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The never-abating battle between industrial-commercial publishers with their ever more potent technological and legal arsenal and free-spirited arts and craftsmanship crowd now rages as fiercely as ever in numerous discussion lists, fora, tomes, and conferences.
William Morris started "private press" movement in England in 19th century to counter what he regarded as callous commercialization of book publishing. When printing press was invented, it was put to commercial use by private entrepreneurs (traders) of day. Established "publishers" (monasteries), with a few exceptions (e.g., in Augsburg, Germany and in Subiaco, Italy) shunned it as a major threat to culture and civilization. Their attacks on printing read like litanies against self-publishing or corporate-controlled publishing today.
But, as readership expanded - women and poor became increasingly literate - number of publishers multiplied. At beginning of 19th century, innovative lithographic and offset processes allowed publishers in West to add illustrations (at first, black and white and then in color), tables, detailed maps and anatomical charts, and other graphics to their books.
Publishers and librarians scuffled over formats (book sizes) and fonts (Gothic versus Roman) but consumer preferences prevailed. The multimedia book was born. E-books will, probably, undergo a similar transition from static digital renditions of a print edition - to lively, colorful, interactive and commercially enabled objects.
The commercial lending library and, later, free library were two additional reactions to increasing demand. As early as 18th century, publishers and booksellers expressed - groundless - fear that libraries will cannibalize their trade. Yet, libraries have actually enhanced book sales and have become a major market in their own right. They are likely to do same for e-books.
Publishing has always been a social pursuit, heavily dependent on social developments, such as spread of literacy and liberation of minorities (especially, of women). As every new format matures, it is subjected to regulation from within and from without. E-books and other digital content are no exception. Hence recurrent and current attempts at restrictive regulation and legal skirmishes that follow them.
At its inception, every new variant of content packaging was deemed "dangerous". The Church, formerly largest publisher of bibles and other religious and "earthly" texts and upholder and protector of reading in Dark Ages, castigated and censored printing of "heretical" books, especially vernacular bibles of Reformation.
It even restored Inquisition for specific purpose of controlling book publishing. In 1559, it issued Index Librorum Prohibitorum ("Index of Prohibited Books"). A few, mainly Dutch, publishers ended up on stake. European rulers issued proclamations against "naughty printed books" of heresy and sedition.
The printing of books was subject to licensing by Privy Council in England. The very concept of copyright arose out of forced recording of titles in register of English Stationer's Company, a royal instrument of influence and intrigue. Such obligatory registration granted publisher right to exclusively copy registered book - or, more frequently, a class of books - for a number of years, but politically constrained printable content, often by force.
Freedom of press and free speech are still distant dreams in most parts of earth. Even in USA, Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), V-chip and other privacy-invading, dissemination-inhibiting, and censorship-imposing measures perpetuate a veteran though not so venerable tradition.
The more it changes, more it stays same. If history of book teaches us anything it is that there are no limits to ingenuity with which publishers, authors, and booksellers, re-invent old practices. Technological and marketing innovations are invariably perceived as threats - only to be upheld later as articles of faith. Publishing faces same issues and challenges it faced five hundred years ago and responds to them in much same way.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com