History

Publishing progress or not? #publishing #history #writing

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The Great Cat of R’a by Robert J Muller (http://amzn.to/2kIKMms) reminds me that as much as we gain from technology, we also have to pay a price. This little post looks back nostalgically on what we’ve lost in publishing.

Let’s start in the beginning. Not that many millennia ago, publishing meant inscribing our words in stone. Even though this method is rarely used anymore, it is still used for gravestones and remembered in idioms like “carved in stone,” and “written in stone.”

The beauty of this technology was durability. While the Rosetta Stone survived for thousands of year, you can not expect comparable longevity from your favorite eBook. If you are not convinced, consider the number of sound recording mediums that have become obsolete in the last century (wires, cylinders, platters, tapes, discs, each of several types).

Rosetta Stone

As with twentieth century sound recordings, stone encryptions shared publishing with other durable media, such as clay tablets and wall paintings, especially the very durable frescos.

Eventually, carved-in-stone was replaced by paper and ink. This had the advantage of being cheaper to produce and easier to store. This technology allowed knowledge to be widespread. Durability was sacrificed. These new books (scrolls) were not resistant to fire, water, or mold damage like the previous stone and ceramic versions.

However, they could be beautiful. Consider this page from an illuminated manuscript.

meister_des_marechal_de_boucicaut_001

The next breakthrough was the printing press. This image of the Gutenberg Bible shows some early attempts to maintain the hand-crafted beauty of pre-printing-press books. However, with the printing press came mass-market publishing where artistry, color, gold leaf, etc. were abandoned for the benefit of cheaper and more widely available books.

gutenberg_bible_lenox_copy_new_york_public_library_2009-_pic_01

We are now at another technology change. Electronic publishing. The trend line should be clear by now. Durability is virtually (insert joke here) gone, and the artistry is reduced. While today’s printed books are not illuminated manuscripts, each publisher considers the design of the book: size, paper, header, footer, numbering, fonts, layout, etc.

On the other hand, eBooks are basically just text strings. The reader is expected to choose page size, the font and even the page color. eBooks all have the same look and feel. Lost is the creative design.

kindle_paperwhite_wifi

This brings me back to the book mentioned at the beginning of this post.

The Great Cat of R’a by Robert Muller is a wonderful alternate history set on the San Francisco peninsula in the current time, but the city is called Menmenet and it is part of the Ta’an-Imenty Republic (a country on the western side of North America), part of the new world empire of Kemet (Egypt).

This is an example of wonderfully creative design we will see in decline as the eBook technology takes over. Here is the first page (copyright 2016 by Robert J. Muller)…

book-page