Image stolen from The New York Times
I just noticed a great short piece in last Sunday’s New York Times by Joni Evans, one of the important figures in book publishing from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s (and now founder and CEO of wowOwow, a site for women). Evans gives a great, succinct portrait of the evolution of technology in the publishing trade, and how it changed how business gets done there. One great example: Before copying machines, there were rarely any bidding wars to acquire manuscripts, because the author would be sending a typescript copy around to one publisher at a time. If that publisher didn’t buy the book, it went to the next one on the list. Copying machines meant that manuscripts could go to many publishers at once. Having the property distributed simultaneously changed the competitive nature of the publishing market. These days we see similar effects at work across the Web, perhaps most notably in the news business at the moment. But Evans’s brief account is a great example of how such changes can come from unexpected quarters. Never underestimate the power of even the most pedestrian innovation to work the most profound of changes.