Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Doomed, we're all doomed!
It's been a week for prognostications of doom about the future of publishing, with Ewan Morrison writing at inordinate length about how grim everything is in The Guardian, and Graham Swift maintaining the rise of digital books could even mean authors would stop writing (yeah, right). I wondered whether the invention of the printing press had met with similar reactions, and pootled round Google to find out.
I got a bit waylaid...
Apparently, the Black Death was the catalyst that speeded transition from hand-copied manuscripts on vellum to printed books on paper. Many monks closeted in crowded monasteries fell victim to the plague, leaving fewer scribes; the price of manuscripts, already hugely expensive, went up. A vastly reduced population became better-off as they inherited from those who had died. They bought new clothes the way you would, thus making lots of rags available for the production of paper; the cost of paper books went down.
Printers now decided what to print, rather than the Church. It made sense to print the books readers wanted. They realized that the real market was not for big heavy volumes of the Bible and religious tracts, but for smaller and cheaper books on a wide range of subjects. The Church was no longer in charge of the dissemination of knowledge, because it could no longer control what people read. It got rather cross about this, but there was nothing it could do to halt the rise of the new technology beyond issuing dire warnings to an unheeding public.
Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?
Posted by Lexi at Wednesday, August 24, 2011