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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015

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Is Gutenberg relevant in an age of electrons–Part III

The Leveling of Content Value

Imagine a time when people gathered in public places—the church, temple, town square, palace courtyard—to hear the reading of words. The words they heard, be it scripture or decree, were important. They were so important, they had been written down so that every word could be repeated exactly to the listeners. These words had value.

Granted, storytellers and minstrels gathered crowds as well. They told tales and sang songs. They entertained. But there was no expectation that those stories were of utmost importance. After all, they had not been written down.

It was a costly endeavor to painstakingly copy a manuscript. It took months. It not only had to be accurate, it had to be legible and beautiful. At the time of Gutenberg, a full copy of the Bible cost about the same amount as a functioning vineyard.

Then came the printing press.

Of course, Gutenberg started with the Bible. His journeyman and successor then progressed to the Psalter. Gutenberg himself moved on to the Catholicon. Within 50 years (the term of the Incunabula or cradle of printing) Aldus Manutius was printing obscure romance (The Hypnerotmachia Polyphili) in a convenient octovo size (about the size of a trade paperback) that would conveniently fit in a saddle-bag for leisure reading.

Any written words were worthy of print. And no matter what the content, the books had the same value.

This leveling of content value has continued and advanced in the digital age. On a single page of Twitter posts, one might read an announcement by the President of the United States and what a 14-year-old had for breakfast. They are treated equally.

Some have decried the rise of self-publishing in this era as being the death knell of literature precisely because the reader can no longer tell what is valuable content and what is not. Indeed, the mainstream publishers would have us believe that we can only trust what they have published because it has been vetted, edited, and determined valuable enough to invest in. In reality, the vetting and investment have been based on what the publisher thinks will sell, not on the value of the content. We’ve all seen some incredible crap published that sells a lot of copies.

TGRCoverOn a bookstore shelf, we would be hard-put to to tell the difference between many independently published books today and those that come from the major houses. They are equally well-designed (sometimes better) and equally well-produced. Only by reading the work can one discern whether the content is good or bad or indifferent.

In The Gutenberg Rubric, the heroes strive to discover a cache of ancient manuscripts. The manuscripts could have immense scholarly and economic value. They would be the original words of some of the world’s great works. They could throw religious belief, national boundaries, philosophies, and even science into disarray, simply because they are of such value. How do we know they were of such value? Simply because they were set down before printing.

For good or ill, the relevance of Gutenberg in the leveling of content value: 10.

(The Gutenberg Rubric, a novel by Nathan Everett, will be released on July 28. Order your copy today!)

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