G’day, Gutenberg! ’Allo, Aldo!

Contrary to popular belief (fostered by a fight between A Major Online Retailer and A Traditional Publisher), the pocket-sized paperback was not a mid-20th-Century innovation. It was invented in 15th Century Italy by Aldo Manuzio, alias Aldus Manutius the Elder (1449-1515).*


Here’s what a favorite non-fiction writer had to say about it:

By 1482 the printing capital of the world was Venice, and the busiest printer there was a man called Aldus Manutius who used to have a sign outside his shop saying ‘If you would speak to Aldus, hurry – time presses’. He had good reason. No single printer did more to spread the printed word than he. Aldus knew that his market, and the market of all printers, lay not in the production of expensive, commissioned editions of the Bible or the Psalms, but in an inexpensive format that could easily be carried in a man’s saddlebag wherever he went. So Aldus made his books small, and cheap. The Aldine Editions, as his new format was called, were the world’s first pocket books, and they sold faster than he could produce them.

Aldine Editions were treasured by their owners, and thousands of them still exist in collections around the world. There are more than 500 in Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library, alone.

There’s a lot of speculation about the demise of traditional bookstores and the disappearance of printed books. I hope I don’t live to see that day, but a mail-order book-pusher that I used to patronize for several years seemed to feel the pinch. Their mailings shrank from being thick newsprint tabloids that I could hardly get through browsing before the next one came, to standard magazine-size catalogs, and then to skimpy 6×10 1/2-inch booklets.

I don’t get out much any more, except to visit the doctor, so after attending an appointment that involves two dozen injections into my back, while the anesthetic lingers it’s a treat to visit a brick-and-mortar chain bookstore in one of the shopping malls of our nearest big city. Thankfully, it still seems to be as well-stocked as ever, and to go inside and breathe deeply the aroma of soy ink is as good as catnip is to my Kitty. (Do bookstores have aerosol “new book smell” with which they spray the carpet after hours, the way that car dealers use cans of “new car smell”?)

Erasmus. Photo by Frank Versteegen, Rotterdam

When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes. – Erasmus

But frequently, I find myself leaving the store empty-handed: there don’t seem to be as many compellingly written books, anymore. I pick up a half-dozen volumes gleaned from the wide variety of genres that I read, and after leafing through them, I end up leaving them behind. The stories that are being shopped by today’s agents and purchased by traditional publishers rarely match my taste, and the quality of editing has deteriorated to a dismally off-putting low standard.

I’ve begun to do more buying from second-hand bookshops, both in person and online, looking for replacements for the books I inherited when my mother divested herself of her library, after she began to lose her sight, and which I have re-read until they’ve fallen to pieces. The second-hand dealers also supply me with my own copies of the few decent books I manage to unearth each year from my city’s public library, by virtue of a long-term, e-mail association with a local book club that I can no longer attend in person.

And despite my best intentions to materially support Indie Authors through my purchase of their Art, I’ve had to turn away from several listings at A Major Online Retailer, because they are offered only as e-books. I don’t own an e-reader, for reasons explored in Here’s Your Brain, on Books. In addition, the visual impairments I cope with make it exhausting to read from screens, no matter what adaptations I can make to the display, as detailed in Breaking Out of The Bubble.

I’ve found that I need to reserve most of my virtual-page-reading time for my own writing, or else I end up too tired to get any work done. I’ve already begun to send favorite blogs through a text-to-speech converter, to save on eyestrain.

bDoes anybody here recall that scene in the 1960 motion picture adaptation of The Time Machine, of the Time Traveller’s rage when he picked up a book from the Eloi library and it crumbled to dust in his hands? There was no mention of e-books, although the Eloi did have electronic archives that spoke, but the technology didn’t seem to have done them any good: the people’s intellect, energy and motivation had all withered away.

And despite all the nagging to “go paperless,” I fail to see how doing away with paper bills and paper books does anything beneficial for the environment, when, in order to access your e-banking, e-pay all your bills, and then read your e-book, you end up using enough electricity to run a refrigerator.** Trees are a renewable resource: after harvesting them for pulp, just plant new ones, and they’ll gladly keep sucking up all that carbon dioxide, over which the environmentalists are losing sleep. And plant an extra tree for me, in honor of the next mechanically printed book I buy, because when I “go,” they’ll have to pry a paper book from my cold, dead hands.

When I published Irish Firebrands, I formatted it first for hard copy by a POD. I had to reverse-engineer the formatting, to put it on Nook, and then on Smashwords. That was more of a pain in the drain than I like to deal with, but both projects went without a hitch, and yielded decently formatted e-books (it helps that I’ve been computing since before the parents of the latest generation of users were gleams in their daddies’ eyes).

Going in the other direction (from e-book to paper) would be faster and easier: just set up margins, gutter and paper dimensions for your desired trim size; paste the text into the resulting page template; format and embed fonts; hyphenate and fully justify; adjust widow and orphan control; add pagination and running heads to headers and/or footers; and if necessary, tweak line spacing and illustrations or other special effects. Add a spine and back cover to the cover file, send everything to a POD, enable an e-store page – and there’s another market cornered for your magnum opus.


A 16th-Century printing shop.

A fellow Author who had recently published a title in e-book, upon learning of my disappointment that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it in that format, graciously gifted me a copy of the manuscript, so that I could run it through my text-to-speech converter and make an audible copy. I don’t expect everyone to offer such generous disability accommodation, but I will make this appeal to other Indies: Please don’t say “Goodbye, Gutenberg!” and “Adios, Aldo!” Publish on paper, too. We Luddites will love you for it.

* We can also blame Aldus for commas, semicolons and italics.

** Running a desktop computer ($36/year) with a wireless modem/router ($10/year), uses more energy than a refrigerator does ($42/year). And while some try to make a case for laptops ($8/year), they’re not adding the electricity for a modem/router, nor are they figuring in the cost of running a fan pad ($ unknown/year) to cool the computer, which is necessary because laptops lack the space inside the case for an adequate heat sink and fan (it’s undissipated heat that makes laptops break down before desktops do, causing higher and more frequent repair and replacement costs). Finally, don’t forget the ISP to connect the modem/router the Internet, so that’s another cost layer. (Source of electricity consumption figures: http://www.forbes.com)

Burke, J. (1978). Connections. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

Erasmus statue: photo by Frank Versteegen, Rotterdam



Filed under Indie Authors, Reading, Visual disability, Writing

10 responses to “G’day, Gutenberg! ’Allo, Aldo!

  1. History is good.

    I certainly understand your difficulties advancing to the modern e-book concept. If you ever want to take a read of any of my stuff, let me know and I’ll see about swinging a physical copy of something your way. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ali Isaac

    I will always produce a paper print copy. The Ebook is still a minority preference… most people still prefer to read a real book, it seems. With POD readily and freely available to us Indies, I dont know why more writers arent doing it! Personally, I like to read in both formats, they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Now audiobooks… that’s something I’d really like to try!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ali, at Amazon I see your Book 2 is only listed in Kindle. When will it be in paper?

      Last night I finished recording the second half of “Irish Firebrands” – next will be to listen to those chapters on a different computer, tweak the recordings, and then send them out to my beta readers. It’s taken more than a year to get to this point, trying to get the text-to-speech narrator to sound better. I wish I could afford to hire voice talent, but even if I tried crowd-sourcing, it wouldn’t put a dent in that fee.


      • Ali Isaac

        Thats a long time, and a lot of hard work and commitment Christine! Fair play to you!

        I am looking at setting up the trailer for book 3 with a voiceover, and if it works will re-make those for the first two. But I have to write Book 3 first!

        I would dearly like then to make audiobooks for the series, but my priority is to write first!

        I wonder if you would consider writing a blog post about the process of creating your audiobook, and what you found worked well and what didnt.

        I’m vety lucky. I have a friend who is starting out in film making who has all the equipment to film trailers and make recordings, so it will be quite an adventure for both of us! He is itching to start, but I need to write first!

        I have just approved my second print proof for book 2, so it should be out very soon… I’ll let you know! Thanks for asking!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely agree with that. I was told about PoD services right when I was publishing my first e-book and I signed up immediately. Now it’s part of my formatting process to do both formats at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! That was very interesting about Aldus Manutius. I don’t care for many bookstores anymore because they seem to want to sell more coffee than books. I get so frustrated when I go look for a book only to be told that they can order it on-line for me. (I could have done that myself if I wanted to wait!) My local library is just as bad. They have more computers than books and a bigger section than paper books is audio CDs and movie and TV show DVDs. It disgusts me to say the least! I typically find my best book finds at several of our used bookstores as well as the used book seller at the local Saturday Market. (If you have any specific titles on your want list, email me and I’ll look for you.)

    However, I finally this year decided I ought to at least try to change with the times… I was going to move last year and my boxes of books were so voluminous (and heavy!) that I thought I’d give a Nook a try. I still like the feel of a hardback book best, with a paperback coming in as a close second, but I love the fact that for the size of one book, I can carry a few hundred with me electronically now. It will be much easier to pack when I move again.

    Excellent post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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