the master, would be able to acquire the equipment that would allow them to open their own printing workshop

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