Do it yourself publishing from monastery to modernity
A short history of self publishng
Contrary to common belief, self publishing is not new. It is
the oldest form of publishing, and predates the later and currently
dominant system of publication, which is publication through specialist
publishing houses. Before the printing press came along, all
books were self published, and each new copy was made from scratch by a
scribe or a monk working on a single new and generally unique copy of a
work. Academic treatises were produced in the same manner in places of
learning, which at the time were staffed by monks and priests.
Then along came
and the printing
press, and commercial publishing was born. In the early years
of publishing, publishers were just the printers to whom authors or
patrons gave books to be printed, or who themsleves produced or chose
books to be published. Print runs were generally low, as each plate was
hand crafted and hand printed; but it is estimated that mechanical
printing presses could produce up to more than 3000 sheets in a day.
In the late eighteenth century, huge changes came
to the world of publishing, with the invention of rotary presses which
allowed serious mass-production of books and pamphlets; and with the
development of mass production came the need for mass distribution and
marketing. The age of the powerful publishing house had begun, and very
rapidly virtually all publishing became concentrated in the hands of
large publishing companies, with small specialist companies carving out
their niches and often fighting for survival on the sidelines.
Self publishing was not however dead, though at the
time it was known as private publishing. It was an alternative means of
publication that was used by the wealthy to produce their own titles,
or by those who wanted to avoid the constraints of mainstream
publishing, and publish their own works in their own way. The most
famous private publisher was William Morris, whose Kelmscott Press
produced limited editions of illuminated print books; but apart from
who was a special case, quite a few 19th century and
early 20th century authors, including Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling,
George Bernard Shaw,
and Walt Whitman
published some of their own
The invention of
mimeographs from the end of the nineteenth century provided a huge
boost to private printing, but without the technical and visual
sophistication that could be achieved through traditional publishing.
Duplicating was the means of publication generally chosen for all kinds
of limited-run and locally distributed books, bulletins and magazines.
It was cheap and easy to set up, allowing short print runs which were
not economically viable for commercial publishers using traditional
flatbed or rotary printing.
By the 1970s, cheap 'n' cheerful
duplicating machines, with their typographical limitations, were going
out of favour with the arrival of the next big new development, the
Black and white photocopiers, and then subsequently
color laser photocopiers, allowed the publication of books
and pamphlets with quality and costs comparable to those of traditional
printing, and in the case of short print-runs, costs considerably lower
than those of offset printing. This new form of publication was soon
given a major boost by the arrival, first with the Apple Macintosh
computer, then with Windows based computers, of DTP
- software. By the turn of the
could produce and self-publish their own books, obtaining more or less
the same quality as that offered by traditional publication. A new age
of publishing was dawning.
Self publication, however, had major drawbacks,
the biggest of which was distribution. In the year 2000, it was
possible, using desktop publishing software and the local print shop,
to produce professional quality books; the problem was letting other
people know that they existed.
It was hard, but not impossible. Since the mid
twentieth century, a new breed of publisher had appeared on the market,
commonly referred to as "vanity
". With traditional
publishing, the publishing house accepts a title for publication, signs
a contract with the author including royalties or a flat fee, and then
takes care of everything else - publishing, printing, marketing,
distribution, and advertising. Vanity publishers, and along with them a
new variety known as hybrid
publishers, did it differently;
instead of paying authors for the right to publish their works, they
asked authors to pay them for publishing their work, in exchange for
which they, the publisher, would do the marketing and promotion.
Vanity and hybrid publishers still exist, but in
terms of result, many publishing experiences reported by authors using
this type of publishing seem to be negative, with reports of publishers
taking money but doing little or nothing in exchange in order to ensure
the book's success on the market.
However, vanity and hybrid publishers have had to
change their ways and methods - at least in part - to remain active in
the radically changed publishing environment that has emerged
since about 2010.
began to develop from
the beginning of the century, and in doing so turned the economics of
publishing on its head. With books stored digitally instead of on
offset printing plates, print-on-demand has abolished most of the fixed
costs of printing (setting up the press), and books are only printed
once a customer - trade customer or private customer - orders them.
Spotting the new opportunities, companies like Blurb or Createspace
quickly developed, offering quality self publishing with no minimum
print run requirement. The new age of self publishing had dawned.
Today a dozen or more publishers, some operating
worldwide, offer self publishing opportunites to writers (and even
other publishers) who either do not want to publish in the traditional
way, want to retain personal control over their books, or else cannot
find a publisher willing to take their work. The third of
these reasons applies particularly to the authors of academic titles
which may have a very limited specialist readership which is spread
over a wide area.
By far the largest of today's self-publishing
platforms is KDP, Kindle
, now owned by Amazon.
Publication of a book on KDP is completely free .
For an example of a self-published academic title with complex layout,
Descriptive Grammar of English
published using the
KDP platform, and also, with its grammar and style guides, a useful
handbook for any academic writer.
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representative titles in the discipliary fields of arts and cumanities,
economic and social sciences, and the sciences. To
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