Tuesday, June 02, 2015
Lessons from book publishing in the days of Shakespeare
Vox, in an article by Phil Edwards, talks about how the book industry in Elizabethan England through the nineteenth century faced issues that foreshadow media piracy today. It is titled “What Elizabethan Book Pirates in the 1500s Cam Teach Us about Piracy Today”, link here.
In those days, publishers were “licensed” to print and distribute certain content, especially religious or political. Publishers accommodated to piracy in order to control it. Licenses were sold, but underground, illegal presses existed.
The idea of “licensing” the right to publish might have seen natural in early centuries after earlier books were copied by hand. A copy of a book was itself a valuable commodity. How different that seems today, where companies and authors have physical and digital copies of their work (the later often free or much cheaper) competing with each other. That’s true with music and video, too.
But fiction was popular, and “fan fiction” was sometimes included with pirated copies.
The article notes how “John Wolfe” became the “Martin Luther of printing” for printing works that he didn’t have a license to produce. In those days, government saw public speech as a privilege to be regulated.
Today, "print on demand" makes the physical copy less significant than ever. It would seem that even traditional trade publishers could move toward POD technology after filling initial store wholesale (through distributors like Ingram) and initial online purchases with a print run. But then how would the book distribution business change? There might be less difference between trade and subsidy publishing, and a lot more of it might be "cooperative" as well as POD. Branding in publishing would then be affected.