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The subscription is similar to the subscription for magazines, a preliminary sales procedures in bookstores , in classical music, in the equities business , in software sales and in the wine trade . The term is derived from the Latin sub 'under' and scribere ' to write' and means 'to sign' or 'to make a signature'. The English term subscription as well as the French term souscription are also generally understood in the sense of 'subscription'.

Book trade

The subscription procedure was introduced on the German book market in the 17th century to enable the publication of works that would most likely be difficult to sell due to their special content, artistic design or planned size. This method continued to be used in the book trade of the 18th century , for example in the case of copperplate engravings , multi-volume encyclopedias or scientific specialist literature, to determine a print run that was tailored to demand and to ensure that production costs were covered. A special form of subscription was prenumeration , in which the work also had to be paid for in advance.

During this time, the best-known subscribers or prenumerants with name, occupation, place of residence, etc. a. mentioned on a list in the title sheet of the work. Because of their personal information, these printed subscriber-prenumerant lists are valuable sources for the general contemporary literary history and literary sociology of the educated middle class of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as for the biography and genealogy of the individual subscribers. Evaluations of individual books and their subscriber lists have already been published. The best researched is Friedrich Klopstock's (1724–1803) scholarly republic and his large number of subscribers.

The book subscription is dependent on the previous subscription advertising, especially through printed newspaper and magazine advertisements, especially in general and literary intelligence papers . These advertisements contain the title and content of the planned publication, as well as the names of the hopeful authors. The subscription therefore also represents a special chapter in media and advertising history.

Today, the subscription in bookstores is a binding pre-order through booksellers or by subscribing customers. They sometimes receive a price reduction (based on the net retail price, which is fixed by the fixed book price ).


In music, there was a subscription to concerts. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart z. After retiring as an employed court musician in the Prince Archbishopric of Salzburg in 1781, B. was one of the first freelance musicians of serious music to organize commercial symphony concerts (so-called "academies") on subscription. This was done in such a way that he put out subscription lists for his upcoming concerts in music stores, in which those who wanted to attend these concerts signed up. Whether Mozart was the first to use this method and whether other free musicians after him, such as Ludwig van Beethoven , organized their concerts in this way has not yet been researched. Whether these musical subscriptions were just non-binding declarations of intent or legally binding contracts has not yet been researched either.


There is a kind of subscription procedure for shares when companies go public that want to change their name to a stock corporation or bring a capital increase to the stock exchange . The banks that organize this process offer their customers the new shares for purchase on terms that have been set in advance. Often the new shares are then "several times oversubscribed". B. for 100,000 new shares to be issued there are purchase requests for 700,000 shares.

On the very first official trading day, the new shares are often traded in large numbers: the first buyers often have the opportunity to resell their shares at a high profit.

Wine trade

Tasting of barrel samples of the 2007 Bordeaux in April 2008

In the wine trade, on the other hand, money flows, because before the young wine is bottled, the subscribed wine has to be paid for. Only in this way does the wine buyer get the security of having the wine of coveted goods and coveted vintages available and being able to enjoy them later.

In individual cases, the young wine is stored in barrels for a further three years after it has been paid for, before it is bottled and delivered to consumers. It is even known from a winery that after payment you will have to wait four years before the wine is delivered: with the Sauternes sweet wine from Château d'Yquem .

In other words, the subscription is also a speculation: one is betting that the wine will increase in value by the time it is delivered. You basically enter into a commodity future . The subscription for wine is primarily to be found for Bordeaux wines , there are only a few wineries in other areas that use the same process.

An extraordinary specialty is the subscription sale by buyers list. This process has become known at a winery in Burgundy : the interested parties register on a list. Only the top hundreds of places on this list buy, the place holders have to pay the wine after allocation at the price unilaterally set by the winery. Anyone who does not pay falls off the list and will probably not have a chance to purchase the wine directly for many years. Because there are thousands waiting to be allowed to buy: at Domaine Romanée-Conti . Every several years, the domain informs which position an interested party has advanced to.


In software sales, the license for a full version (initial purchase) is traditionally sold directly by the manufacturer or indirectly via an intermediary . The upgrades required later (i.e. new versions) are also sold directly or indirectly in a complex and therefore expensive manner. Software manufacturers are increasingly using the subscription process to sell the upgrades, i.e. one year in advance. This reduces the distribution costs and releases the software manufacturer from the high liability requirements of the rental agreement under German law. The reduced sales costs are mostly passed on to the consumer in the form of a lower price. In order not to fall indirectly under tenancy law, subscription contracts usually have a term of only one year and are not automatically extended. The customer, the so-called user , has to arrange this extension himself. To make this easier, software manufacturers usually remind their customers of this need by post or e-mail.

This sales model is also chosen, among other things, where the software maintenance contracts as running " fixed costs " increasingly came into disrepute in the company as a cost generator and were thus avoided.


It is also referred to as a subscription when collecting for a monument or similar - see for example Frederik Rudbek Henrik von Bülow . The subscribers only pay when payment for the collection purpose is secured.

The sculptor John Gibson was sent to Rome in 1817. Its discoverer had previously organized a subscription. With the money raised in this way, he was able to finance the trip.

Well-known examples

As a publisher, John Ogilby was one of the pioneers of subscription in English publishing in the 17th century.

John Walsh (died 1736) was an English music publisher and instrument maker. From 1695 he published pieces of music in a hitherto unknown number of copies. He knew how to promote his publishing house through advertising, subscriptions and the distribution of free samples. In 1711 he made a big profit from the printing of Georg Friedrich Handel's opera Rinaldo. His son John Walsh Jr. (1709–1766) deepened relationships with Handel from 1730 and published all of Handel's late compositions.

In 1750 Denis Diderot wrote a prospectus that was sent all over Europe, in which he called on interested parties to subscribe to the Encyclopédie . In 1751, the first two volumes of the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers ("Encyclopedia or (alphabetically) ordered lexicon of the sciences, arts and crafts, from a community of authors") appeared. The bookselling success and the impact of the work were enormous.

The Societas Bipontina was a publisher active from 1778 to 1811 for works by ancient Greek and Latin authors. The publisher undertook to deliver a monthly volume of 368 pages to its subscribers for an advance payment of seven chunks . Missing or additional sheets were billed or added. In 1783 there were 889 subscribers; these subscribed to about 1350 copies. Between 1779 and 1811, the Societas Bipontina published a total of 215 volumes in (large) octave format as a series in the same design with easily legible script and error-free typesetting (so-called Editiones Bipontinae ).

In 1840 the 1840 Liverpool Philharmonic Society was founded. In this, citizens could acquire shares to finance the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra , which at the same time had a subscription character.

1906 appeared in Vienna on subscription basis - to circumvent the censorship at the time - the book " Josefine Mutzenbacher . The story of a Viennese whore. Told by herself. "

See also


  • Subscription . In: Lexicon of the entire book industry. Volume III. Verlag Anton Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1933, p. 356.
  • Subscription price . In: Dietrich Kerlen : The publishing house. Textbook of the book publishing industry. 13th edition. Publishing house Dr. Ernst Hauswedell & Co., Stuttgart 2005, p. 125.
  • Rolf Engelsing: Illiteracy and Reading . Stuttgart 1973. pp. 64-65.
  • Horst E. Miers : A subscriber list (1784) as a genealogical source. In: Ostdeutsche Familienkunde 7 (1959), pp. 180–185.

Individual evidence

  1. Ursula Rautenberg: Reclam's dictionary of the book . Reclam, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-15-010520-X .