Jeffrey Tucker: Why British literature so widely circulated the US in 19th century

The authors effortlessly segue from software to books, and here is the part that especially interests me. They provide an alternative explanation for why British literature was so widely circulated in the United States in the 19th century. American publishers could publish without copyright — there were no international copyright agreements — and there was massive competition. It was so intense that American firms would pay authors directly for sending chapters even before they appeared in Britain. The amounts they would receive even exceed their British royalties over a period of years.

As a result, there was huge dissemination of knowledge. And the prices were low: Dickens’s A Christmas Carol sold for six cents in the United States and $2.50 in England. Printing technology improved. Literacy improved. Ideas spread. Children and schools could have books, which in turn increased the demand for books, and spurred on new investment and technological improvements. It was a dynamic and wild world of publishing, comparable to what we see with the web today.