July 9, 2007
Nothing New Under the Publishing Sun
Looking for new publishing ideas? One neglected place to look is the past.
Virtually everything we think of as new has already been tried. Study Bibles, for example, have had a nice run the last twenty years or so. Before there were few, then they were as plentiful as fleas on a dog. OK, maybe that's not such a good analogy. But there were lots.
Who first thought of doing study Bibles? Those with a bit of historical awareness might point to C. I. Scofield and his reference Bible first published in 1909. (I suppose someone has probably already thought of publishing a hundredth-anniversary edition two years from now.)
If you thought that was the first study Bible, you'd be off by eight or nine centuries, maybe more. One of the earliest was the Glossa Ordinaria (Ordinary Gloss) probably from the twelfth century. Often with the Bible in the center of the page, glosses (or comments) would be added around the perimeter, with the commentary eventually becoming as extensive as the biblical text itself. (Sound familiar?) But the original Glossa Ordinaria began as a marginal gloss on the Bible and was attributed to Walafrid Strabo (who died in 849), who inserted extracts chiefly from the Latin Fathers of the Church. (This also sounds strangely similar to a certain major commentary series that is currently nearing completion from a certain publisher.)
What about the popularity of fluff books? Didn't people used to read the classics? Shakespeare? Milton? Plato? Homer? Actually no. Over two hundred years ago folks were complaining about the frothy literature people were reading and publishers were happily printing. No, there is nothing new under the publishing sun.
But it may have been a while since someone published it. So read a good book on the history of publishing, and you might get some good old ideas.