How the books moved west

In the book publishing business in this country, new books are announced twice a year, in the spring and fall lists, and editorial calendars and publicity are planned around this cycle. Or at least they used to be. But why? I’ve been reading Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Mike Wallace and Edwin G. Burrows. They say New York publishers beat out their competitors because the Erie Canal gave them access to the hinterlands. They could get the latest books, hot off the presses, to customers in the interior faster than publishers in other cities. And so NYC became the center of publishing in America.

And the Erie Canal was not passable in winter. Hence the fall and spring lists.

The building of the Erie Canal was a public investment in infrastructure that had huge payoffs almost immediately. Getting people or goods past the Appalachian ridge and across a mostly roadless, heavily wooded frontier became much easier. The Erie Canal made Rochester a boom town. Imagine those books, along with goods from all over the world, floating up the Hudson, through the Mohawk valley and along the canal, rising at every lock, to Lake Erie and on to the Midwest.

old erie canal locks

The old Erie canal locks, now a spillway, where the canal crosses the Niagara Escarpment at Lockport.