The Firm Finds A Market

In the early 1820's Carey & Lea were primarily publishers of works of medicine and economics, with each segment taking roughly twenty percent of their output. Works of law, history, and travel were also well represented. Fiction, however, was not a major component, with, for example, only 5 of 42 titles in 1822 or 2 of 28 in 1823.(5)

However, two factors were converging to create a market for fiction. One was a cultural easing of prejudice against the form; the other factor was the Christmas market.

Research has placed the emergence of a broad popular market for fiction in the late 1840's and 1850's (although other research suggests that this date may be much earlier).(6) And it does seem that the broadest markets for fiction did not appear until the early 1850's. However, the popularity of Christmas literary annuals in the late 1820's and 1830's must be taken as evidence of the beginnings of a market for fiction. Likewise, the growth of the annual, in the case of Carey & Lea, shows how the seasonal imperative of Christmas began to distort the publishing rhythm. Although data for the 1820's is missing in this preliminary study, by the mid-1830's the focus of Carey & Lea's publishing year was on the Christmas season.(7)

Carey & Lea began issuing a Christmas literary annual in 1825, dated for the new year of 1826. Their first issue, The Atlantic Souvenir: A Christmas and New Year's Offering, was published in a run of 2,000 or 3,000 (the figures are ambiguous), at a time when the average run for Carey & Lea was 1,167 copies.(8) The initial investment in the annual was, if not cautious, judicious: they spent $2,600 (if they printed 2,000) to $3,285 (if there had been a run of 3,000). At that time, for a first edition, the average cost of a book was $1,066. The annual had seven plates (illustrations), and this was unusual: none of the works of fiction listed in the Cost Book for that year contained any illustrations: that distinction was usually reserved for texts of medicine or travel. But more importantly, in the Cost Book they recorded what they hoped to gross (if they had sold the entire run) from the sales of the annual: $3,333.00 for a run of 2,000 or $5,000.00 for a run of 3,000, a decent profit. Of all the jobs listed in the Cost Book, the 1826 Souvenir was the second most expensive in total cost, and it was the second largest press run (whether they ran 2,000 or 3,000).

Apparently the Atlantic Souvenir for 1826 was rewarding, because another was issued for 1827. That year, they put even more money into it, increasing its budget to $5,040.12, and its run to 4,500 copies. In order to make it an elegant, desirable work, they added more illustrations (11 engravings, some by prominent artists), increasing those costs to $808.00 (as contrasted to payments to authors and editors of $622.00). It was colorful, printed in part on colored paper (green and pink), and all of it was "on fine paper, profusely illustrated, and sumptuously bound." It is ironic that their experience in the expensive, exacting, and expensively illustrated medical text market would serve them so well in the production of expensively illustrated Christmas annuals. In all, they hoped to gross $7,500 from the annual. It was the most expensive identifiable single job that year, and had the second greatest run.(9)

For the 1828 annual, and until Carey & Lea sold the annual in 1832, costs plateaued at around $11,000 ($11,758.67 for the 1828 annual; $10,752.00 for 1829; $12,548.52 for 1830; $12,609.00 for 1831; and $12,443.00 for 1832). Runs, however, generally increased, from 7,000 for the 1828 annual to 10,500 for the 1831 annual to 10,000 for the 1832 issue. The cost of the Souvenir in relation to the total run of Carey & Lea (as per the books listed in the Cost Book), however, increased. For 1828, the Souvenir represented around 20% of the total identifiable costs ($11,758.57 of $57,150.04); by 1830 it was taking around 31% of total costs ($12,609 of $40,462).(10) These rising costs must have been worrisome.