Publishing Careers Background
The origins of publishing remain unknown. Historians have proposed various theories on the subject, but the best guess is that publishing came into existence when people developed written language, perhaps in Sumer in approximately 4000 BC. After it became possible to record information in writing, somebody had to decide which information was worth recording. Technically speaking, the first record-keepers were the first publishers. Some of the first things deemed suitable for publication were accounting records, genealogies, laws, and religious rituals and beliefs.
The first examples of publications may be those that were inscribed on clay tablets, but early media for writing included stone, metal, glass, wax, and fabric. Information regarding some of these media is spotty, since only the sturdiest of these materials have survived to be studied. The Egyptians used scrolls made of papyrus or leather to record information, and it is likely that the Greeks used the same or similar materials. Many Egyptian scrolls survived because they were preserved in the dry climate of Egypt, but, unfortunately, none of the classic Greek works are known to have survived in the comparatively wet climate of the Mediterranean. Our information about the works of that time comes from later copies (and copies of copies) that were made of tougher materials.
From those days through the 15th century, several inventions advanced the publishing industry. The codex, which consisted of pieces of parchment that were folded and bound to form pages that could be turned, was developed independently by various peoples, including the Mayas of South America and the Romans. Paper was invented in China in AD 105. Block printing began in China in the sixth century AD and developed in Europe in 1400. Johannes Gutenberg invented movable metal type in the 1400s, making possible the mass production of printed material.
In the early years of European publishing, the works that were published were intended for the small, elite group of educated people who could read and who could afford to buy books. For the most part, these people were clergymen and members of the upper class who had intellectual interests. Publishing was the business of printers, who also often performed what we would now call editorial tasks. Books of that era generally were written in Latin, which was the language of intellectuals. Over time, however, literacy spread and books began to be written in the languages of the countries in which they were published.
As the size of the literate public increased, various people and institutions attempted to control the dissemination of information, which gave rise to censorship. The power of publications to influence the way people thought was widely recognized by both members of power structures and those who opposed them. The church did all it could to control publishing, as did heads of state and many others in positions of power. For their part, those who opposed the people in power used publishing to attack their enemies and further their own causes.
One of the most significant developments in the history of publishing was the rise of the newspaper. Although precursors of newspapers existed in Rome and China, and pamphlets and flyers were published in the early days of printing in Europe, regularly printed newspapers did not develop until the 1700s. For centuries, publishers of newspapers had to deal with censorship and repression by the state. In England, for example, papers had to deal with the Star Chamber, a court whose sole purpose was to censor any writing that was unfavorable to the king. The Star Chamber was dismissed in 1644, and after that time English newspaper publishers had a bit more freedom.
Magazines developed in much the same way that newspapers did. For the most part, the magazines that existed before the 19th century were designed for relatively small, highly educated audiences. In the early 19th century, however, inexpensive magazines that catered to a larger audience began to crop up. At the same time, magazines began to specialize, targeting specific audiences. That trend continues today.
Beginning in the 19th century, the various tasks performed by publishing concerns became more specialized. Whereas in early publishing a single person would perform various functions, in 19th century and later publishing, employees performed individual tasks. Instead of having a single editor, for example, a publication would have an editorial staff. One person would be responsible for acquisitions, another would copyedit, another would be responsible for editorial tasks related to production, and so forth.
The publishing industry has also been powerfully affected by technology. Publishing came into existence only after Gutenberg had invented the necessary technology, and it has changed in various ways as technology has developed. The most important recent developments have been those that have made it possible to transfer and manipulate information rapidly and efficiently. The development of the computer has revolutionized the publishing industry, and the modern newspaper industry would not be where it is today without tremendous advances in printing technology. The worldwide scope of newspaper and magazine reporting is, of course, dependent upon technology that makes it possible to transmit stories and photographs almost instantaneously from one part of the world to another. The Internet has provided an entirely new medium for publishers, making it possible for them to provide information to readers without investing in paper, which has increased dramatically in price at regular intervals during recent years.