A History of Publishing Technology in the United States

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Publishing-TechnologyI found the task of looking back through publishing technologies to the first introductions of digital publishing fascinating. In today’s blog, I will share some of the key dates and major breakthroughs in printing and publishing and exactly what it means to us in today’s modern society.

The first printing press was imported to Cambridge, Massachusetts from England in 1638. Since these colonial beginnings, the Boston-Cambridge area has remained a center of publishing.

The William Bradford and William Penn partnership established a press in Philadelphia in 1685. Philadelphia soon too was to be hailed a center of publishing leading the way for publishing technology up until the nineteenth century. Benjamin Franklin opened his first print shop there and saw impressive sales of 10,000 copies per year. In years to come the English titles which he brought to the colonies would sell out.

By 1850, New York City had exceeded Boston and Philadelphia and became the center of the publishing industry in the United States, a position that the city held into the twenty-first century.

Prominent publishing houses grew so large and held such favor that they put many a small local printer in the 1700s and early 1800’s out of business. The situation for many bookshops was dreadful also with larger retailers forcing closures of small businesses, not dissimilar to today’s scenario of eBooks weighing heavily on print sales and independent bookshop demise.

The American economy on a whole was terribly affected by the great depression of the 1930’s, this had a detrimental effect on the publishing industry. Many publishers did not survive the hardships of these times.

By the 1960’s with the emergence of radio and television, there was a new media collaboration for publishers. At this time also, we were seeing a new retail space in the form of shopping malls, many small book shops and publishers couldn’t afford the steep rents. Chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble however, could afford to take retail space in the malls and soon many outlets opened across the country.

In the 1990’s the world wide web influenced major changes in book evolution. Online book sellers had a profound effect on the market. New electronic publishing technology was a game changer for the publishing industry. More and more publishers were emerging and marketing themselves online.

Digital publications of printed materials could easily be created from the files they were printed from. PDF to ePublications became the norm and everyone could self publish with the availability of digital publishing software and the ability to install it on personal computers.

According to Ibis World in 2014 the book publishing market in the US is worth an estimated 29 billion dollars.

By Audrey Henry


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