A SHORT HISTORY OF PUBLISHING
August 22, 2020
Everything comes to pass, nothing comes to stay.
— Matthew Flickstein
Reading a book without paper or ink! How incredible is that! If you suggested the possibility of eBooks in the 15th century, you might have been burned at the stake as a witch!
Publishing is in the middle of revolutionary change, and it isn’t the first time. Kindle ebooks began 12 years ago and make up around 20 percent of all book sales. Ebooks outsell print in a number of genres today, including SF, thriller, romance, and fantasy.
Publishing sits smack dab at the intersection of societal changes and evolving technology. Encyclopedia Britannica points out publishing is dependent upon three major inventions—writing, paper, and printing—and one crucial social development—the ability to read. Prior to publishing the skill of writing was known to few, and frequently used to hide rather than illuminate information.
A Romp Through Time
Printing might have been invented as early as the 1st century BCE, but we can’t be sure of anything until the 6th century CE and block printing in China. The Chinese invented movable type in the 11th century CE, although we westerners typically credit Johannes Gutenberg for printing in Germany in 1440–50. Gutenberg used movable metal type, ink, paper, and the first printing press outside of China.
Printing changed the people of Europe drastically and in a relatively short period of time, and led to the Renaissance and Reformation. By 1500, after only 50 years of printing, there were more than 9,000,000 books.
A slump occurred from the mid-16th through the 18th century, as technological innovation was inconsequential as far as book production was concerned. But in the 19th century printing was automated — speeding up production in a revolutionary way.
The next major revolution was the invention of paperbacks in 1935. Due to the financial squeeze of the Great Depression, paperbacks became king and have held power ever since.
After World War II, the Soviet Union exerted state control over publishing, and after years of such censorship, in 2014 new laws were introduced that tightened state censorship further. Russia has never had real freedom of the press.
According to Britannica, “a nation’s books, taken as a whole and winnowed out by the passing years, can be said to be its main cultural storehouse. Conquerors … wishing to destroy a people’s heritage have often burned its books, as did Shih Huang-ti in China in 213 , the Spaniards in Mexico in 1520, and the Nazis in the 1930s…”
Except for China & Russia (both with huge populations, the 1st and 9th most populous countries respectively), most countries DO allow freedom of the press. Countries that don’t have press freedoms are often ruled by one man who has remained in power by manipulating the media and rigging elections.
From this short history we can see that printing and book making changed the world in the 15th century, just as the internet will be seen to have changed the world in the late 20th century.
Some people say the ebook revolution never happened, but we are just at the beginning of it!