Just read this interesting article on writing and publishing in Roman times, and as the author states, the essence of writing, publishing and retailing doesn't seem to have changed that much. The similarities are really striking, so I have cut and pasted some excerpts that have especially caught my attention below the link.
The author of the article is Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge and classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement. Her latest book is “The Fires of Vesuvius.”
“My book is thumbed by our soldiers posted overseas, and even in Britain people quote my words. What’s the point? I don’t make a penny from it.” This is not the complaint of some young American author who has suddenly discovered that his contract pays him nothing for foreign sales. These are the words of the Roman poet Martial, first-century satirist and defender of authors’ rights.
The books they read were not “books” in our sense but, at least up to the second century, “book rolls” — long strips of papyrus, rolled up on two wooden rods at either end. To read the work in question, you unrolled the papyrus from the left-hand rod, onto the right, leaving a “page” stretched between the two. It was considered the height of bad manners to leave the text on the right- hand rod when you had finished reading, so that the next reader had to rewind back to the beginning to find the title page. Bad manners — but a common fault, no doubt. Some scribes helpfully repeated the title of the book at the very end, with just this problem in mind.
All the same, there’s a lot in the Roman literary world that seems quite familiar two millenniums later: money-making booksellers, exploited and impoverished authors, celebrity book launches and career-making prizes.
For those who did go in [bookstores], there was usually a place to sit and read. With slaves on hand to summon up refreshments, it would have been not unlike the coffee shop in a modern Borders. For collectors, there were occasionally secondhand treasures to be picked up, at a price.
They may not have made much money during their lifetimes, but I can imagine them smiling with satisfaction in the Elysian Fields as they work out what their 2,000 years of royalties might have added up to.
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