The Real Prize

by Gabrielle Darling

Once there was an item so rare it was prized above ivory. It was a luxury among the high class of Europe and practically a myth among the lower class. This item was not made of the purest silver or embedded with flashy jewels, but was made from thin strips of calfskin and ink. Some of the ink was beautiful, emerald greens and blood reds struck an occasional page with an illustration or emphasized a letter of the alphabet, but mostly it was just black ink and parchment. The item was a book and until the invention of the printing press they were rare. Nowadays one can find books for a penny on the Internet and nearly everyone has an extensive collection of literature in their homes, offices, and computers. Yet, how did we get from there to here? Two articles titled, From Gutenburg to the Internet by Jeremy M. Norman and The Ends of the Book: Reading, Economies & Publics by Matthew Stadler discuss two time periods where technology has affected the way in which books and knowledge are created and shared.

“Gutenburg’s press was an invention developed through many years of experimentation during the 1430s to early 1450s…” (90) and was actually brought together by three separate inventions that combined to create this device. The first was the invention of separate pieces of metal type made identical by a new type of mold that could be reused and thus create identical type from mold to mold. The second was an adaptation of the already created press to suit the inking of pages rather than the pressing of grapes and fruit. The last was the creation of an oil-based ink that would stick to both the page and leave the type clean after each print, unlike the common water based inks at the time. This simple invention allowed a vast amount of prints to be made in a short amount of time. Due to the shortened time and less manpower required for an individual book the manuscripts began to decrease in price and become more widely available. Individuals who had written scholarly books began to have their own editions printed so more varieties of books besides religious texts began to come out in print. The decrease in cost allowed more individuals to own books and this provided an outlet for mass education.

Gutenburg’s printing press made it possible for the era of printed text. Nowadays we seem to be in our own revolution as traditionally printed books and the newly created E-Book fight for a place on reader’s shelves and Kindles. As Mathew Stadler points out in his The Ends of the Book: Reading, Economies & Publics “the publishing industry struggles to configure new sites of shopping and rescue an economy that used to support writers by selling books, vibrant new communities of reading emerge, both online and in small-run printed books.” (12) Another technological revolution has occurred and this time it connects the world through the begrudged Internet. For publishers and writers alike it becomes more difficult to truly sell a novel. The Internet provides free or extraordinarily cheap books both in print and digital. It can be difficult to compete with the enormous shopping enterprise that has unfortunately undermined the power of publication and a writer’s rewards. If one person has a book it can easily be shared across the world, unfortunately without the writer or publisher gaining the necessary income they need to continue their work efficiently. Yet, as terrible as this may sound both publishers and writers are finding ways to utilize the Internet to their advantage in publication. The Internet is meant to connect people across the world and this can be used in social media, blogs, and online to print publications. Through advertisement online and physical meet and greets at public locations for poetry readings and literary events a group of supporters is built through friends, strangers, and future readers. Word spreads about the publication and many individuals wish to partake in the events that lead to publication and promoting, even if they don’t realize it. It’s something that builds and grows overtime and is slowly changing the way we view and use publication.

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3 thoughts on “The Real Prize

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  1. I really liked your take on this blog post! The argument you were making was very clear and easy to grasp. I enjoyed how you really dug into the mechanics of the printing press and of books in general. It provided really nice visuals to guide me through. It was interesting how you started off with the social aspect of the printing press that we discussed more in class to the technical aspect that we barely touch upon. If anything, I think it would be useful to bring it back around to the social aspect to show the before and after. You did a great job of describing what life was like before the printing press but you did not show us what it was like after it was invented.

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  2. I like the approach you’re taking in this post! Clearly the idea of the printing press and the accessibility of text is of great interest to our class, considering quite a few of us have posted about it. The idea of fighting with traditional books is a very sad concept, to me. Books should always be on shelves! They should always be floating around the house, waiting to be picked up. Just because everything is on a computer now, doesn’t mean we need to read on a screen all the time, either. There is probably a good middle-ground, a place of balance where we can read from the page and the screen with equal reference and appreciation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the image with which you begin this post! It successfully evokes a moment of awe for something (the book) that has become commonplace. The tone of phrases like “the begrudged Internet” also adds a unique voice (slightly playful, but also a little sarcastic) to the piece.

    You might bring us full circle (more explicitly) at the end of the post. For instance, you could remind us that our anxieties about the internet are not so unlike initial anxieties about printed books. We could also use a link or image to make further use of the digital publishing format (perhaps a link to an image of an early text that shows those beautifully inked colors?)

    [Small note: article titles go in quote marks, not italics.]

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