From Gutenberg to CreateSpace

The casual daily grind of life has hustled and bustled its way around so steadily that people don’t know how to sit complacently anymore. In other words, the world moves. Quickly. You could even say it flies, if you’re so inclined. The truth is, nothing seems to slow down. It’s as if humanity has plopped itself in the middle of a morning stock exchange and papers are being slung around the room and phones are ringing off the hooks and there are no red lights on the drive to work so you just breeze right on through. This type of scattered, frantically evolving world places more stock in the change of industry than in the current products. Take phones, for example. Maybe you were gifted the iPhone 6 for Christmas and it’s great… but the next day you see the iPhone 7 and become restless with the object that seemed so enticing just hours before. When did the world become so obsessed with being first, being the best, being the biggest? Not only are things constantly moving, but they are constantly in competition. And a part of me wonders if it has been this way since the beginning of time, when cavemen noticed the sun was setting and decided to run home to not miss dinner after an exciting day on the prowl. It’s an odd analogy, yes, but perhaps it’s always been the nature of the mind to compete, and to race to the finish line, to always have the newest gadget or story. Since we’re talking about books and publishing, or at least that’s where I’m going, think about this: less than 30 years ago, there were twice the number of full-service booksellers. These are independent, enthusiastic, non-chain, non-superstore “indies” that hosted author signings and reading groups and a Book-of-the-Month Club. Today, we have Barnes and Noble, we have Amazon, we have giant mass-market paperbacks sold in drug stores or your local Wegmans. Books are everywhere. They’ve multiplied, expanded and soared and “Big 5” publishing is no longer the only option for receiving notoriety.

Look how far we, humans, have come. Think back to the printing press, Gutenberg, and how his prints made their way across the country. Even back then, you had a specific demographic that demanded scribe-copied texts, thinking there was a purer craft to hand-made work. And, honestly, they’re not wrong, in my opinion. Regardless, there has always been a divide in the publishing world: those who prefer “classic quality,” and those who welcome the advances in the industry and purchase the newest mass-produced reprint. “From Gutenberg to the Internet” reads: “No matter how well early books were printed, these products of new technology were initially marketed as less-expensive substitutes for traditional manuscripts that had been handwritten to order” (27). This divide existed even then. Think about the publishing world today, and how the small, “craft-based” publishers and booksellers defend their craft to the death, or to bankruptcy, whichever comes first. This divide is what fueled and published 727,125 Indie ISBN’s in 2015. 727,125. Compared to the millions of books traditionally published a year, that number might not sound too groundbreaking, but it is. It’s groundbreaking enough that CreateSpace, Amazon’s Independent Publishing Service, is considered a “Big” house. An independent publishing website is being ranked against traditional publishing houses… and that’s 2015! Imagine how much has changed in the last 2 years, and how much larger the divide has become.

This divide is what has taken the reigns somewhat out of the hands of the Big 5 and placed them back into the grasps of authors. Of course, just like in 1457, you have a shift of power occurring in the publishing industry. It’s moving away from the more modern tradition of big publishing, and moving back into the “craft” mentality. You have authors like Colleen Hoover, Jamie McGuire, Tarryn Fisher, and Abbi Glines who all self-published, self-edited, and self-promoted. These authors were picked up by some of the Big 5’s… the big companies went to them, not the other way around. Power is moving back into the hands of writers, of the good ones. I am honored and somewhat star-struck to have met and conversed with the aforementioned women. On more than one occasion we have talked about how rapidly the market changes, and how dystopian novels kicked traditional bodice-ripper romances off the shelves, and how e-books are quickly dropping in price and sales because Audio-books are emerging more accessibly. There is constant evolution, constant moving and merging and new services being offered to consumers and before you know it, the new hot commodity becomes just another commodity. It’s up to readers to decide whether to embrace the movements, or to stick to tradition. Paperbacks vs. ebooks. Ebooks vs. audio. In Gutenberg’s era, it was manuscript vs. prints. No matter the era, no matter the industry, people change. People change and adapt and the economy and industry and products adapt with it, so it’s time to hop on board or go down fighting.


2 thoughts on “From Gutenberg to CreateSpace

Add yours

  1. Awesome post, Kristina! I really enjoyed reading this. I took a really academic approach to this blog post but you took a creative, lovely, readable approach. I like how you were clearly inspired by our class discussion on independent publishing and how it is different from “big” publishers. You seem to have a really good grasp on this whole topic. If anything,
    I would have liked to see you compare the past to the present more. You obviously did, but I would have liked to see a larger section describing how people still preferred manuscripts over printed books. This way, there would be a very clear comparison between that and today’s appreciation for craft.


  2. Kristi, really strong work melding a creative voice with concrete examples and analysis! This is a great post. Both the tone and the data you reference convey the speed at which publishing technology is moving. One small question, you mention we “don’t know how to sit complacently anymore.” “Complacently” has connotations of lacking agency, being a bit blind to reality. And perhaps that’s what you mean, but it seems like you’re saying we *need* to be awake to what’s happening around us, not overly self-satisfied or complacent, but curious and reflective at once.


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