Friday, October 26, 2012

The Printing Press: Distribution of Ideas


After writing my last post about making connections between Gutenberg's printing press and current innovation, I found I still have more to say.

Centers of Distribution
Our tour guide told us that the American Revolution was possible partly because of the printing press. Being able to disseminate information to a lot of people over a wide geographic area played an important part in getting the colonists on the same page (such as for embargos) as well as to spread revolutionary fervor (such as Common Sense). Having the same message go out to all people, instead of doing it by word of mouth was one of the reasons the colonies started feeling like they were a cohesive group.

The printing presses were the centers of this distribution. The printer decided what they would print, and people knew that if it was printed, at least the printer deemed it worthy of being read. Although I don't have proof of this, I imagine the different printers in similar geographic areas would compete for buyers, and to get more they would try to build a reputation for their printing shop. Benjamin Franklin was one well-known printer, and he built up reputation with the Poor Richard's Almanack, with its needed information with the extra of pithy advice with each issue.

Later, during the Revolutionary War when the troops and soon-to-be-independent country needed encouragement, it was Franklin's print shop (although he was no longer the printer in charge of it) that printed and distributed The Crisis, which begins "These are the times that try men's souls..."

Without a respected distribution center from which to disseminate Thomas Paine's words, the disheartened soldiers most likely would not have received them and the fire of purpose they pumped into their bones. At that time, the hard part was getting your work published, actually printed on a piece of paper, and that required physical materials (printing press, paper, ink...). Today there are a lot of ways to get your stuff published, but we face a different problem—you can write and post and publish all you like, but how do you get people to find it and read it?  The internet is flooded with blogs (150 million, according to one source), so now the connections getting people to your publication (website, youtube channel, blog, etc.) are the equivalent of a printing press.

There are several ways to direct people to your site, but the

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