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Most modern Western publishers purchase printing services in the open market, solicit manuscripts from authors, and distribute their wares to purchasers through shops, mail order, or direct sales.
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.
Not every published book is of lasting value; but a nation’s books, taken as a whole and winnowed out by the passing years, can be said to be its main cultural storehouse.
The dissemination of published material via electronic media is treated in information processing.
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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).
The invention of printing in Europe is usually attributed to Johannes Gutenberg in Germany about 1440–50, although block printing had been carried out from about 1400.
Publishing could begin only after the monopoly of letters, often held by a priestly caste, had been broken, probably in connection with the development of the value of writing in commerce.
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.