History of Self Publishing

The History of self publishingIn the United States the end of World War II sparked the dawn of a golden age for publishing. Society became more affluent in the postwar years with a marked increased in literacy, prior to WW II most U.S. Children did not graduate from high school, that helped expand the potential readership of trade books. Advances in book printing technology lowered production costs.. Public policy, like the GI Bill of Rights passed in 1944, helped returning veterans to better themselves and to begin forming families and having children in unprecedented numbers. College attendance, and home purchasing skyrocketed creating what is now known in the United States as the suburbs.

For the first time in history even some of the poorest citizens had enough disposable income to make books an affordable luxury. Newspapers and magazines were also becoming less expensive to produce and were reaching mass market circulation. This helped to create a new reading public.

The self published Book

In 1931 a homemaker in St. Louis, Missouri by the name of Irma S. Rombauer, had 3,000 copies of her book printed by a company called A.C. Clayton, which had never printed a book before, the company’s main business was printing the labels for Listerine mouthwash and some other companies. Mrs Rombauer had tried without success to find a publishing company and used money from her husbands insurance policy for the initial printing.

With help from her daughter Irma personally sold copies and had copies placed in bookstores and gift shops throughout St. Louis and as far away as Michigan and Chicago. By the summer of 1932 roughly two-thirds of the original 3000 copies had been sold.

To date, Irma S. Rombauer’s “Joy of cooking” has gone through over 8 editions and sold over 18 million copies world wide. From its humble beginnings as a self published cookbook in 1931 to the Apple and iPod apps made for it today it is one of the first examples of self publishing and one of the most endearing.

Print On Demand

In the late 1990s, print-on-demand (POD) technology became wide spread. Build to demand had been an established business model in many other industries, but “print on demand” developed only after digital printing began. Prior to that it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing.

As a result, many print on demand retailers arose that focused on providing low cost self-publishing packages. Their services generally include printing and shipping, handling royalties, and getting listings in online bookstores.

It is important to keep in mind that these retailers are not publishers. They will not handle editing, advertising or advice as part of the basic package.

The Dawn of the eBook

Angela Ruiz Robles with her Mechanical Encyclopedia

In 1949 a teacher in Spain, Angela Ruiz Robles, noticed how cumbersome it was for her students to lug books back and forth and around school. She had the innovative idea to create a device that could be hand carried easily and contain all the information in the text books that her students had to carry every day.

Robles called her invention “la Enciclopedia Mecánica” or “the Mechanical Encyclopedia” and it used spools and pressurized air and even had a ‘zoom’ feature that consisted of a series of text and illustrations on reels, all under a sheet of magnifying glass.

While this book was not electronic it is still hailed as the first automated reader. The prototype is now in the National Museum of Science and Technology in La Coruña..’

Unfortunately the invention never reached the market as she could not find the right level of funding for her project. It would be decades before the next development came along.

Michael S. Hart

In 1971, at the University of Illinois a student named Michael S. Hart had the good fortune to have a brother whose best friend was the mainframe operator of the University’s Xerox Sigma V mainframe and who gave him an account with a virtually unlimited amount of computer time.

Feeling patriotic after seeing a fire works display on the fourth of July, Hart created his first electronic document by typing the United States Declaration of Independence into a computer in plain text. Hos intent was to transmit it to many people via the networks email system but was told it would cause system failure to send an email to so many people so instead he made it available as a text file for people to download. This was the beginning of Project Gutenberg and the first digital library.

Hart began posting text copies of classic literature and as of 1987 he had typed in a total of 313 books. In 1998 US Libraries began providing these free e-books to the public along with scholarly, technical and professional literature.

The 90’s

In 1992, Sony launched the Data Discman, an electronic book reader that could read e-books that were stored on CDs, These early e-books were generally written for specialty areas, the subject matter included technical manuals for hardware, manufacturing techniques, and other subjects.

In 1997 the E Ink Corporation developed electronic paper, a technology which allows a display screen to reflect light like ordinary paper without the need for a back light.

One of the first commercial handheld e-readers where produced by NuvoMedia in late 1998; Dubbed The Rocket ebook it used an LCD screen and could store up to ten e-books. E-books were loaded on the device by connecting it to a computer and the device had two page turn buttons. Rocket-compatible e-books were sold online at Barnes & Noble and Powell’s Bookstore. The the Sony Librie was the first to incorporate this technology for wide spread use in 2004 followed by the Amazon Kindle.

The first kindle was released in 2007 and sold out within five and a half hours.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Next up, Pro’s and con’s of self publishing