A History of Publishing – Part 2

In part one of our blog to discover the timeline of publishing we ended with wooden tablets that were covered in wax and written on by a stylus. The next development was a real game changer for printing and it was the invention of paper.

Invention of Paper

The real beginnings of publishing were with the invention of paper by the Chinese back in 105 AD. The paper was made from a variety of materials, including hemp but also included things such as bark.

With this invention also came the practice of writing in ink, the early paper leaves could be then bound together to form rudimentary books, with protective front and back covers to keep the leaves from being damaged.

Another hundred years later, these books were being embellished by illustrations so that the text looked better but also to help explain it. Gradually this paper was made more robust so that it could withstand paints and other inks.

Book Printing

Up to 1000 AD all books were handwritten, writers used to make several copies of the same pages that were kept in libraries. But in 220 AD a process called block printing was developed for designs on clothes, and the very first publishers decided to use the same technique for the printed word.

Wooden frames had letters and patterns that could be inserted, then covered in ink and then pressed on to paper. Thus, the very first printing presses were invented, which really have not changed that much over history.

The Typewriter

In 1040 AD the very first typewriter was invented, again in China. The movable device was revolutionary as it had all the letters and patterns placed on one board. This device had its drawbacks, the most notable one was the seeping of ink into the blocks.

It took another four hundred years for the Europeans to invent the first machine made out of metal with all the letters and patterns fixed to separate arms. This device was used to print the first published bible in the form of a book. 

The Printing Press

It was not until 1500 AD that printing as we know it today first was established with the invention of the printing press. This new invention changed printing forever as it means a book could be published for the masses. Using a press made the process cheaper, faster and unified, and soon all sorts of periodicals, newspapers, leaflets were flying out on mass.

Traditional Publishing

During the mid-1500’s traditional publishing was in full swing, in particular it flourished the most in the USA and Europe where the format was most popular. Back then the printer would buy an author’s work and then publish it themselves and take all the revenues.

The final most important development in publishing came in the 1800’s with the invention of copyright. Up until then there was so much piracy in the publishing world that it threatened to bring the industry to its knees, and copyright helped to protect both the authors and the publishing houses. Today of course there are e-books and digital printing, but the traditional publishing houses are still there and making a living.