Linda Theil posted to http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2012/05/shreds-from-the-whole-piece.html May 3, 2012:
. . . May I take objection to your characterization of the quartos as comparable to supermarket paperbacks? Comparing the quartos to twentieth century paperbacks is a common analogy that suffers from anachronistic thinking. Considering the quartos in the same terms as modern paperbacks provides an inaccurate view of the value of the quartos and by extension an inaccurate view of the market for these quartos. While it is a difficult process to analyize the cost of goods in varied times and places, using value equivalents can be useful. In this example, a modern paperback is sold for about the cost of one-hours work by an unskilled worker or $7 to $10. A Shakespeare quarto was sold for about 8 shillings which was the weekly wage for a skilled worker, such as a joiner -- an equivalent cost today of hundreds of dollars. This is a vast difference in value. Comparing a quarto to modern paperbacks also gives the impression that the quartos were an important part of the contemporary meme, like a best selling novel or an enormously popular TV show in the twentieth century, but the limits of communication in the sixteenth century make any such comparison inaccurate. I don't know how to imagine the quartos as a cultural phenomenon, but I'm pretty sure they have nothing in common with paperback books. In my opinion, the whole issue of the Shakespeare authorship suffers greatly from our human inability to set aside our comprehension of the world as we experience it, in order to understand the world as it was in the past.Linda Theil posted to http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2012/05/shreds-from-the-whole-piece.html May 4, 2012:
... regarding the cost of a quarto, I agree that reasonable people might come to different conclusions. I don't know where Wikipedia comes up with a pound in Elizabethan money being equivalent to $200 current American, but I understand that some historians consider the issue of equivalence to be the most useful in determining the cost of things in various times and cultures. Some historians base this equivalence on the cost of a loaf of bread which in Elizabethan times I understand to have cost a penny. If you accept that the cost of bread today is between $4-5, you might consider that a penny in Elizabethan times is the equivalent of $4 today. Even if a quarto cost only a shilling (a low-ball figure, from the information I have seen) an Elizabethan would have had to pay the price of twelve loaves of bread to purchase a quarto (or $48 -50 in current currency)-- much more than the cost of a paperback book.
I think the value of goods is a very interesting topic in itself, but I do not insist that my understanding of the value of a quarto is correct. I only wish to offer the opinion that comparing Elizabethan quartos to modern paperbacks is an inaccurate simile. I believe the simile is inaccurate on more than one level as I indicated in my original post, and which you seem to support in your acknowledgement of the small print runs. I believe the simile is inaccurate, also, because the psychology of Elizabethan communication is not accessible to modern humans: i.e. we no longer understand the way a society functions when speed of communication is measured in weeks instead of seconds.
For these and other reasons (literacy rates, for example) this comparison of quartos to paperbacks is common and emblematic of an anachronistic view of the Elizabethan world that hampers real understanding of the era and its art. This easy acceptance of an easy answer to a complex topic -- an answer riddled with unfounded and untested assumptions -- is also emblematic of the entire Shakespeare authorship question. . . .