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It has been at the heart of the expanding intellectual movement of the past 500 years.Although printing was thought of at first merely as a means of avoiding copying errors, its possibilities for mass-producing written matter soon became evident.Most modern Western publishers purchase printing services in the open market, solicit manuscripts from authors, and distribute their wares to purchasers through shops, mail order, or direct sales.Published matter falls into two main categories, periodical and nonperiodical; publications that appear at more or less regular intervals and are members of a series and those that appear on single occasions (except for reissues of essentially the same material).
The mechanization of printing in the 19th century and its further development in the 20th, which went hand in hand with increasing literacy and rising standards of education, finally brought the printed word to its powerful position as a means of influencing minds and, hence, societies.
Gutenberg’s achievement was not a single invention but a whole new craft involving movable metal type, ink, paper, and press.
In less than 50 years it had been carried through most of Europe, largely by German printers.
Not every published book is of lasting value; but a nation’s books, taken as a whole and winnowed out by the passing years, can be said to be its main cultural storehouse.
Conquerors or usurpers wishing to destroy a people’s heritage have often burned its books, as did Shih Huang-ti in China in 213 , the Spaniards in Mexico in 1520, and the Nazis in the 1930s.
The functions peculiar to the publisher— selecting, editing, and designing the material; arranging its production and distribution; and bearing the financial risk or the responsibility for the whole operation—often merged in the past with those of the author, the printer, or the bookseller.