Many are worried about what [e-book] technology means for books, with big bookshops closing, new devices spreading, novice authors flooding the market and an online behemoth known as Amazon growing ever more powerful. Their anxieties cannot simply be written off as predictable technophobia. The digital transition may well change the way books are written, sold and read more than any development in their history, and that will not be to everyone’s advantage. Veterans and revolutionaries alike may go bust; Gutenberg died almost penniless, having lost control of his press to Fust and other creditors. But to see technology purely as a threat to books risks missing a key point. Books are not just “tree flakes encased in dead cow”, as a scholar once wryly put it. They are a technology in their own right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of thought. And this technology is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable one.—From Papyrus to Pixels is a long essay in The Economist about the changing form of books, presented both as a traditional web-scroll, as an e-book and in audio form.
Are paper books becoming obsolete in the digital age, or poised to lead a new cultural renaissance? [more inside]
In 1925, the Federation of British Industry created a series of silent films meant to document various aspects of British industrial work being done at the time. Included in that series was a film on the work of Oxford University Press. Oxford University Press and the Making of a Book. (SilentLinkYouTube)
"People haven’t been fascinated by this book because the translation is mellifluous or beautiful,” said Michael F. Suarez, a professor of English at the University of Virginia who directs the Rare Book School there. “People haven’t been attracted to this book because the presswork is beautiful. It’s not.” Instead, the Bay Psalm Book is treasured for being the first surviving piece of printing done in the British North American colonies. Only 11 copies, many incomplete, today survive. Remarkably two of those copies belong to the same owner, Boston's Old South Church. This month, the church made the controversial decision to sell one (the first such sale in 65 years), and it could bring as much as $20 million for the church's endowment.
The Written World is a five part radio series put together by Melyvn Bragg as part of the In Our Time BBC radio project. The programmes look at the history of written word, and how it has shaped our intellectual history. Each episode is available as a podcast and has an accompanying page (1 2 3 4 5) with images and links for further exploration. Also: The books that shaped history (narrated slideshow); the British Library page. [more inside]
The Nuremberg Chronicle is one of the earliest printed books. The author, Hartmann Schedel, sets out a history of the world as understood at the time, relying heavily on the Bible. It is perhaps best known today for its wealth of images (some favorites: Creation of Birds, Map of the World, Half Horse, Stoning of St. Stephen and Apocalypse). The Beloit College website has a lot more information about the book and its context. They even have an English translation which is fully searchable.
Remember Paper is a blog with photos of interesting magazines, books, and other paper-based ephemera. NSFW.
Perhaps you have seen the recent video of flies zooming around a "German trade show" like little banner planes? That "German Trade Show" was the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse)—the most important event in the book publishing world. It's international; all the major US publishers go, as do many agents, to meet their foreign counterparts and to buy and sell projects amid publishing's eternal and ever-present air of fatalism. This year's fair had some interesting subplots, the most visible of which was the complicated dance the organizers did with this year's guest of honor, China, as accusations of censorship (on the part of China) and of brown-nosing (on the part of the fair's organizers) flew. [more inside]
The Atlas of Early Printing. A visualization of fifteenth-century printing presses in Europe. Click around, look at the book-learnin' blossom!
Edward Samuel's Illustrated History of Copyright A fascinating illustrated historical tour, looking at how different technologies have shaped how we think about copyright and intellectual property.
The Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae A collection of over 900 zoomable print engravings, organized around the work of Antonio Lafreri and other Italian publishers, whose documentation of Roman ruins and statues helped fuel the Renaissance. The itineraries are a good place to start for detailed discussion, or just browse away. [via the wonderful Bouphonia]
The Espresso Book Machine. A photocopier-size machine that can print and bind a paperback in a few minutes. This is the first fully-automatic book printer designed for retail locations, it is envisioned to be a kiosk. Current beta tests in DC and New York Public Library, also in talks with the Internet Archive and others to support the growing world of online scanned books. Further out, Kinkos, Starbucks, etc.. could become major book sellers and the practice of overstocking (and discounted books) could be reduced. Machine will probably be about $100,000.
The Briar Press is a fantastic resource for those interested in letterpress printing. It includes (amongst many other things) a museum, downloadable ornaments and a guide to buying your first handpress.
The Gutenberg Bible : the first book printed with movable type, is the one of the greatest treasures in the University of Texas's Ransom Center's collections. It was printed at Johann Gutenberg's shop in Mainz, Germany and completed in 1454 or 1455. The Center's Bible was acquired in 1978 and is one of only five complete examples in the United States. All 1,282 pages now available for viewing on the Ransom Center's Web site. Also check out the anatomy of a page.
Aspects of the Victorian Book is a Sunday morning kind of site, a relaxed but vivid tour of 19th century British publishing that explores production techniques such as lithography, binding and illustration, and looks at the printed works of the period (including forms such as the inexpensive "Yellowbacks" and their cousins, the usually lurid "Penny Dreadfuls").
"When I first saw it, I knew it would be as important as Gutenberg." Hyperbole aside, PerfectBook -- a machine that spits out a complete book from a digital file within minutes -- sounds intriguing. What's more, "a distracted teenager could run it."