I went to Intrepid Theater tonight to listen to Bruce Batchelor speak to PEAVI – his “musings about books, publishing, and storytelling.”
One of the points he kept bringing up is that we’re in an era of massive, accelerating change in the publishing industry, but also that the publishing industry itself is relatively new. The first paper was around 150 CE, the first codex around 400 CE, movable type and the subsequent European rise in literacy not until 1650 CE (interestingly, Japan had about an 80% literacy rate in the early 1600s, significantly earlier than Europe. More on their consistently bounding ahead of us on literary matters in a subsequent post).
It’s a tradition nearly as old as publishing houses themselves to fear the end of printed books and bookstores going bankrupt. Publishing houses have only been around since the 1800s, according to Bruce. Before that, it was the author as entrepreneur, which is a lot of what we’re headed back to with the independent publishing options available today. Another interesting echo is the paperback vending machines available at train stations and the like in the 1930s, which smack of limited Espresso machines.
Technology continues to proliferate and an ever-accelerating rate, threatening to leave some of us out of our depth. The rule of thumb Bruce uses is to relate new technology to what would exist in a tribal situation, like the rise of audiobooks as compared to traditional minstrels and storytellers. It’s an interesting comparison to think about, and an interesting approach to the complicated and amazing new world the publishing industry is becoming.