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A Victorian Oprah
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Chain bookstores might have a deleterious effect on the publishing industry (or at least the writers who labor in it) but if you think that sort of mercantile influence is something new under the sun take a look at this short article from The Victorian Web about Charles Mudie's lending library .

For a guinea yearly, 19th century subscription customers in England could borrow an unlimited number of volumes one at a time. Mudie demanded that publishers produce only three-decker novels allowing him to divide up one novel among three subscribers. He also insisted on fiction suitable for the middle-class family. Publishers acceded to his dictates because he ordered books in large quantities, sometimes buying out entire printings. He exercised further control by advertising his list of "the principal New and Choice Books in circulation" -- something like a best-seller list, which enabled him to create markets and reputations.

Authors had to choose their subject matter and even structure their novels with Mudie's requirements in mind. For today's equivalent, imagine Oprah owning Barnes & Noble.

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