Updated: 04/25/2012

The Print Media





Part 1




The Early History 

"Do you think John would like a book for Christmas?"  

"No, John already has a book."

>>Although this may be an old joke, last year almost one-third of adult Americans did not read a single book in a year.

Even so, books, especially books in the home, are associated with education and an educational advantage in life

Book Barometers

>> It's not income, it's not the educational level of parents, but according to a major study it's the number of books in the home that ends up being the strongest indicator of the subsequent educational attainment of children raised in the home.

In reaching these findings, University of Nevada sociologists analyzed 20 years of data on 73,000 people in 27 countries, including the U.S. For example, children born into a home with an average income and an average education level, but with 500 books in the house attain 12 years of education -- three more than in similar homes without books.

Granted, with today's High-speed Internet collections, smart phones tablet computers and search engines with access to billions of articles, this study may not have the validity it once did. 


Books are often used as sources for news stories, documentaries, motion pictures, and TV and radio interviews; so in this way, their influence goes far beyond bookstore sales.

Dropping back in history, Uncle Tom's Cabin helped turn attitudes against slavery in the United States, and Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care influenced (for better or worse) the rearing of a generation of children.

The Bible remains the number one best seller of all time in the United States. This takes into consideration sales of the various translations over the last 100 years.

It took one of the best-selling books of all time, Gone With the Wind, 40 years to sell 20 million copies. However, in a single evening more than 50 million people watched the movie on TV.


>>The chart above shows the breakdown of book sales by the traditional categories. Professional books include reference books used in areas such as business, law, medicine, and various technical professions.  Trade books include a wide variety of books sold in stores, including the mass-market paperbacks.

The chart below looks at book sales from the standpoint of subject areas. Note that bestseller fiction leads all subject areas.

>>Each week, periodicals such as the USA Today, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times publish a list of the best-selling books. Each list reflects the tastes and demographics of a slightly different readership.

The selection, production, and sales of books have changed rather dramatically in recent years. But, before we get to some of these things we need to back up and start at the beginning.


A Brief Historical Perspective

>>The earliest predecessors to books were the Sumerian clay tablets and the papyrus scrolls used about 2,500 BC, and the Papyrus Egyptian scrolls used in 600 B C.

Plato's Republic is the oldest complete book that's been found.  It dates back to 400 BC. The most notable example of scrolls were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the 20th century, which provided new and sometimes controversial and contradictory insights into traditional biblical writings.

Until the printing press was invented, all written materials had to be hand copied  — an arduous and time-consuming process. Until about the 12th century, most of the copying involved biblical scriptures and religious writings.

Although most of the monks tried to faithfully stick to their original sources, errors were made, and occasionally the monks embellished the copies with their own views. In some cases semi-literate scribes with a limited dedication to accuracy were hired to make copies.

When copies were subsequently made of the copies, errors were compounded. In some cases multiple errors have been found in a single biblical passage. Compounding the problem was that with time the original manuscripts were often lost. All this would change when the printing press (see below) arrived on the scene. 

The types of books that were available soon expanded beyond religious texts to poems, romantic adventures, and textbooks. Still, the copying process was expensive, and books and even education tended to be available only to the wealthy. 

In the case of biblical writings only priests had copies of the scriptures. Since most of the laity could not read, it was up to the priests to interpret the scriptures.

The First Printing Press

>>A major breakthrough in the history of books came in Europe in 1455, when Johannes Gutenberg, a metal worker, invented the first real printing press. We say "real" because the Chinese had been using a system called xylography much earlier.  However, unlike xylography, Gutenberg's system was based on the concept of movable metal type.

With this innovation a full page of written materials could be printed at one time.  Initially, these "printing presses" were simply modified wine presses. 

Gutenberg's first book was the Bible, subsequently known as the Gutenberg Bible. A small section of a page is shown here.

Each copy of elaborately designed Bible sold for the equivalent of three year's wages for the average worker of the day. (More recently, a copy of this rare book was sold to a collector for $2.7 million.)

>>To create the multicolored effect you see here, Gutenberg had to insert each page into a press several times.  Each page had to be lined up perfectly, and a different color ink was used for each impression.

Gutenberg may have overdone things a bit. He couldn't sell enough of his elaborate and pricey books to keep his creditors from shutting him down, and he died broke.

However, once Gutenberg's process became known, scores of printers adopted the concept. 

" As in the case of many inventions, there was immediate opposition. The new printing system was seen as something that would undermine the existing political and religious order."

Seeing the threat, King Henry VIII in England required all printers to obtain government approval before they could print anything. He also initiated prior restraint, a mandatory censorship process that in this case disallowed the publication of anything that was seen as threatening to the King's position or power. Even so, many printers secretly published things without the King's approval.Old Manuscript

The Catholic Church especially feared the invention of the printing press. Up to this time, the scriptures were held and interpreted by priests.

The Church feared that if it could not limit access to the scriptures, including their own interpretations of them, they would lose some of their control.

As it turned out, they were right.

Thanks to the printing press, the scriptures, along with writings of Martin Luther, were widely disseminated. Luther was a Catholic who had become disillusioned by the widespread corruption in the Catholic Church. His writings were in large part responsible for the Protestant Reformation, during which thousands of Catholics left the church. Consequently, Luther and the printing press forced the Catholic Church to institute needed reform.

(Click on TO NEXT MODULE below to continue.)

© 1996 - 2005, All Rights Reserved.     
Use Limited to direct Internet access from CyberCollege® or the InternetCampus®