The diary and correspondence of Jean-François Favarger, a traveling sales rep (commis voyageur) of the STN, provide an extraordinary, close-up view of the book trade in a large part of provincial France. Traveling by horse from July through November, 1778, Favarger inspected every book shop along his route. He sold books, collected bills, and transacted all kinds of business, including smuggling operations and what today would be called market research. Above all, he reported on the trade and the trustworthiness of the booksellers, for the STN had to decide whether or not to place its “confidence” in customers who often ordered shipments more readily than they paid for them. Its instructions to Favarger, which appear at the beginning of his diary, reveal the way a publisher-wholesaler understood the human element in the vagaries of the book market. And his expense account, which appears at the end, says a great deal about the hard realities of a business trip on horseback.
The horse never made it back to Neuchâtel. Its legs gave out, and it kept collapsing on the muddy trails of the Southwest. When Favarger arrived in Poitiers, he had to abandon it and buy a sturdier beast. The onset of winter forced him to cancel the last leg of his planned itinerary, which was to take him far into the Northeast. When he finally arrived at the end of his tour de France, he had acquired an incomparable understanding of the book trade as it was actually practiced in all sorts of settings. Readers can tap his knowledge by consulting his diary and letters, both in French and in English translations. Digitized versions of the manuscript make it possible to check the transcriptions, which inevitably contain errors, against the originals. And subjects can be studied in greater depth by clicking on links to the dossiers of the booksellers, which also contain background information about the towns where they did business.