Way back in the 14th century, when a man called Johannes Gutenberg created the very first printing press, it was “squeeeee!” for authors and readers everywhere. Yes there were some lurking in the shadows, even back then. Now, their cherished works of art could be replicated into copies heralding the birth of distribution and marketing. The big bad world of publishing was born, somewhat premature, but destined to grow into a robust and survivable industry, constantly undergoing a metamorphosis.
I grew up surrounded by books. My father owned stacks, there were bookstores on every corner, and the local library always refreshed it’s shelves. There was nothing quite like undoing the Christmas wrapping paper to reveal a brand new hardback smelling of freshly pressed paper and the promise of a great story.
Fast forward a couple of months. Selfsame book would be unceremoniously dumped under the bed, pages well turned and cover dog-eared. So what if it was too big to fit on the shelf? I still loved the book, often dragging it out for a second read, just in case I’d missed anything. With time, paperbacks became de rigueur. They fit in my bag and nicely on the shelves. Cheap and often acquired from friends, I couldn’t have enough. The dark side was not being able to wait for the latest best-seller to become the not-so-best-seller, resulting in a big price slash.
Too bad for those who, like me, had no patience and paid full whack. But saving a buck was a minor issue compared to the buzz of a best-seller hot off the press with premium shelf or window space for the world and I to see, enticing, mesmerizing, and needed. Just like the pair of ‘meant for me right now’ shoes staring alluringly from a store window two weeks away from the summer sales. I could never say no.
Fast forward, 2013. We’re not quite controlled by robots, but books have changed beyond recognition. Now we read from a thinmetal slab filled with components allowing us to store thousands of e-books and read like it’s going out of style. Short books, long books, classics, new authors, erotica, teen stories, unedited books and a zillion how-to books are at our disposal. We pay anything from 99 cents to 20 bucks or more for our reads and often enjoy downloading hundreds of free promotions (for later).
So what does this all mean? Is it the beginning of a brave new world for the written word with much more to come, or will we regress? I have to be honest and say not even in my wildest dreams can I be sure what we’ll be reading from in twenty years or even if we still do.
Maybe we’ll hanker after the old style and just as there’s recently been an upsurge in sales for record decks to play vinyl, we could be doing the same? Will I be holding my precious books gently in my hands extolling the delights of its postmillennial published date. Of course, I’ll be careful not to pull out the loose pages of The Diary of Anne Frank given to me by my mother for my 13th Birthday.
She’s no longer here, but the book remains. A memory. In spite of nostalgia, I love the changes. The indie writer has never been so respectable, e-readers are no longer eyed with suspicious curiosity, and we’re still so in love with reading. If Gutenberg were alive today, I wonder what he’d think of the new ways we found to read the word? I suspect he’d be impressed.
cover: ©JulesInKY | MorgueFile
Gutenberg: Christina Wingate
book stack: ©mcconnors | MorgueFile
Kindle: ©pippaloua | MorgueFile
tea and book: ©muyral | MorgueFile
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