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The mechanization of printing in the 19th century and its further development in the 20th, which went hand in hand with increasing literacy and rising standards of education, finally brought the printed word to its powerful position as a means of influencing minds and, hence, societies.
The functions peculiar to the publisher—i.e., selecting, editing, and designing the material; arranging its production and distribution; and bearing the financial risk or the responsibility for the whole operation—often merged in the past with those of the author, the printer, or the bookseller.
Published matter falls into two main categories, periodical and nonperiodical—i.e., publications that appear at more or less regular intervals and are members of a series and those that appear on single occasions (except for reissues of essentially the same material).books constitute by far the largest class; they are also, in one form or another, the oldest of all types of publication and go back to the earliest civilizations.
In giving permanence to man’s thoughts and records of his achievements, they answer a deep human need.
Scripts of various kinds came to be used throughout most of the ancient world for proclamations, correspondence, transactions, and records; but book production was confined largely to religious centres of learning, as it would be again later in medieval Europe.
Only in Hellenistic Greece, in Rome, and in China, where there were essentially nontheocratic societies, does there seem to have been any publishing in the modern sense—i.e., a copying industry supplying a lay readership. The reason may well lie in Arab insistence on hand copying of the Qurʾān (Arabic printing of the Qurʾān does not appear to have been officially sanctioned until 1825).
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Freedom of the press was pursued and attacked for the next three centuries; but by the end of the 18th century a large measure of freedom had been won in western Europe and North America, and a wide range of printed matter was in circulation.The preparation and dissemination of written communication is followed from its beginnings in the ancient world to the modern period.