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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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Is Gutenberg relevant in an age of electrons–Part IV

Establishing a Distribution System

Books, in the Gutenberg world, are physical objects that must be in immediate proximity to the reader in order to be of use. Prior to the invention of the printing press, readers had to go to where the books were in order to read them. The books were in the libraries, usually of wealthy people or institutions (like monasteries and universities). The books stayed put. The reader came to the book.

During the incunabula—the first fifty years of printing—the distribution system changed. Books were no longer stationary. By 1500, Aldus Manutius in Venice was producing octovo-sized books that could be “carried in a saddle-bag.” There are descriptions of book-sellers on the streets at every corner hawking their wares—the 16th century equivalent of Starbucks. This may have been the largest number of street vendors of books until the book-piracy wave in Peru began. As far as the distribution system goes, people still had to go to the book repository to buy them—often in uncut signatures that then had to be taken to a book-binder—but then they could take their books with them wherever they wanted to go.

Booksellers began to move off the street into storefronts. We had the birth of the bookstore.

TGRCoverEven the library system changed. People began to borrow books from the library rather than go to the library to read the books. In The Gutenberg Rubric, the heroes are forced to deal with a new threat: biblio-terrorism—attacks on libraries. This threat was conceived to convince people to stay away from libraries—the one place that they trust for information more than the Internet.

But the distribution system is changing—in fact, has changed. Starting in the early 2000s, people began moving away from brick and mortar bookstores as they used the computer to order their books and have them delivered to them. Readers no longer have to go to the book at all. The book comes to them. As the book has gone through this change in distribution, it has also gone through a change in form. We no longer need the physical object to hold in our hands in order to read the book. The book can be delivered electronically.

Some pundits have declared that the physical book is an artifact of the distribution system. In fact, the distribution system was created to support the printing of books. Regardless, there is no question that the change in distribution over the past ten years is as radical as the change that occurred in the first 50 years of printing. It remains to be seen if brick and mortar bookstores will survive the change, if they will evolve into something new, or if they will simply fade away. What is clear though, is that the relevance of Gutenberg on the distribution system ten years ago was at a 10. Today…

Relevance of the Gutenberg distribution system: 5.

(The Gutenberg Rubric, a novel by Nathan Everett, will be released on July 28. Order your copy today and save 20%!)