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Old 02-25-2015, 08:02 AM   #1
Jussi Kenkkilä
 
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Default Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

I was interested in calculating some stats for low-tech libraries, but ran into problems with the numbers. To double-check them, I grabbed a few examples of manuscripts and data on book production.

From a dataset of about a hundred manuscripts gathered from various sources (mostly codicology books online) I calculated a few reference values. (The dataset included books of different sizes, mostly quartos and octavos, written in Europe, North Africa and Middle-East in various languages.)

The average page count was 560 (230 folios) and was pretty close to this value for 4s, 8s and 16s sizes. The average words/page was 90 (for quartos in the set 140, and for 16s & 32s smaller). The average words/manuscript was then about 50 000.

Comparing these to the values in LT, HT and LT:C1 (500 words/page printed, 125 words/page handwritten) seemed close enough (several sources put modern words/page average in the 400-450 range and modern book lengths in the 70-100k words range).

Back-calculating from the weight of paper I arrived to the result that a "small collection" contains 20k hand-written pages. Therefore it consists of ten 2000 page manuscripts, probably split into four 500 page books.

So far the numbers match nicely. However when calculating the price from the time it takes to produce the books (mostly the scribe-work), the total costs for low-tech libraries and books seem too low.

From various sources I checked, the speed of scribing was in the range of 1.5-10 folios/day, mostly quoted as 2-3 folios/day. With an average speed of 5 pages (2.5 folios) per day, it would take 50 days (2 months) to scribe an average (500 page) book.

As several sources (and at least one primary source) claimed that the scribe-work accounted for half of the final cost, I used the 0.55 ratio of labor to price to calculate the labor costs. From this I get $770 to scribe a single book and $1400 for the finished product.

Since the manuscripts used as reference were written on parchment, I checked the total cost of the parchment used (250 leaves). It was $150, which is about 1/5th of the scribing cost (and the value of materials calculated from labor).

A small collection of manuscripts would therefore cost $1400*4*10=$56k, a lot more than the $3500 estimated in LT:C1. The parchment alone would cost $6000.

Since most of the higher cost comes from scribing, changing the media to paper ($600) wouldn't help.

To check my numbers, I re-read everything in the relevant chapters and realized that the assumed writing speed was 4000 words/day. Calculating the scribing rate from the previous sources, gave me significantly lower rate: 1250 words/day (if scribing 10 pages/day at 125 words/page). To verify this, I checked some new sources on scribal speeds. Those mentioned writing cursive at a rate of 8-20 folios/day (average 28 pages/day) and a dataset of samaritan scribes (in "semi-cursive" script) averaged at 10 pages/day (confirming the numbers given by several sources). From this I noted that the 4000 wpd rate would probably be achieved with cursive style.

Still even at the rate of 4000 wpd, it would take 16 days to scribe a book, at a labor cost of $240 and a total cost of $480. It is still high compared to the cost of parchment, but would result in the "small collection" valuing close to $20k.

From these I would suggest that the real cost of a low-tech (scribed on parchment) is multiplied by 16 (like very fine quality, 4 for writing speed & 4 for lower words/page count to achive the same information content) in addition to the 10 in LT:C1. To match the prices of writing materials, they should be multiplied by 5.

For printing on paper at a rate of 250 pages/day, the price of a book would be $137 ($62 labor + $75 paper, close to the estimated ½ of total costs for early printing). A "small collection" would be about $1400, which is about 4 times the High-Tech cost. Increasing the printing speed to 1000 pages/day and dropping the paper price multiplier gets us close to the HT price. We could say that the price drop on paper comes from switching from rag to wood pulp paper.

Comments? How do my assumptions differ from the authors? Do the differences come from using differents sources for the numbers?

I ignored the cost of binding and covers, although I calculated some costs to make covers (ca. $31 for ½" oak covers with leather on top, including labor, around 2% of total), and renting an exemplar (6% of the total costs).

Last edited by Jussi Kenkkilä; 02-25-2015 at 08:26 AM.
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Old 02-25-2015, 09:54 AM   #2
Varyon
 
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

First off, the library costs assume printing - multiply by 10 for handwritten manuscripts. That's $35,000, and 1000 lb, for the basic library. Assuming negligible weight for binding material, that's 100,000 sheets and $3,000 in paper. At 125 words per sheet, that's a whopping 12,500,000 words. A professional scribe is going to have effective skill around 18, maybe 20 for a really good scribing shop (DX-based scribe of 12, +6 to be legible, up to +2 for the shop) when writing at a rate of 4,000 words per day. That's going to take 3125 man-days, or 125 man-months (over a man-decade). The scribe could probably take -6 for -60% to time necessary, for 50 man-months. LTC1 notes that scribing is almost the entire cost for such documents, so you're looking at $40,000, which is pretty darn close to the $35,000 estimate. Your estimate of 20,000 pages for 250 lb would put us at 80,000 pages and 10,000,000 words. Taking the -6, the scribes would be able to churn something like that out in 40 man-months, costing $32,000 - adding in the cost of paper, you get to exactly $35,000.

Last edited by Varyon; 02-25-2015 at 09:57 AM.
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Old 02-25-2015, 01:15 PM   #3
ArchonShiva
 
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

I love GURPS.

This really reinforces why religious books were so prevalent compared to non-religious books, though: the church didn't need to pay its monks the going rate.
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Old 02-25-2015, 07:44 PM   #4
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

The other source of free labor is students renting a book for a course and copying it themselves. That was a standard way of students building their own library.
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Old 02-26-2015, 01:19 AM   #5
Polydamas
 
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jussi Kenkkilä View Post
The average page count was 560 (230 folios) and was pretty close to this value for 4s, 8s and 16s sizes. The average words/page was 90 (for quartos in the set 140, and for 16s & 32s smaller). The average words/manuscript was then about 50 000.
I studied some medieval book history back in my undergraduate days, and 230 folios is pretty high for a medieval book. There definitely were things like "the Old Testament in one volume" or illuminated chronicles of 216 folios, but it was much more common to have one volume of the psalms, one volume of the gospels, and a notebook with your family's secret recipes and words of wisdom. You might want to check that your source is not mixing up printed books and manuscripts. Ninety words per page sounds like it might include manuscripts which had more picture than text, or very small manuscripts. Fifty thousand words per volume seems about right.

Rosamond McKitterick has some estimates for early medieval prices using Diocletian's Edict of Maximum Prices in The Carolingians and the Written Word. They are pretty hand-wavy but would be fine for gaming.
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Old 02-26-2015, 05:11 AM   #6
Jussi Kenkkilä
 
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

Quote:
Originally Posted by Polydamas View Post
I studied some medieval book history back in my undergraduate days, and 230 folios is pretty high for a medieval book.
I haven't ran into any systematic study of manuscript lengths, but I made a (semi-random, ie. first books of the alphabetical pages) sampling of the Parker Library (http://parkerweb.stanford.edu/parker/) online manuscript data for comparison. The average of this small sample was about 160 ff, or 320 pages. Since the variation on the whole dataset is very high (standard deviation of 170, min. 13, max. 944), I too am sceptical of the average page number. If anyone knows of a good study on the subject, please let me know. Otherwise I'll improve the data by adding more manuscripts from different collections.

Some manuscripts are bound into several smaller volumes, so we may assume that one modern book is equivalent to 4 manuscript volumes on paper, 8 (of ½ page count) on papyrus or vellum and 20 (of 1/5 page count) on parchment. This way the approximate thickness of each book/volume remains the same as the thickness is probably based on keeping the books of manageable size.

With this lack of data word count should be a better estimate for the information content (which should be the same for all libraries of the same size).
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Old 02-26-2015, 06:28 AM   #7
Turhan's Bey Company
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

Alas, the article I wrote for web-Pyramid on information density is no longer available, though the data-to-oxcart converter is still out there.
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Old 02-26-2015, 06:31 AM   #8
Jussi Kenkkilä
 
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

Using "basic library" as the unit of information, I calculated the costs for different TLs to see what the base price of $3500 consists of (and when was it closest to that value).

The basic library is 100 modern (TL8) books with 500 pages each, totaling 25M words. I'm ignoring the weight and cost of binding and covers for now.

I'm calculating from the basics given in HT and LT, with 0.55 of the monthly pay at average status as the labor production of printers and scribes (Skill 12 professionals).

Printing at TL8 the materials (paper) cost $100, capital depreciation (at 10%/annum) is $6 and labor (offset press) $36, totaling at $142 (4%).

Printing at TL6 the materials (paper) cost $125, capital depreciation is $13 and labor (offset press) $44, totaling at $182 (5%).

Printing at TL5 the materials (paper) cost $1500, capital depreciation is $3 and labor (10 men operating a steam rotary press) $126, totaling at $1629 (47%).

Printing at TL4 the materials (paper) cost $750, capital depreciation is $42 and labor (movable type) $1210, totaling at $2002 (57%).

Printing at TL3 the materials (paper) cost $1500, capital depreciation is $2 and labor (block press) $513, totaling at $2015 (58%).

Hand-copying at TL3 the materials (paper) cost $6000 and labor (cursive at 4000 words/day) $96 250, totaling at $102 250 (292% of $35k).

Hand-copying at TL3 the materials (parchment) cost $60 000 and labor (calligraphy at 1250 words/day) $308 000, totaling at $368 000 (1051% of $35k).

So in summary, printing the library is always cheaper than the $3500 value and hand-writing is always more expensive than the $35k value.

In the case of printing this is most likely because I'm ignoring things like IP in this calculation. In medieval copying culture they didn't matter (except when having to pay rent for exemplars).

Making manuscripts is more costly even at the very high rate of 4000 words/page, which is most likely too optimistic for medieval scribes (averaging at 5 pages/day).

As I previously mentioned, another problem is that on contemporary sources on the costs of making books, the cost of labor is considered to be only half of the total, both for manuscripts and early printing.

All of this applies to commercially produced books and libraries, but are of course applicable to situations with free labor (monks, students) to calculate the time required for copying.

Last edited by Jussi Kenkkilä; 02-26-2015 at 07:43 AM. Reason: Print rates/h and capital
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Old 02-26-2015, 06:35 AM   #9
Jussi Kenkkilä
 
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

Quote:
Originally Posted by Turhan's Bey Company View Post
Alas, the article I wrote for web-Pyramid on information density is no longer available, though the data-to-oxcart converter is still out there.
Hi!

What values did you place your calculations on? (words/page, pages/book, pages/pound..)

Many of the library manuscript collections list the number of folios and even number of lines/page, but not how many characters per line.
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Old 02-26-2015, 07:00 AM   #10
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Default Re: Making books in Low-Tech & LT:Companions 1 & 3

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jussi Kenkkilä View Post
What values did you place your calculations on? (words/page, pages/book, pages/pound..)
At the core is a measurement of words per area; w/m^2 to be precise, though any convenient units can be used there. The texts I used in the analysis were all of known length. They were all editions of one of the few standard late antique/Medieval/Renaissance texts: the Latin vulgate Bible or subsets such as the Gospels. Those texts are still widely available and easily counted. The full Bible, for example, is about 712k words (it's certainly possible that any given text might miss some words here or contain a few more there; taking a single word count for any given text was a simplifying assumption). Knowing the word count, dimensions, and number of pages, it's trivial to figure out words per unit of page area. The conversion from that to weight, which relies on exceptionally variable properties of page density and thickness, admittedly has very large error bars attached, but is close enough, as they say, for government work.
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