Table of Contents
- From Gutenberg’s Movable Type to the Digital Book, and Other Studies in the History of Media
- Relating the Rapidly Changing Present to the Distant Past
- The Transition from Print to Digital
- Defining “The Book”
- Restating the Problem
- Economic Aspects
- How Printing Changed the Ways that Books Were Used, and Manuscript Production Persisted
- How Form and Function of Books Impacts the Reading and Writing Process
- Transitional Phases in the Form and Function of the Book before Gutenberg
- The Transition from Oral to Written Culture
- The Transition from the Roll to the Codex: Technological and Cultural Implications
- An Achievement in Book Production That Some Have Compared to the Gutenberg Bible
- Loss of Information from Late Antiquity to the Thirteenth Century
- The Carolingian Renewal and the Recopying of Codices in Minuscule
- Secularization of Book Production and Widening of the Market, Helped by the Invention of Spectacles, Causes Advances in the Form, Function, and Production of the Manuscript Book
- From Cuneiform Archives to Search Engines: The History of Bibliographical Control, Indexing and Searching
1. From Gutenberg's Movable Type to the Digital Book, and Other Studies in the History of Media
1.E. Economic Aspects of Book Production and Bookselling
In the fifteenth century printing dramatically changed the economics of book production and bookselling. Apart from the transition from the roll to the codex, which took place from the second through fifth centuries CE, the medieval economic model of manuscript book production had changed little since Roman times, except that Romans sometimes used slaves, rather than monks or paid scribes and illuminators, to produce manuscript books. Both the Roman and medieval process usually involved the production of manuscript copies of texts one at a time and to order. It has been suggested that when several copies of an identical text were ordered, groups of scribes, working in the same room, might have copied out multiple copies of the same text from dictation, especially in the ancient world when it is thought that all reading, or nearly all reading, was done aloud. Though production of simultaneous copies is unconfirmed, there is ample evidence that scribes in the ancient world copied manuscripts from dictation. 1.E.1 "The preponderance of textual evidence suggests that the ancients copied manuscripts by dictation. Each copy of an ancient Latin book was before all else a record of a public or private oral performance of a written text. In his letter to Atticus, for example, Cicero spoke of dictating a text syllable by syllable to his secretary. Nevertheless, some students have proposed that scriptura continua was highly suitable for visual copying because its widely spaced letters could easily have been transcribed, sign by sign, by scribes unable to understand the meaning of the text. If ancient scribes had copied visually, rather than by transcribing texts read orally, one would anticpate encountering errors of transposition such as those that occur in the copying of large, unpunctuated numbers digit by digit. Such purely graphic errors are not in scriptura continua codices, which instead are marked by divergences explicable only by errors caused by copying from texts read aloud--errors of pronunciation, decoding, and memory due to either a lector dicating to a scribe or to a scribe pronouncing to himself. It is indeed possible that the scribe, and even the dictator reading to the scribe, might not have understood the sense of the copy being produced, but this is because scriptura continua is a particularly ambiguous medium for the transcription of oral speech, a problem augmented by the ambiguous script and syntax of a given exemplar. Several factors probably contributed to the preference for oral rather than visual transcription of texts, including the lack of specialized furniture in antiquity, which rendered the ocular gestures necessary for visual contact between examplar and copy awkward and clumsy. The ancient posture of writing on one's knee, which left little room for manipulating an examplar, certainly would not have been conducive to such visual copying" (Saenger, Space Between Words. The Origin of Silent Reading (1997) 48. Whether working from dictation would have been possible later in monasteries operated by religious orders which required a vow of silence, is unclear. Benedictines took no vow of silence, and Saint Benedict, in his Rule, prescribed "four hours of daily reading, all of which was done orally by selected readers to the rest of the monks. This edict not only impelled copying and preservation of books in monastic libraries but also generated scriptoria in which books were copied."1.E.2 Kilgour, The Evolution of the Book (1998) 7. In classical antiquity, before the production of books moved out of the private sector into monasteries during the Middle Ages, usually a bookseller would receive an order for a text from a client and hire a scribe to copy it out, an artist to produce images if required, and a binder to produce a cover if the book was in codex form. During the ancient world we also have evidence of booksellers (librarii) hiring copyists, and individuals such as Cicero's friend Atticus using trained slaves (also initially called librarii) to copy out manuscripts for distribution.
"We hear nothing of a book trade at Rome before the time of Cicero. Then the booksellers and copyists (both initially called librarii) carried on an active trade, but do not seem to have met the high standards of a discriminating author, for Cicero complains of the poor quality of their work (Q.f. 3-.4.5, 5.6). Most readers depended upon borrowing books from friends and having their own copies made from them, but this too demanded skilled copyists. It was perhaps for such reasons that Atticus, who had lived for a long time in Greece and there had some experience of a well-established book trade, put his staff of trained librarii at the service of his friends. It is not easy to see whether Atticus is at any given moment obliging Cicero as a friend or in a more professional capacity, but it is clear that Cicero could depend on him to provide all the services of a high-class publisher. Atticus would carefully revise a work for him, criticize points of style or content, discuss the advisability of publication or the suitability of a title, hold private readings of the new book, send out complimentary copies, organize its distribution. His standards of excecution were of the highest and his name a guarantee of quality" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd. ed.  23-24).
After the fall of Rome, when book production gradually moved almost exclusively to the church, monasteries produced manuscripts substantially for use within their local monastic community; however, from provenance and paleographic evidence it is evident that roughly half of surviving early medieval production from monasteries in the two main producing countries, Italy and France, found its way to libraries in other countries. Whether this was through barter or sale may be little known.1.E.3 Statistics compiled from Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores covering the period 350 CE to 799 CE. See reference below. Later, in the early thirteenth century, after book production moved mostly out of monasteries back into the private sector, by producing mainly to order, medieval book producers shifted the capital cost to the buyer, who paid for the costly materials in advance, and presumably paid for the labor either in advance or as the manuscript was completed. In Medieval Craftsmen: Scribes and Illuminators (1992) p. 35 Christopher de Hamel cites, as one of the earliest manuscripts clearly made by a professional scribe in Paris, a copy of Ptolemy in the Bibliotheque nationale de France "with an inscription recording its completion in December 1213 from an exemplar in the abbey library of St-Victor in Paris." Although the Abbey of St. Victor was dissolved and destroyed during the French Revolution, remarkably the St. Victor copy survives and is also preserved in the Bibliotheque nationale.
Professional scribes were capable of writing in several scripts. De Hamel also illustrates a display poster written by a scribe that was preserved in a binding from Oxford that can be shown to be dated about 1340. This poster (De Hamel's plate 31, p. 40) was once tacked up outside a stationer's shop. It is the "oldest known English public advertisement." The accounting of the relative cost of the different components involved in the production of a manuscript book from roughly the same time is recorded in a manuscript preserved in the Bibliotheque municipale d'Amiens (shelfmark 365). It is a copy of Henri Bohic's voluminous Commentaires commissioned by Etienne de Conty from the scribe Guillaume du Breuil between 1374 and 1375. The manuscript consists of two large folio volumes, the first containing 370 leaves, the second 388. Inside there is a note stating that the work cost 62 livres and 11 sous, broken down into the following components:
The scribe's or copyist's fee: 31 livres 5 sous
The purchase and preparation of the parchment, including the mending of holes: 11 livres 18 sous
Six initial letters with gold: 1 livre 10 sous
Other illuminations in red and blue: 3 livres 6 sous
The hiring of the exemplar for the copyist, provided by Martin, Carmelite monk: 4 livres
Repairs to holes in the margins, and stretching the parchment: 2 livres
Binding: 1 livre 12 sous.1.E.4 Blog Pecia. Le manuscript medieval, November 5, 2007
What we may observe from this listing was the high cost of writing, based undoubtedly on the extensive amount of time involved in writing out such a long text on nearly 800 leaves. The second largest cost (11 livres 18 sous plus 2 livres for repairs and stretching the parchment) was for the production of the nearly 800 leaves of parchment--a labor intensive process. The gathering, (4 bifolios, consisting of 8 leaves) sometimes called "Quaternion," was the unit of production for medieval manuscripts, and the unit by which professional scribes and illuminators charged for their work, the illuminator working on a gathering after its writing was completed. Because nearly all manuscripts consisted of several gatherings, and these had to be kept in a discernable order, systems of numbering developed, the earliest in monastic scriptoria being numbers or letters written on the last page of each. This system was sufficient in monasteries where, it is believed, there was little danger of confusing a gathering from one manuscript with another. As commercial manuscript production developed, and different scribes might be working on one copy, or producing several copies of the same text at a time, each scribe might have a slightly different character count per page, and a system of numbering gatherings could have resulted in gaps in the text if gatherings from one copy were confused with another. To prevent that commercial book producers developed a system of catchwords, by which a catchword would be written in the lower corner of the last page of one gathering that would be matched up with the first word of the next, making it easy to keep the gatherings in the correct order. This catchword system would later be continued by printers who would print the catchword of at the end of each gathering to be matched up with the first word of the next, and who also developed an abbreviation system using letters, numbers and symbols, for each gathering that they printed at the foot of the first page of each gathering. The order of these abbreviations would be compiled into a collation that would be printed with the colophon of each book, so that the binder would be sure that he had both all the necessary printed signatures, and that they were assembled in the correct order.
Printing required a different economic model, in which the capital costs and concomittant risks were shifted to the printer. First, an individual who desired to enter into the printing trades had to learn the technical aspects of the trades, and probably also had to hire workers with the skill and experience of operating a press, cutting punches, casting type, cutting woodcuts or engraving copperplates, and perhaps binding books. For the first two centuries of printing its skills remained trade secrets learned only through apprenticeship.Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, did not appear until 1683-84, and as detailed as it was, even this would have been insufficient for a printer to do professional work without considerable experience. Still, Moxon's manual provided invaluable technical information and illustrations, and since the fundamentals of printing did not change rapidly, Moxon's presentation was adapted and translated in other printer's manuals for the next two hundred years. Regarding printing as it first evolved in Germany during the 1450s through 1470s, we lack technical documentation, and even though we understand the economics of early printing operations in general terms, most of our information about the earliest printing and typesetting processes has been inferred from study of surviving examples of early printing, from the few surviving archival records, and from our more detailed understanding of later printing technology. Secondly, a printer had to raise the money to buy the very expensive press and equipment. Thirdly, in order to print a book, a printer had to buy the costly paper or vellum needed for the project before printing. Beyond these direct costs, unless he was a scholar himself, and perhaps even if he was, a printer who intended to produce a reliable edition needed to locate an appropriate manuscript or manuscripts on which to base his text, and to hire a skilled editor to prepare the text for printing and to see it through the press. In the early years of printing the editor, who might also act as the corrector of the typesetting, had to stand by to read pages as they came off the press since the great majority of early printers did not have enough type to leave type standing long enough to send out proofs. This need to correct pages as they were being printed remained standard practice, inevitably with some exceptions, until roughly the end of the eighteenth century when it is understood that some printers owned enough type to allow type to stand, and printing to continue, while the author corrected proofs.
As early as 1466, in his preface to a corrected version of Aurelius Augustinus's (Augustine of Hippo's) De arte praedicandi (Book IV of De doctrina christiana) printed in Strassburg by Johann Mentelin, an anonymous scholar described the value and difficulty of preparing as accurate a manuscript as possible for printing, probably for the first time in any printed book:
"Nevertheless I have thought it by all means worthwhile that I should first expend much labour over what would be to the common utility of the Church: that I may have this most useful little book- worthy of all esteem - correct, in order that, after correction this way, I would be able to communicate it more usefully to all those wishing to have it. Therefore, as God is my witness, I have taken great pains in the correction of it, in such a way that I have sought out diligently all the copies which I have been able to discover for this purpose in any of the libraries in the school of Heidelberg, in Speyer and in Worms, and finally also in Strassburg. And since in the course of this I have learned by experience that that particular book of Augustine is rare to come by even in the great and well stocked libraries, and even rarer can it be had for copying from any of those same libraries; and also, what is worse, that when it can be found in there it is more rarely corrected or emended; on that account I have been moved to work most carefully to this end; that, according to my exemplar- now corrected at least by as much care and labour as I am capable of- the said little book can be multipled in this state, and in such a way that it may become rapidly and easily known in a short time, for the use of many and to the common advantage of the Church. On account of which, since I judged that this could not be done more expeditiously by any other method or means, I have persuaded by every means that discreet gentleman Johann Mentelin, inhabitant of Strassburg, master of the art of typography, to the end that the might see fit to undertake the responsibily and toil of multiplying this little book by means of printing, having my copy before his eyes. . . ." 1.E.5M.B. Parkes, Introduction to Peter Ganz (ed) The Role of the Book in Medieval Culture  15-16).
Of course, the effort early printers actually devoted to comparing manuscripts and producing a carefully edited text varied widely, and no matter how much effort was expended, even the best scholar printers, such as Aldus Manutius, could be very limited in their access to classical texts, sometimes basing their editions on only one manuscript.1 Davies, Aldus Manutius, Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (1999) 22. Nevertheless, once a text was put into print, the printed version often assumed an authority which it may or may not have deserved. After printing editors often discarded the exemplar from which they worked, believing that it would no longer be needed, in the process adding a gap in the record of the transmission of the text. Very few manuscripts from which early printers worked have survived.St. Augustine, De civitate dei, issued from their press at the Benedictiine Monastery of St. Scholastica, in Subiaco, Italy on June 12, 1467. The manuscript from which the edition was based remains preserved in the monastery library, and it is thought that monks at the monastery participated in printing the edition. "That the codex was used for the printing is clearly shown by the frequent editorial corrections, the inky fingerprints, and the scored marks in the margins to indicate the end of the text page. The texts of the printed pages correspond almost exactly to these markings." 1.E.6Wilson, The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1976) 34.
From the beginning of printing publication of books was risky, as it was expensive to produce the inventory of copies necessary for sale, and sales could be difficult to predict with accuracy. These risks, which remain with publishers today, were particularly great at the beginning of the industry. It is understood from legal documents that in 1455, the year of publication of the 42-line Bible, merchant and money-lender Johann Fust filed a lawsuit against Gutenberg resulting in Gutenberg losing his printing equipment to Fust.
Ironically, because of the paucity of documentation concerning the origins of printing in Europe, the legal document which survived concerning this lawsuit, known as The Helmasperger Notarial Instrument, is one of the only documents directly associating Gutenberg with the invention of printing by movable type. Fust's repossession of Gutenberg's equipment became the basis for the Fust and Schoeffer partnership, resulting in some of the finest products of the early press.
To mitigate risk some early printers sought to obtain a monopoly for printing in a certain region before going to the expense of establishing a business. In 1469 the Venetian state granted a five-year monopoly to the German printer Johannes de Spira (Speyer). This was the first monopoly on printing granted by a European government, and by encouraging the very early development of the printing industry, it set the stage for Venice to become one of the leading publishing centers of Europe by the 1480s. Other printers may have sought sponsors or patrons to underwrite costs of editions, or they entered into cost sharing arrangments with other printers.1.E.7 Richardson, Printing, Writers and Readers in Renaissance Italy (1999) 25-35. By the sixteenth century it was common for a wealthy author or patron to pay for the printing of an edition. In the early years of printing, however, most titles published were standard textbooks, religious treatises or editions of the classics, the ancient authors of which would not have been available to underwrite costs. On the other hand the church appreciated the value of printing for education and spreading the faith early on, and was in a position to support printers. The introduction of printing in Subiaco and Rome by Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, both of whom were clerics, appears to have been arranged by highly placed persons in the entourage of Pope Paul II. It is also understood that the church supported the establishment of printing shops in other cities and towns in Italy. 1.E.8Hirsch, Printing, Selling and Reading 1450-1550  106. By the end of the year 1500, only forty-five years after the invention of printing by movable type, printing presses were established in 282 cities, nearly all of which were in Europe. From this period 29,777 different editions survive, suggesting a considerably larger original output. Assuming that the average edition was between 150 and 500 copies, somewhere around 15-20 million printed books would have been produced. It is difficult to think of any other technological development in history which had spread this far, this fast, up to this time, or which had more influence upon the development of society.
Even if early editions were as small as 150 to 300 copies, and the manufacturing costs of the new technology were initially high, mass production would have resulted in books less expensive than manuscript copies made to order one at a time. Because there were so many different manuscripts, and so many different printed books, it is difficult to arrive at any generalization concerning prices except to acknowledge that the cost of professionally produced manuscripts was high, and ownership of any kind of luxury manuscript was limited to the wealthy and powerful. In Italy, where the supply of manuscripts was greatest in the fifteenth century, it was estimated that "a typical vellum manuscript of the fifteenth century, in finished form and bound, cost between seven and ten ducats; this equalled a month's wages for an official at the Neapolitan court."1.E.9 Buehler, The Fifteenth Century Book: The Scribes, The Printers, The Decorators (1960) 19. Naturally there were less expensive manuscripts of many kinds, including those written by amateur scribes, semi-professional scribes who occasionally sold a book, and owners for their own use. Some have suggested that there were far more manuscripts produced by non-professionals than by professionals. 1.E.10 Buehler, op. cit. 22-23. Even so, manuscripts were relatively scarce. Toward the end of the fifteenth century it was estimated that the average private library contained fifteen to twenty volumes, mostly manuscripts. 1.E.11Lefebre &Martin, The Coming of the Book. The Impact of Printing 1450-1800. Trans. D. Gerard (1976) 262-63. Reflecting the lower cost of printed books, in 1468, little more than ten years after the introduction of printing, Humanist Giovanni Andrea Bussi, bishop of Aleria, and the chief editor for the printing house of Sweynheym and Pannartz after it moved from Subiaco to Rome, wrote to Pope Paul II:
“In our time God gave Christendom a gift which enables even the pauper to acquire books. Prices of books have decreased by eighty percent.”
In the same year Bussi, who also served as Pope Paul II's librarian, wrote in the dedicatory letter of his edition of St. Jerome's Epistolae, also printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz, that printing was a "divine art" (sancta ars) that offered even the poor the opportunity to read. 1.E.12Jones, Printing the Classical Text (2004) 6. Lower cost meant wider distribution. By printing hundreds of copies at one time, rather than producing a single manuscript copy when ordered, printing also enabled faster distribution of more information. For convenient and more rapid transportation of books many printers located their shops in cities or towns on major waterways. No matter how well some of the books were edited and printed, customers were not necessarily easy to find, and the earliest printers had to seek distribution in other cities and towns. As early as March 20, 1472, Sweynheim and Pannartz, who had been printing in Rome for only three years, had Cardinal Bussi petition Pope Sixtus IV to subsidize their edition of Nicolaus de Lyra's commentary on the Bible. They claimed to have produced 20,475 volumes but were left with an enormous unsold stock. "Their expenses, they complained, were so heavy and buyers so scarce (cessantibus emptoribus) they had been reduced to near poverty (pauperes facti sumus), their workshop full of unsold copies (plena quinterniorum) but empty of the necessities of living (inanis rerum necessarium)." 1.E.13 Jones, Printing the Classical Text (2004) 4. Bussi obtained a subsidy, but this did not prevent Sweynheym and Pannartz from failing in business in 1473.
It was hard to argue against the production of needed texts at lower costs than manuscript copying, and inevitably those involved in the printing process either as printers or editors, such as Bussi, supported it. But as printing shops opened in more locations, and production increased, scholars and religious authorities--especially those not invested in an edition--worried about the proliferation of errors caused by sloppy editing, about loss of control over the editorial process, and the inevitable deterioration of scholarly accuracy, analogous to the common current concern over rapidly generated inaccurate information proliferating on the Internet.1.E.14 On this issue I admit that I may also be at fault for continuing to publish a developing rough draft of this manuscript on the web as I write it. My excuse is that having it exposed the way it is motivates me to continue to improve it. As mentioned earlier, I also view writing and publishing this way as an experiment in web composition. In 1471 Italian humanist and grammarian Niccolo Perotti, Archibishop of Sipponto, incensed by the number of errors in Giovanni Andrea Bussi’s edition of Pliny’s Historia naturalis issued in Rome by Sweynheym and Pannartz, wrote to the Pope asking him to set up a board of learned correctors, such as himself, who would scrutinize every text before it could be printed. This has been described as the first call for censorship of the press. 1.E.15Davies, “Humanism in Script and Print,” Kraye (ed) The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism  57). For further discussion of this issue see Jones, Printing the Classical Text (2004) 4-9.
Other book buyers simply refused to adopt the new technology, or ignored it. A surprising number of fifteenth century manuscripts are actually copies of printed books produced, one assumes, either because an owner could not afford a printed edition and copied it out for himself, or an owner could not obtain an out of print edition and hired a scribe to copy it, or he could not stomach owning the relatively less expensive new printed edition and hired a scribe to deliver the kind of finely produced deluxe manuscript that he required. The notion that printing came along and simply put all the scribal book producers out of business seems not to be confirmed by evidence, though undoubtedly the number of scribes producing books would have gradually diminished in response to printing. It has been estimated that nearly as many manuscripts written in the second half of the fifteenth century have survived as those which are thought to have been written in the first half of the fifteenth century, reflecting a continuity of manuscript copying even as it was being gradually superceded by the new technology.1.E.16 See the considerable discussion of this issue in Buehler, The Fifteenth Century Book. The Scribes, The Printers, The Decorators (1960)24-39.
Scribes who could write in Greek remained in high demand, as in spite of the increasing demands of humanists for Greek texts, printing in Greek got a late start. This is understandable considering that, with exceptions, Greek had mainly disappeared from literacy in Europe during the Middle Ages, and was only gradually revived in Italy beginning in the fourteenth century, becoming of increasing interest to humanists in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Exceptions included the native Greek-speaking communities of Magna Graecia in southern Italy where monasteries continued to produce Greek manuscripts of the Bible, of patristic literature, of the liturgy, and even of classical texts, mainly for their own use. 1.E.17 "For Christians, Greek was not only the language of the Bible, it was also the language of the liturgy. The first Christians in the West held their religious services in Greek, and even though Latin gradually replaced Greek in the liturgy, some remants of Greek survived in the Western rites until modern times, as for example in the kyrie eleison. Many Latin missals and prayer books of the Middle Ages preserve some Greek prayers and hymns. Through the liturgy the medieval West mainted an uninterrupted acquaintance with Greek. Many Greek terms were adopted by the Latin church (for example, ecclesia, basilica, baptismus). The need to understand such terminology and the desire to comprehend the Greek quotations in ancient and patristic authors required that scholars in the West acquire at least some knowledge of Greek. There is some surviving evidence for how they accomplished this. A number of manuscripts from Western schoolrooms preserve Greek alphabets, from which scribes could learn to write Greek, perhaps to enable them to copy the Greek passages they encoutered in patristic texts. Greek-Latin glossaries and word lists provided a rudimentary understanding of Greek voacbulary. Such basic resources kept Greek alive in the Western schools, at least at the most elementary level. On a more sophistical level, translations from ancient and patristic Greek authors continued to be made in the West. Aristotle mremained a favorite, and he was translated from the Greek by scholars like Jacobus Veneticus in the twelfth century, and Robert Grosseteste in the thirteenth. . . . " (Babcock & Sosower, Learning from the Greeks. An Exhibition Commemorating the Five-Hundredth Anniversary of the Founding of the Aldine Press [at the Beinecke Library, Yale] (1994) Obviously, in the early years of printing the market for Greek books was much smaller than for works in Latin, but it was growing. The main problems with printing in Greek were many technical problems in creating Greek type fonts, which had to be based on non-standardized Greek manuscript hands, with their ligatures and esoteric abbreviations, unlike Roman fonts which derived from stone inscriptions and legible Carolingian minuscule. One of the great challenges was to develop graceful Greek fonts that could be fit into standard matrices for casting type.1.E.18Jones, Printing the Classical Text (2004) 22. On the very specialized topic of early printing in Greek two works have become classics: Robert Proctor, The Printing of Greek in the 15th Century (1900) and the superbly written and produced work by Nicolas Barker, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek & Script in the Fifteenth Century (1985). The first edition of Barker's work, which was limited to 200 copies with four original leaves from Aldine press books, was designed by Stephen Harvard and printed on excellent paper in small folio format at the Stinehour Press. In my opinion this edition, and to a slightly lesser extent, the revised second edition from 1992, which was limited to 350 copies, are among the best designed and printed books on the history of printing issued during the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Compared to printed books, electronic books delivered over the Internet have the advantages of lower manufacturing cost, and assuming that the ereader is already paid for, usually lower sales prices, freedom from shipping cost, and virtually instantaneous wireless delivery. Though they lack the virtues we appreciate in well designed and produced physical books, such as the graphic quality of fine printing, fine color reproductions of images especially in formats larger than the electronic screens, fine paper, fine bindings or beautiful dust jackets, when it comes to portability they have a tremendous advantage. In 2010 a Kindle weighing less than a pound could store up to 3500 ebooks with no weight gain. An equivalent library of hardcover books would weigh over 10,000 pounds. Having spent my life in the world of physical books, and accustomed as I am to working with thousands of physical books, many of which are beautiful or have extremely interesting physical attributes, I am unwilling to give up the experience of collecting, handling and reading the physical objects. I want to feel the physical book, to turn actual, rather than virtual pages, especially when a book is a thing of beauty, or an object from another time or place, replete with historical meaning, sometimes with a dusty smell of the past. However, many books are not available to me in physical form, or lack the physical attributes that I value, and I think there is little loss, and significant convenience gained, in owning and/or reading those in electronic form.
Ironically, distribution of electronic books on demand, or printing books on demand on digital presses, represents a return to aspects of the medieval model of book production, in which manuscript copies were produced on demand. Of course, unlike the one-at-a-time hand production of medieval manuscripts, which, like any elaborate hand-production process, were produced more or less slowly depending upon their complexity and the nature of their writing or decoration, electronic books-- no matter how complex-- are produced much more rapidly using computerized typesetting, page layout, and graphics programs. Another great difference is that once the electronic edition is complete, distribution may be instantaneous. This production model, in which costs of paper, printing and binding are eliminated, along with the time involved in physical production and costs of warehousing and shipping, dramatically lowers the cost of publishing and reduces a great deal of the risk, allowing virtually anyone with a computer, an Internet connection, and the inclination, the possibility of publishing an electronic book. Ease of editing and lack of distribution costs are, of course, among the reasons why I have chosen to compose and distribute From Cave Paintings to the Internet in its electronic form. (This section was last revised on June 16, 2011.)