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Publishing

Writing is far easier today than at any point before now. If you want to publish a book or whatever, you can do it in about 10 minutes and have it sitting before an audience of millions, if not billions. Pretty amazing, by anyone’s definition.

Step back 10 years ago, while I can’t speak to all the intricacies of what it would take to publish something, I do know that it involved significant risk and the allocation of scarce resources by a publisher in order to publish anything at all. That meant that quality wasn’t the only determining factor. One might write a pile of garage and have it be picked up by a publisher because the market is there for it’s sale. On the other hand, if you wrote something likely to put you into the ranks of Shakespeare, your transcript might be declined because, while it’s good, no one will buy it.

Back even further, to the rise of movable type and the printing press, you would have had to either pay for whatever you have written to be printed, at great cost, or have written something in high demand, the Bible for example, you can imagine the type of thing.

Further back than that, say 1000 years, there was no such thing as publishing. There were no printers at all. Christians and Muslims were producing texts but it was a huge pain in the ass. In monasteries across Europe, they were doing what they had been doing for hundreds of years already. Monks would sit and hand copy pages of the Bible or other important works from Greece and elsewhere.

That is a multi-part series on reproducing period text, and it’s exactly what would have been done, and you can see the time it takes just to produce one page. Not only that, but the materials being worked with, parchment for example, is a bit of animal skin. Not exactly something cheap to produce, nor is it something that likes to lay flat and it is rather thick. Books from this period had to be bound between thick and heavy boards to keep them from curling. This is why you see books with heavy buckles on them, today that sort of thing is just a throw back, but at one point it was a requirement.

Than there is the ink. One couldn’t run down to Staples and grab a package of pens. If you needed ink, you likely needed to make it yourself. You would start by finding an oak tree with one or more galls. Basically this is a place where a wasp had chomped on the tree to lay it’s eggs, and the tree reacted by closing the area off, like a cyst, and creating this bubble full of clear acid. One would crush the gall with vinegar or water, and add gum arabic to thicken and iron salts (or a few other things) to color the ink.

Only then were you able to start writing with this encaustum (from the Latin, caustere, ‘to bite’, that is what the acidic ink did, it bit into the parchment).

The Arabs did it roughly the same way. Literacy was a bit more widespread, due in part to the availability of paper, a newish invention. The Arabs typically would have the author (or someone else) of the work to be copied, dictate what was to be written, and so many copies could be produced at once. It isn’t to say they didn’t do this in the west, they did, but with the demand for most works being pretty low or non-existent, it was less common and still took a dogs age.

The fact that you can self publish even the most trivial things today, with the potential for billions of copies to be in circulation, really in seconds, is nothing less than a major miracle, by comparison of what the procedure used to be like. Of course it is harder today to find anything worth reading, but still.

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