Five Things that Changed the Publishing World

Over the past twenty-five years ago there have been five things that changed the landscape of the publishing industry forever (the first three below happened in 1995).

Dan Balow wrote an excellent piece on this earlier this year. It still is quite astounding when you think about it. In 20 years this little online startup (founded 1995) became the most dominant online retailer in the Western world. Bookselling will never be the same.

While Google officially did not begin until 1998 (the year they incorporated), it was in 1995 when Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google as a research project while Ph.D. students at Stanford University. The way we do research as writers has never been the same.

Left Behind

It was the publication of Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (published by Tyndale House Publishing) in 1995 that ushered in a new golden era of Christian fiction. It had such an impact that Jerry Falwell said in a 2005 Time magazine article about Tim LaHaye, “In terms of its impact on Christianity, it’s probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.” Eventually there were 15 books in the series which sold around 70 million copies.


It wasn’t until 2001 that Wikipedia was created. Can you believe it was that recent? The idea of a computer encyclopedia had been around for a while. In 1993 Microsoft tried to create one with their Encarta project (on CD-ROM in the beginning). Encarta was finally discontinued in 2009. The combination of forces obliterated the print edition of the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica (the last print edition came out in 2010). Quick access to “encyclopedic” information has never been so easy. {While Wikipedia is a reasonably good starting place for a snapshot, remember not to have it as your sole source of research! Harvard University agrees…}

Microsoft Word

No matter what you think about its strengths or weaknesses, Microsoft Word is THE go-to software for editors and publishers. If you use any other writing software (Pages, Scrivener, Google Docs, etc) you will have to convert your file into a Word document when you turn in the manuscript so the publisher can begin the editing process. I began using it in 1992 with version 2.0 (I still have the floppy discs that I used to load it on my first home computer) and have used it nearly every day ever since (which only make me feel old).

[[Speaking of “old,” do you remember transitioning from the mechanical or electric typewriter to a computer? I still recall the awe of being able to change typos without correction tape or wite-out. And the ability to have the computer set footnotes at the bottom of a page without having to measure the pages while I typed.]]

Why this trip down memory lane? To illustrate how quickly things can change. Twenty years may seem like a long time (in 1995 our three daughters weren’t in high school yet) but in the scheme of things it was just yesterday. So while it is hard to wait or hard to see the industry change before your eyes, it only means that something new is over the horizon. Those with long experience in the industry have seen many trends come and go. What has not changed, and never will, is the need for great content…hopefully it will be yours that is the next project to touch thousands of readers.


9 Responses to Five Things that Changed the Publishing World

  1. Jeanne Takenaka December 7, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    It is amazing to see how much has changed in 20 years. I didn’t realize Amazon has been around that long. In some ways, it seems like Amazon is a baby in terms of its age, but it’s a part of everyday life, especially (it seems) for writers. And Google? It’s got it’s own meaning in our vernacular (I Googled how to ________).

    And, yes, I do remember the joy of not having to use white out to fix my typos. I was thrilled. 🙂

    It should be interesting to see what comes about in the next 10-20 years. Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane, Steve.

  2. Janet Ann Collins December 7, 2015 at 11:06 am #

    What about e-books and e-readers?

  3. Ane Mulligan December 7, 2015 at 11:12 am #

    As believers, we also need to remember we are at this place in our journey on God’s timetable. I remember too often thinking, “If only I’d started earlier, or had published sooner.” Then I’m reminded that God knew the time and place of my first published book. It wasn’t a day early or a day late. And it was where He wanted it.

    So don’t get frustrated when things don’t happen when we think they should. Like Steve said, 20 years goes by in a flash.

  4. rochellino December 7, 2015 at 11:18 am #

    Steve, very relevant post. THANK YOU! Another recent development “BIGGIE” that may have been overlooked is the advent of digital printing.

    About a year ago I purchased a Canon ImageRUNNER Advance print engine that I can load an entire manuscript(s) (in a variety of file formats including MS Word, PDF, et al.) and order it to print any number of copies from one to infinity. An entire book will come out in perfect collation ready to bind even if its a picture book mixing color pictures with words on every page. The cover can be printed in full vivid, glossy or matte (or both) color. As an add on I bought the collator/folder/hole punch unit to do smaller publications like pamphlets, magazines, flyers etc. (Never used it yet)

    Publishing went from this:

    To this:

    In reality (NOT theory) you, or anyone else for that matter, could email a complete book (correctly file formatted) from Phoenix and I could print the entire book (assuming in this case, but not limited to, approx. 200 pgs) on a very wide choice of paper qualities and weights in about THREE MINUTES. To “perfect bind” the book would be a few more minutes. We can even assign an ISBN number for your book and print a bar code . Same day I can take your completely finished book to our nearby post office and ship overnight (back to you) if you choose and you would have YOUR hardcopy book in the readers hands NEXT DAY. A physical book that didn’t exist 24 hours ago. To me this is wondrous and truly something that is changing the publishing world.

    To me, in publishing, production has been completely revolutionized through technology. It had been one of the single greatest barriers (by cost of admission) to entry for fledging publishers that wished to own and control their own production, this is no longer the case. In my opinion, the last biggest challenge for any publisher is marketing, sales and distribution. We are seeking to develop and implement a high performance cost effective approach to address that challenge.

  5. Carol Ashby December 7, 2015 at 11:50 am #

    I agree with your list, Steve. I especially love the word processors, and Word is one of the more user friendly. I wrote the rough draft of my 250-page Ph.D. thesis on an electric typewriter that let you backspace and type over using ejectable ink and white-over cartridges. The final was retyped with any corrections made with white-out and Greek letters and math symbols applied as wax rub-ons. My husband typed the 20-page theory section as fast as I could get the rub-ons applied to each typed page. I never want to do that again!

    The search engines like Google are great, too. How else would you find a 1956 article on how fast dead human bodies cool? (A vital piece of information for one of my plots.)

    I’d add one more thing – social media and the obsession with online platform. That has forced fiction authors to pour endless energy into creating an online presence and collecting email addresses and social-media followers even before they have a book for sale that might make someone want to follow them. Any writer who isn’t willing to become an entrepreneur with a personal web presence designed to hook large numbers of followers might as well forget having a manuscript even looked at by publishers and many agents. I’m retired now, so I have the time to pour into it and the computer expertise to do it myself instead of paying someone, but it isn’t my first choice of how to spend my time. I’ve spent many hours taking webinars to give me some ideas about how to proceed. I’m going to try to turn it into an online ministry and historical resource so there’s something actually worth following. Maybe that will turn out to be more important than any novel I ever write. Although I understand the publishers want and maybe even need to shift the marketing load onto the authors, I find this whole “platform” situation for fiction to be a huge negative.

  6. Peter DeHaan December 7, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. My first article, in 1982, was done on a typewriter, but my second one in 1983 was done on a primitive Word processor – what a great time-saver! I starting using Word around 1990, when I switched from Apple (in the pre-Mac days) to a PC.

  7. Ron Andrea December 7, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    And those on-demand publishing wonders which consume paper, card stock and manuscripts and spit out complete books.

  8. Teresa Morgan December 7, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

    Shoot, I remember carbon paper and eraser shields. Wite-Out was a huge step upward.


  1. Five Things that Changed the Publishing World -... - December 7, 2015

    […] Over the past twenty-five years ago there have been five things that changed the landscape of the publishing industry forever (the first three below happened in 1995). Dan Balow wrote an excellent piece on this earlier this year. It still is quite astounding when you think about it. In …  […]

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