There once was a story (part 1)
There once was a story to tell…but there was no language with which to tell it.
Then there was language, and the story was told. It was told to those around the teller.
Those who heard the story might tell it to others…but it was hard to tell the story the same way. Music helped: singing a song could preserve a story. It took a special person, though, to get the story right. Storytelling became a job, a respected position in the community.
But a storyteller could only tell a story to so many people.
Then came writing.
The story could be written down, and others could read it.
At first, the stories were written in one place…a wall, perhaps. Others would travel to read the story. The ability to read might be jealously guarded: stories were valuable, especially true ones.
The story could outlive the storyteller.
Then came materials on which the story could be written, and taken to other places. Stories can be long: flexible materials that could be rolled up became the high tech of the day.
Still, there might be only one copy of a story.
People began to copy stories by hand, although it might be a long and laborious process. It took real commitment, and the resultant documents were valuable.
Printing came next. At first, a specific story might be carved on to something, and then pressed on to a recording medium.
The story could be copied by anyone with the tools.
A major step forward was the ability to put together individual blocks to make different stories. One set of blocks could be used to make different stories.
A single device could be used to tell different stories.
Stories began to spread to the people.
Many books were still expensive, and it tended to be the upper classes who read them…but you didn’t have to be a king or a priest.
Materials became less expensive, transportation became easier, and literacy became more widespread.
The story could be told to an entire city, a country…the world.
As mechanical copies became possible, governments recognized that it wasn’t the single object that was the commodity, it was the story. Laws began to be passed to allow the person who created the story to control the copying…to recognize that they had the “copy right”.
But you still needed a thing.
You had to have a copy of the book.
Eventually, books were produced in huge factories…expensive factories. Those factories were owned by companies. They could set up the machines to print a particular story, print 100,000 of them, and then reset the machines for the next story. The machines couldn’t easily switch from one story to another…so the companies had to guess how many copies they would need of a story, print them, and then switch to another story. That was called a “print run”. Sometimes book continued to sell, and to sell out: they might get another printing, although that would bump a newer book back.
The storytellers had the rights to make the copies: the publishers had the ability to make the copies.
Publishers needed stories to sell: storytellers needed copies that could be sold.
An arrangement was made. Printing copies was an expensive thing. An author would bring a book to a company, and they would decide if it was worth the time and expense to print it. If it was, the publisher would print the book, and pay the authors a certain amount for each copy sold (a “royalty”).
It could take more than a year to write a book. If a publisher was confident the story would sell, they might give the storyteller money first, so they had something to live on while they were writing the story (and as an attraction to pick that publisher). That money was an “advance” on royalties. As the books sold, the storyteller would not get any royalties until the advance had been paid back.
Publishers and authors also worked together to improve the book, which would benefit them both. The publisher might have a cover artist design a picture just for the book. The publisher might also have an editor, who worked with the author on the story itself. A great editor could help a lot, with suggestions about what was too long or too short, which characters might be more interesting than others. The editor might have worked with many books of a particular type, and knew what worked well.
Authors and publishers might develop a strong relationship, a collaboration that might last decades.
The publishers, of course, couldn’t deal with individual people coming to the factory to buy books. They needed the books to be where the people were. They needed shopkeepers who knew how to sell the books…how much the people in that community would pay for a book.
The publishers and booksellers also had an agreement. The publishers would sell the copies to the booksellers, and the booksellers would sell them to the customers.
The publisher knew how much work had gone into the book, and how much they needed to get for each book to make a profit. They would suggest a price to the booksellers, and that was how the booksellers would know which books the publishers thought were more valuable than other books. Some might have many pictures or be the result of years of research.
The bookseller would buy the copies from the publisher for half the price the publisher suggested should be the selling price of the book.
The publishers would pay the authors from that money.
The booksellers adjusted the sale prices as they saw fit. Knowing how much customers in your community would pay was a special skill. The price might vary, depending on what was happening locally.
Since the booksellers owned the copies they bought from the publishers, they could do what they wanted with them…even give them away.
However, the booksellers would be afraid to buy books if they weren’t sure they could sell them. Publishers would offer to buy back the books if they didn’t sell…for credit to buy more books in the future.
This is how the system worked for decades.
The storytellers would tell the stories, sometimes with help from editors who worked for the publishers.
The publishers would make the copies in the factories and sell them to the booksellers. They would pay the storytellers from the money they got.
The booksellers would sell the books to the readers.
The stories would be told.
It took large factories to print enough books to make enough money to pay the authors. Someone without connection to a factory had a hard time selling books. The booksellers also liked that the big companies with the big factories had warehouses and could get them more books quickly if they sold well. The life of a book was often somewhat short: most of the sales happened at the very beginning.
The publishers also started making books in two styles. First, a more expensive, more durable, traditional book. Then, a year later, a cheaper version for the masses. They could have made them both at the same time, of course, but the people who wanted the nicer versions didn’t want to wait and were willing to pay for them. People getting cheaper versions were willing to wait to pay less.
Then came computers.
With computers (and the internet), people could send stories anywhere. They didn’t need a factory. A storyteller could tell the story, and people with computers could read it.
Computers, though, were hard to carry around (the first ones were as large as the walls on which the first stories were written).
People didn’t like reading books on computers…they wanted to read them in the park or on the bus.
After awhile, small computer book readers were created. Readers could carry them just like a book, but read different books on them.
At first, not very many readers used them. You still had to connect them to a computer to get your books.
Finally, ways to get books on to the electronic book readers without wires were invented.
Now, readers could get their books in electronic form. The electronic book readers were also made to seem more like a book than like a computer, which readers liked.
No factories were needed to make those books.
That changed everything.
At first, no one was sure what to do…
To be continued…
Tip of the day: files on your computer have an “extension” that tells the computer which program to use to open it. It is usually three letters after a period. When you connect your EBR (E-Book Reader) to your computer, you can see those extensions. This tells you in what format is the file.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.