Why the Printing Press Will Kill Books

I tell you, sir,” he whispered, “it is the end of the world. Never were known such excesses of the scholars: it is the cursed inventions of the age that ruin everything: artillery, serpentines, bombards, and above all, printing, that other pestilence from Germany. No more manuscripts! No more books! Printing is cutting up the bookselling trade. The end of the world is certainly at hand!”

— Victor Hugo
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, p. 11
Originally published in 1831
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  • http://twitter.com/doughibbard Doug Hibbard

    Amazing, isn’t it, that the end of the world has, every time, only been the beginning of another?

    • http://LiveIntentionally.org @PaulSteinbrueck

      Great point, Doug!

    • http://alexspeaks.com Alex Humphrey

      As long as humanity has language, we will have books. The cases may change, the power of the written word will remain.

  • http://twitter.com/B_Schebs B_Schebs

    the fear of change is amazing isn’t it??

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It is. I really would love to find a series of quotes, suggesting that various technologies were going to kill off books or reading.

      • http://twitter.com/B_Schebs B_Schebs

        I have stumbled across a few. I think I have them filed. I will check my One Note when I get home and share them.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          That would be great! Thanks.

          • http://twitter.com/B_Schebs B_Schebs

            Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions http://t.co/TOYJ5eT

          • Anonymous

            Ha, I love Charlie Chaplin’s quote about movies being a fad and people will want to see flesh & blood theater.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It is. I really would love to find a series of quotes, suggesting that various technologies were going to kill off books or reading/

  • http://relevantbrokenness.com Marni Arnold

    Fear is such a wild emotion to explore – it is easy to spot, but so incapable of being logically explained.

  • EJ Wesley

    History is, and will always be, the best teacher.

  • Karl Mealor

    Don’t remember hearing this on the Disney version!

    I have wondered about the consequence of e-books. Most books can be purchased for $7.99 or less. Does that allow for enough profit to make it financially feasible for good writers to continue writing? Or will we see a revival of the classics, similar to what has happened in the music industry? I teach high school, and the kids have the same music on their iPods and iPhones that I listened to when I was their age.

  • TNeal

    Interesting to note inventions that expand a person’s reach-the printing press, radio, television, cell phones-almost always have a buyer-beware warning label attached. The statement that the printing press would be “cutting up the bookselling trade” astounds me. A review of history proves the opposite.

  • http://twitter.com/obihaive Joseph Sanchez

    Is the character saying the printing press is killing all books or that the printing press should be stopped from making more books?
    People are normally scared when they don’t understand something and change is required on their part. I’m sure the printing press would have been more accepted if people better understood the benefits that came from it. The same goes for today with things such as e-books and other technological advances.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I am not sure. I need to go back and read it in context.

      A similar thing happened when mass paperbacks were first introduced. People thought it was the end of the publishing business. I assume this is because books would be so cheap, it would destroy the business model.

      • http://twitter.com/PFNikolai Pete Nikolai

        The character seems to be commenting on how the mass distribution of books enables the rapid dissemination of thoughts that spur protests and other diversions to occupy people’s time rather than working on manuscripts. Hugo goes on to comment in chapter 2 “This Will Kill That” in Book Fifth of The Hunchback of Notre Dame on how different institutions reacted to the introduction of the printing press and how the printing press was killing architecture. He seems to be saying that the expression that previously went into architecture was being redirected to writing (and perhaps reading). Perhaps today we face a similar transition in which some of the time that previously was spent reading books is not spent reading other content and creating other content. http://www.online-literature.com/victor_hugo/hunchback_notre_dame/24/

  • http://twitter.com/ThatGuyKC K.C. Pro

    It is funny to me how the heralding of impending doom (for the world or an industry) or blatant denial (like lying politicians or the success of a technology) seem to repeat themselves throughout history.

    Thank you for sharing this nugget from a literary master.

  • http://twitter.com/B_Schebs B_Schebs

    It makes me think if this statement might not have been more about the printing press’s ability to put books into the hands of everyone, and not just the rich and more educated?

  • http://www.christopherscottblog.typepad.com/ Christopher Scott

    The end of the world?

    If books are no longer published and censored, we just might find the end of the world coming.

    • http://reflectionswithcoffee.com BettyMc

      Fahrenheit 451!

      • http://twitter.com/obihaive Joseph Sanchez

        I love that book..lol!

  • http://reflectionswithcoffee.com BettyMc

    My blog post has a similar quote about books becoming obsolete.
    Glad to see you touched upon a similar thought.

  • Anonymous

    Change – the only thing that stay the same.

  • http://twitter.com/OrdainedBarista Barry Hill

    Fear is funny! huh?

  • http://www.newwealthparadigm.com Doug Armey

    Sounds a lot like the predictions about newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and now the internet.

    Good writing will always survive and thrive.


  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Mmm… Interesting. Remember, for every book that’s published, about 9,999 are turned down by publishers. Thankfully, we have the internet, and we have eBooks, which almost anyone can do. :P

  • http://forrest-long.blogspot.com Forrest Long

    Interesting, as we listen today to those who say electronic publishing will soon end the traditional book publishing industry, as Amazon’s electronic book sales soar. The pundits have been wrong before. I like my Kindle, but I still like to hold a book in my hand and read it. It’s not an “either-or” situation, but a nervous co-existence.

  • http://twitter.com/MrDavidWillis David Willis

    It seems with every change, fear would have us believe that things are as good as they are ever going to get. What was the actual result of the printing press? Books more easily made it into the hands of the common man giving him the opportunity to be more and do more than he ever did. What if things get better from here and not worse?

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    How crazy! As C.S. Lewis quotes, “The great thing is, if one can, to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one’s “own” or “real” life. The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.”

  • http://peterpollock.com Peter P

    I think he might have had a point…..

    Actually, seriously, I think he might have had a point.

    The problem I find with books these days is that there’s simply too many of them,

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

    I’m not anti-self-publishing, but I’m more for traditional publishing. To me, I interpret this quote to talk about just that…the fact that we have more books available than ever before. And I wonder…will the good writers be heard in all that noise?

  • http://twitter.com/slumbersixcon Joe Lalonde

    I can see the term “printing press” being replaced by “ebook readers” in this quote.

    I wonder how the new ebook readers will change the face of books. I love the ease and portability of them, including the vast amount of books you can store on them. I love being able to turn on the reader and choose any of the books I own on it. However, I struggle with the cost of purchasing ebooks. I see the lack of materials needed to print and feel the cost should drop due to that.

    But I see a place for both physical and ebooks and I’m sure it will stay that way for quite some time.

  • http://www.digitalpost.ca/ Printing Calgary

    That’s a great quote, especially considering that we’re a standing at yet another change of mediums. I just read a post about people still printing out papers to read off paper, not off screen. A little tool called joliprint helps you do that. The point is that we’re still humans and still love to read off paper. Thanks for stimulating a great discussion.

  • http://www.livingmartyrs.com brad

    So, as we examine our current direction(s), I guess the big question is:

    “Who are the scribes, and who are the publishers?”

    It’s a time when anything is possible. That induces panic and euphoria in equal parts.

  • Anonymous

    There was absolutely a agitation amidst theologians in the sixteenth aeon about the chastity of printing. I anticipate Brian Brock content book on the belief of technology references some of it.

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  • fabio faron

    I agree. The great thing is, if one can, to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one’s “own” or “real” life.  The truth is the book isn’t dieing, it’s simply diversifying into print and digital forms. What is changing is power.

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  • Amol

    Great information.