Printing

From Almeopedia

Printing is the mechanical reproduction of writing, which has transformed the societies of Ereláe over the last few centuries.

Contents

Precursor technologies

Perhaps the first printing-like technology on Almea was the tokens-and-tablets system of accounting used in Munkhâsh as early as 287, as reported by Beretos. The Munkhâshi did not have true writing, but they had symbols for numbers and common trade goods and prepared manifests for shipments by impressing beads and tokens into a clay tablet. Beretos observed an inspector sprinkling sand on top of such a tablet, then pressing another clay tablet on top, and then peeling of the top layer. This not only produced a copy, but made alterations easy to detect.

The Axunemi sometimes used block printing: carving a wood panel with backwards writing, and then pressing it onto a clay tablet; or inking it and pressing it to paper. In the 900s, the imperial government had the Dusočuvax - its unified manual of ritual - block-printed to ensure uniformity of practice. The process was so laborious that it was used only for very high-volume works. The Caďinorians learned the technique from the Axunemi and experimented with it, though never on a large scale.

The Xurnese extensively used stencils, using various materials from cloth to paper to metal. Though technically each print was hand-made, the process was much faster than handwriting, and the Xurnese developed frames and pressing machines to speed it up further. This was the first technology which could be said to transform the diffusion of information: pamphlets helped to spread the ideas of Revaudo, while stencilled journals created a lively, somewhat disreputable cultural scene during the Prose Wars, which lead to the acceptance of prose as the ninth recognized Art of artist-run Xurno.

After the Dark Years, Eretald experimented with woodcuts and carved metal, mostly as a way to reproduce drawings. The king's mint in Flora developed intaglio— etching lines in metal, covering the plate with ink, wiping off the excess, and pressing it to parchment— to produce financial documents with elaborate designs that resisted forgery. Mints also researched different methods for producing coins, which gave them experience in casting metal. In Avéla, Érenat, the mint created an intaglio mold in pieces, so that borders, pictures, and text could be produced in various combinations.

The printing press

A foreman at the mint in Avéla, Adriano Boďmorey, refined the intaglio printing process by modifying a winepress to allow quicker positioning and printing of the image. He also refined the casting of metal plates for borders and text. Finally he reversed the intaglio process, inking raised elements rather than etched lines; this was faster and a good deal less messy.

He realized that his press (impuyoš) could be adapted to print books. The mint saw no use for the idea, but he interested several brokerages, and they financed the refinement of his printing press. His first publication was the Letters of Nëron Sostén - a portion of the Elenico portion of the Book of Eleď - in 3184. When this was received well, Boďmorey went on to produce an entire Book of Eleď, completed in 3188.

The Este Kal, Érenat’s legislature, granted him a twenty-year monopoly on the invention. When this expired, no less than six rival printshops immediately opened. There was room for everyone, as hand-copied books were excruciatingly slow to produce and cost a fortune. The first books were mostly religious works; they were followed by grammars, Caďinor classics, textbooks, and laws.

The technology spread to Flora and Kebri in the first decades of the 3200s, but Verduria under the Wizard Kings banned both printing press and printed books - largely at the request of the pagan hierarchy, which feared a flood of cheap Eleďe propaganda. The scriptoria also feared to lose their livelihood. When Tomao came to power, however, he lifted the ban. An Avélan, Ikobo Mirtíy, brought the first printing press to Verduria city (3242), and by the end of the century the kingdom boasted over a hundred print shops.

By 3200, Eretald (including the islands and Érenat) published about 400 titles a year; by 3300 over 1500; today (3480) nearly 15,000.

Printing as a business

For more than a century, the model for a print shop (impuyec) was a workshop of a traditional craft guild. In Verduria, printers are organized as a craft association (cunculë), known as the Lonsë Cunculë Impuyecië (Honorable Company of Printers). Its organization is modelled on the guilds (neronî), but since printing is a new invention, they don't have the guild's traditional monopoly on business: anyone can start up a new print shop. A shop is owned by a master (osän), who trains a number of apprentices (ebrakî). As the master would pass the shop to his heir, there was little advancement possible, except to start one’s own shop.

A print shop was also a publisher and bookseller. Indeed, as the shop would normally obtain a royal monopoly on a every book it printed, the line of books offered by each printer was distinct and without overlap. Most printers specialized by subject: religious books, scientific treatises, music, poetry, ancient classics, philosophy, plays, etc.

In the 3300s there appeared the first ivrorî or booksellers, who simply bought up copies of the most popular books and sold them in one place. Though this was arguably nothing but a boon for the printers— they were paid for the books, and unsold books couldn’t be returned— they felt theatened by the practice, and repeatedly tried to get it banned. Eventually they countered by distributing books among themselves, so that a given shop wasn't restricted to books it had printed. Nonetheless the booksellers continued to grow, and by now the biggest ones can even dictate terms to the printers (e.g they can return books for half price). A few printers have washed their hands of the distribution entirely— a hassle to undertake with ink-stained fingers, anyway— but most still have bookshops on their premises.

The cultural impact

Printing revolutionized the dissemination of information. A handwritten copy of the Book of Eleď might take two years to produce and cost a fortune - it would be a precious treasure and probably need to be chained to the bookshelf. Now any bourgeois could own as many books as he wanted.

Institutions based on restricting information, from guilds to religions, are weakened by printing. Now anyone can read the secret tomes; just as importantly, almost anyone can contest them. People realize that differing answers exist, and start comparing them - or searching for better answers yet.

Printing acted as a spur to literacy as well. From its invention to the present, the literacy rate in Verduria has risen from less than 10% to over 50%.

The first titles printed were those that were most in demand as handwritten books, but soon enough the technology enabled new types of publications such as newspapers and scientific journals. Arguably, the effect on literature is also a difference in kind rather than mere quantity. One had hardly read poetry or plays before printing, and neither the novel nor the essay existed in their present forms. Quantity, however, has its own effect - multiplying the number of voices that can be heard, and creating genres and specializations. Before printing, one can hardly be picky about what one reads.

The effect of printing can be compared to that of the Internet in our own society. The flow of information multiples; barriers to entry shrink; at the same time the whole cultural enterprise is a little less respected. A blog is not as impressive as a printed book; a roomful of printed books is less valuable than a single shelf of chained-down manuscripts. No wonder the Xurnese decided that prose was an art form, but not journalistic writing.