The Book -- The Life Story of a Technology by Nicole Howard, Johns Hopkins UP '09 paperback. $25, 171 pages, ISBN #0801893119. Index, bibliography, glossary, no source notes, b&w images sprinkled through text.
If Nicole Howard's newly-published book were a tire, we'd call it a retread. Her first edition came out in 2005, so one would hope this new-and-improved version would supplement the body of knowledge by relating the galloping events of the past five years, as print books begin to morph into electronic media. Sadly, it doesn't.
Many, such as this reader, would instinctively flip to the last chapter, including a section on The Future of Books, feeling we've got Gutenberg pretty well down. And there, we discover such assertions as "Publishers estimate that $2.3 billion will be spent on e-books by the year 2005" and "One marketing study determined that by 2005, electronic textbooks would account for only 14 percent of textbook sales." So whatever new material has been added to the 2005 edition, it clearly doesn't include a comprehensive update of progress since then.
That said, let's not throw out the baby with the bath water, for there's much that is worthwhile in this albeit slim volume. Cal State U. historian Nicole Howard demonstrates vividly how daunting a task lay ahead of the 1600's writer who wished to print his work. Printers and publishers were scarce and expensive, and no copyright laws prevented his book, once printed, from being pirated.
Little changed in book publishing, she writes, between 1500 and 1710, but the Industrial Revolution brought mass production, and the linotype machine and automated machinery introduced mechanization. By the middle of the 20th century, Desktop Publishing emerged; personal computers and laser printers hastened its progress. And the print-on-demand model transformed publishing economics entirely.
Prof. Howard does a serviceable job of presenting her material. We'll anxiously await the next edition, which hopefully will capture the changes we're living through now and that await us around the next corner.