It was actually Middle Eastern people that made the biggest changes to the way books were produced. They made books lighter, using a paper process learned from the Chinese and sewing them with silk. They were bound with leather covered paste boards, and had a flap that wrapped the book up when it wasn’t being used.
Libraries soon became the main source of book printing and slowly replaced their stocks of manuscripts with printed books. The cost and risk involved in making books increased with the move to print.
Woodblock printing had been used before and with this method an entire page would be carved into a block of wood, inked, and then copied onto parchment or later, paper. The oldest dated book printed by this method is The Diamond Sutra.
Then in the late 1400’s, along came Johannes Gutenberg, who invented movable type using hand moulds. This invention made producing books less expensive and available to more people. Not much has changed since that time except to streamline the process. With the advances in machinery, we can now print faster and in much greater quantities.
Today, web presses are used for mass printing. These are fed with a continuous roll of paper so more copies can be made in a shorter amount of time. The paper is printed on both sides and delivered, flat, as a stack of paper at the other end of the press.
The most recent developments in book making are digital printing. Book pages are printed using toner instead of ink, like the copier in your office. Each book is printed in one pass, not in separate sections as it is with the web presses.
The future of books is unknown. Whether the actual physical book will be eventually replaced by digital versions read on computer screens is not certain but it does seem likely. Not any time soon though. But if it does happen, I hope we never forget our rich history, and what it took to get us here.
Until then…read on.