Social Media, Scribes & The Printing Press

The parallels between the early days of the printing press (late 1400’s) and Social Media today are quite astounding. As Western Europe was going through the transition between Scribes and the newfangled and amazing thing called the “printing press” very few entrepreneurs made money. The business model was pretty much an unknown. Many failed, some succeeded. Today, we take “print” very much for granted and we pay for books, magazines and newspapers, although these business models too are changing.

Sound familiar? Twitter is searching for a viable business model. Marketers are trying to figure out how to leverage Social Media and generate returns. Variations on business models are tried all the time. Some work; most fail.
Yet we forge ahead, just like the early printing shops.
Back in those days they had in Europe what were called “cartolai” which were stationers shops; paper, ink, quills, blotters etc. As paper has been widely and instantly adopted in the 13th century, but oddly enough, the printing press struggled. The most celebrated Florentine book merchant, Vespasiano da Bisticci was said to have made no money printing books. Yet he did until he died.
The first commercially successful book printed was the bible. And certainly Christian e-commerce sites have done well by the Internet too. More similarities.
The transition from Scribes to printed matter was long and hard with a trail of financially ruined entrepreneurs. Sound familiar? Newspapers are today like the ancient Scribes.
Just as there are those who resist Social Media and call it useless (sic. Amanda Chapel construct) so was the same at the advent of the printing press. The Abbot of Sponheim Johannes Trithemius wrote a famous treatise on how Scribes should not stop copying despite the printing press, decrying the value and relevance of books. Yes, he published it as a book. And there was no way the car would replace the horse and buggy was there? Someone got a hitch in their get along methinks.
Surprisingly little has been written about the impact the printing press has had on our society. I was fortunate in my wanderings of a great used book store to stumble upon “The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe” by Elizabeth Eisenstein…what an eye opener to the parallels of the Internet and Social Media.
Do you see any parallels?

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