Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Information Tecchnology: Gutenberg, not a good businessman

From Delancey Place:

Gutenberg, Failed Entrepreneur
Today's selection -- from The Book: A Cover-To-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston.
Johannes Gutenberg did not invent movable type, but after careful study he did make it work efficiently. Like most research and development, it was a very expensive process, and it left him bankrupt:

"In 1450 ... Johannes Gutenberg entered into an agreement with one Johann Fust (sometimes spelled 'Faust'), a Mainzer goldsmith and guildsman, to borrow a staggering 800 Rheingulden at 6 percent interest. Gutenberg's sales pitch must have been convincing, for Fust would later testify that he himself had borrowed money in order to fund the loan.

"Gutenberg sank the money into his new workshop and promptly defaulted upon the interest payments. ... [T]wo years later, as recorded in the inevitable court judgment, [Fust went] on to lent Gutenberg another 800 Rheingulden on the condition that Gutenberg take on Fust's adopted son, Peter Schöffer, as his foreman. Gutenberg assented, Schöffer was hired, and Fust paid out the second loan. ...

"[T]he prize Gutenberg had dangled in front of his financier was, of course, the invention of movable type: the promise that a book could be replicated over and over again with minimal effort. In an era when a handwritten Bible commanded a price equivalent to a laborer's yearly wage, the ability to print an endless run of books must have appeared as a license to mint Rheingulden....MORE
And related, technology early adopters:
One of my all-time favorite maps: Cities With Printing In 1450
We may post the reason for this recollection later this week (month, year) if time permits.
A link from July 2018:

"Despite the far-reaching consequences of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, much about the man remains a mystery, buried deep beneath layers of Mainz history".

One of my all-time favorite maps:
That's it. Mainz.
The rest of the series are after the jump. This one is via Economists View, we have the source below.

From The BBC, May 8, 2018:

How a German City Changed how We Read
The German city of Mainz lies on the banks of the River Rhine. It is most notable for its wine, its cathedral and for being the home of Johannes Gutenberg, who introduced the printing press to Europe. Although these things may seem unconnected at first, here they overlap, merging and influencing one another.

The three elements converge on market days, when local producers and winemakers sell their goods in the main square surrounding the sprawling St Martin's Cathedral. Diagonally opposite is the Gutenberg Museum, named after the city’s most famous inhabitant, who was born in Mainz around 1399 and died here 550 years ago in 1468.
The printing press marks the turning point from medieval times to modernity in the Western world
It was Gutenberg who invented Europe’s first movable metal type printing press, which started the printing revolution and marks the turning point from medieval times to modernity in the Western world. Although the Chinese were using woodblock printing many centuries earlier, with a complete printed book, made in 868, found in a cave in north-west China, movable type printing never became very popular in the East due to the importance of calligraphy, the complexity of hand-written Chinese and the large number of characters. Gutenberg’s press, however, was well suited to the European writing system, and its development was heavily influenced by the area from which it came.

In the Middle Ages, Mainz was one of the most important cathedral cities in the Holy Roman Empire, in which the Church and the archbishop of Mainz were the centre of influence and political power. Gutenberg, as an educated and entrepreneurial patrician, would have recognised the Church’s need to update the method of replicating manuscripts, which were hand-copied by monks. This was an incredibly slow and laborious process; one that could not keep up with the growing demand for books at the time. In his book, Revolutions in Communication: Media History from Gutenberg to the Digital Age, Dr Bill Kovarik, professor of communication at Radford University in the US state of Virginia, describes this capacity in terms of ‘monk power’, where ‘one monk’ equals a day’s work – about one page – for a manuscript copier. Gutenberg’s press amplified the power of a monk by 200 times....MUCH MORE

An interesting paper from  February 11, 2011:
Information technology and economic change: The impact of the printing press

HT: economistsview