When the printing press was first introduced to westerners by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439, the world changed. Knowledge became more decentralized and regular people could read books on their own, instead of relying on clergy and princes for interpretations.
It’s a pretty good bet that democracy and capitalism would have never taken root in Western culture if it wasn’t for this relatively simple invention. However, the printing press was an expensive piece of machinery and through the years, it still required its share of writers, designers, editors, publishers and marketers to maintain the printing operations. Economic requirements for this operation required publishers to vet out unprofitable and unnecessary works. Although, writers complained that their interpretation of what was a “necessary” work was almost as controlling as the state and clergy domination of the written word before Gutenberg. The publishing industry was more decentralized, but not totally decentralized.
New technology is threatening that status.
Of course, online access has opened up access to information; but, I want to address new technologies that are affecting the publishing industry. I can use my own book as an illustration of this revolution. Over the years, I’ve collected ghost stories, legends and weird trivia about colleges and universities, including a nearby school, Penn State.
I decided that a collection of stories about University ghost stories would make an interesting book. Most national publishers passed on the project, but some regional publishers I queried agreed with the concept. However, it was difficult to arrive at an agreement with these publishers and I started to investigate other options. I found two places that helped people self-publish their books, Lulu and CreateSpace, online. It’s called Print-On-Demand (POD).
Both seemed to fit what I needed, but CreateSpace gave me a ready and free access to one of the largest marketplaces for books: Amazon.com.
I not only wrote the content, I designed the cover and back. I edited the book. I pulled pictures from Wikimedia and other creative commons areas and formatted the interior. And, now, I am planning on marketing the book. I essentially used a little laptop computer and broadband hookup to do what a whole publishing company would do. In a few months, here’s the result:
When someone wants a copy of the book, the POD company prints it and sends it out in a few days.
Do I think I can replace the publishing industry. Nah. A professional designer would have made a better cover. I could use some editing help. And a good marketing team would do wonder for this book. I also think vetting out really bad books (I hope mine isn’t one!!!) is still necessary.
What I think will happen is that smart, small publishers and self-publishers have lowered the bars of entry into that book market place. It will increase competition and bring better results to readers.
Tomorrow, I’d like to look at another cool new book-making technology.