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History of Book Publishing


The history of book publishing goes way back to the origins of clay tablets. Soon after, paper books were created and published. Nowadays, millions of eBooks are accessible by the touch of your fingertip with a tablet. “The concept of publishing began long before the invention of the printing press. It began as far back as the invention of writing.” The publishing industry has “evolved over time since 3500 BC” (Mukundarajan).


“The form, content, and provisions for making and distributing books have varied widely during their long history” (Unwin). The Babylonian clay tablet, the Egyptian papyrus roll, the medieval vellum codex, the printed paper volume, the microfilm, and many more were created with the same purpose as books. “The great variety in form is matched by an equal variety in content.” Books can also act as instruments of communication. They are developed by the “use of writing and or some other system of visual symbols to convey a meaning” (Unwin). Books as a “sophisticated medium of communication,” requires a mastery of reading and writing skills from its author and readers.


Publication requires a tangible circulation. “A book, for the purpose of discussion,” is written and printed at a considerable length. The shorter length would make the printed book light and durable enough for transport. These books are meant for public circulation and can carry a message between people, as books often contain a message from the author to its readers. “Books have attended the preservation and dissemination of knowledge in every literate society” (Unwin).


“Until 868 AD, the books published were all handwritten” (Mukundarajan). The authors would write 2-3 copies of the same book to keep at libraries. It wasn’t until a technique called block printing was developed, were they able to create multiple books easily. Founded in 220 AD, this method of printing on clothes was adapted to books as well. The blocks used were made of wood and were carved with letters and patterns that were then printed on paper. This history-changing invention meant books no longer had to be handwritten. It could be mass-produced.


The Printing Press was an instrument used to apply pressure on an inked surface on sheets of paper. It was invented by Chinese inventor Bi Sheng as the “first movable type with earthenware circa 1045.” Soon after, German inventor Johannes Gutenberg invented his own “movable type with metal around 1450” which was popularized for printing purposes. With the creation of Gutenberg’s design, “books started to become more widely available.” Printing books reduced the cost of production enormously and allowed for a faster printing pace. Since the cost of such books was low and fast, it allowed common citizens to afford books. Not only books were published as a result of the creation of the printing press, but newspapers, best seller novels, and various other print materials were also published.


In the mid-1500s, what was known as traditional publishing “started to flourish in Europe, USA, and various other countries.” The publishing house would buy the copyrights of the author’s work. Then, the publisher would proceed to print, distribute, and sell it. A royalty is “negotiated between the publishers and the authors.” The deal would decide how much percentage of the profits of the overall sales each party would take. Later in the 1800s, pirated content of best-selling books was copied and sold internationally without due credits. To protect the works of authors from piracy and plagiarism, copyright laws were developed. “Right now, the laws are quite strict and vary from country to country” (Mukundarajan).


“By the early 1800s, two publishing models had emerged.” One such option was for the author to sell the copyright to the publisher. The author will receive a one-time payment in exchange for the rights of the book. Another option is to publish the book “on commission.” “In this model, the publisher would advance the cost of publishing the book and keep all of the profits until the cost had been recouped.” Afterward, the publisher gets 10 percent of the profit while the author gains the rest of it. However, if the sales of the book do not recover the cost of publishing it, then the author would be held responsible for the cost and lose money instead.

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