In 1494, Trithemius — a great abbot scholar of the time — pondering the bizarre invention by Gutenberg, wrote the following words:
“A work written on parchment could be preserved for a thousand years, while it is probable that no volume printed on paper will last for more than two centuries. Many important works have not been printed, and the copies of these must be prepared by scribes. The scribe who ceases his work because of the invention of the printing-press can be no true lover of books, in that, regarding only the present, he gives no due thought to the intellectual cultivation of his successors. The printer has no care for the beauty and the artistic form of books, while with the scribe this is a labor of love.”
History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
If we simply replace the parchment to printed book, and change printed book to ebook in above sentences, it can be directly used to describe the current landscape and mindset in publishing industry.
When the German goldsmith Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1450, the world was a different place. The knowledge of that time was scribed on parchment or animal skins. A book cost about as much as a small house. As a result, only kings, bishops and of course Trithemius, could afford to own books of their own.
Gutenberg’s movable type printing arguably single handedly ushered in the Renaissance and Reformation by lowering the barrier of knowledge spreading in our civilization. (Although a Chinese man called Bi Sheng has invented “movable type printing” around 400 years before Gutenberg)
While ebook self-publishing intends to remove the last barrier of idea sharing and story telling, prestigious authors still cannot let go of the parchment mentality. Authors still try to publish their works via traditional tree-cutting method.
The world is ready for the Digital Renaissance. Reading on crooked html pages on a browser full of Google Ads is a rather uncomfortable beginning. Rapid-fire real time information sharing such as tweets and to a lesser degree — blogs, overtime will give way to more meaningful idea sharing, through a longer-length format called a “book”, and being consumed by a reader using a tablet device. After all, you can only squeeze so much ideas and emotion into 140 characters.
Human history shows us any time a platform is provided, people will shine out their sparkles of talents, just like when Susan Boyle was handed a mic and a stage for 3 minutes.
The time has come for an ordinary idea and an ebook publishing software to usher in a new generation of thought leaders and knowledge seekers.
So, true book lovers, are you ready to let go your parchment?