Samantha Knapton, Allie Butterfield, Lindsay Brenner, Keegan Burch, and Samuel Kfoury


The historical development of print media describes how the media came to be in the present day. Print media weren’t always like they are now; only those in power would have access to books. Newspapers would only be read by those who had the privilege of knowing how to read—which wasn’t very many people. Magazines were only published on high quality paper instead of online. In this chapter, we look at the historical development of magazines, newspapers, and books, in that order. From the early “public news banners” that came before newspapers to the revelation of the first eBooks, there is much to learn in the next few sections.

The History of Books

Before there were books, there were storytellers who passed on the best of tales through word of mouth. Storytelling, was usually done by elders as a way for stories to get around and be remembered. It wasn’t until five thousand years ago or so that the Egyptians and Babylons, started to become interested in the use of written text or symbols.

The first “books” ever recorded were made from wooden planks with hand drawn symbols that were compressed into clay tablets; this took place around 2400 B.C.E. It would be quite a while after this until books took another turn of development.

Between the years 400 – 1500 C.E., Manuscript Culture was born. Manuscript Culture was a time when books became handcrafted works of art rather than simple pieces of information. They were individually hand drawn and painted with the most intricate of designs. This was specifically true for Illuminated Manuscripts, with their vivid images of bright color and patterns. During this time, dedication, money, and time was put into making these. They were usually owned by the wealthy or churches. Priests/Monks were better known for this practice and became some of the world’s first editors, also known as “scribes”.

During the third century, there came block printing and movable type. Block printing was a process developed by the Chinese used for newspapers, magazines, and books in more modern times. It consisted of sheets of paper being pressed with books of inked wood. Many of these wooden blocks had raised surfaces or imprinted letters and symbol put there by hand, and with it, China’s Diamond Sutra, by Wang Chieh, 868 C.E. was popularized and reproduced throughout the Chinese nation. Block Printing was also used for newspapers, magazines, and books during the twentieth century.  The first block printing machine was brought to Europe by Marco Polo in 1295 A.D. However, the first European block-books were not made until the 1400s.

Although, printing was taken into consideration again and changed and renewed with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, between 1453 and 1456 AD. It`s design was inspired by wine presses and was used to create two hundred copies of the Latin Bible. By using vellum, a half skin-based parchment lower classes and families with low income could now learn to read and write and about the world around them. Vellum was cheaper than other parchment or material they were using for a readable base. It quickly spread throughout the late 1400s and early 1500s.

The next change came with US publication and the invention of printing shops. In the late 1640 when Stephen Daye and his son published the first colonial book, The Whole Booke of Psalms, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They made 1,750 copies that were sent out to 3,500 families over the thirteen colonies. By the mid-1760s, all of the colonies had their own printing shops. In the 1800s printing became more mechanic with the use of the linotype that was a hot metal typesetting system that cast blocks of metal type. The demand was expanding rapidly consisting with machine made paper start to go into swift production.

Even more impressive were the Dime novels, which were small books that only cost ten cents. It was in the year 1885 that nearly a third of all books were cheap popularized dime novels, or Pulp Fiction; printing as a whole became more mechanic and swifter. With the help of linotype, machine enabled printers, and offset lithography, books printed from photographic plates rather than metal casts, typewriters adopted a more keyboard-like style, colored ink was reduced, and production became quicker and quicker.

The History of Magazines

Production of the Magazine

In the 18th century, magazines were clunky objects that mail carriers did not want to deliver to the subscribers (Lauder). The content was printed onto linen pages by hand press machines. This process was often very labor intensive (Benedict). Authors of the articles being published in the magazine were often not credited and they did the work beyond writing, including editing, producing, and publishing the magazine. Aside from the cover page—which featured a woodcarving and a copperplate engraving—there was no artwork inside the magazine during this century (Benedict).

In the 19th century, the linotype machine had been invented by Ottimar Mergenthaier. This machine sped up the process of the magazine production. Linen papers were ditched for wood pulp pages. This new type of paper in the magazines had lowered the cost of a magazine (Lauder). Paid editors were now involved in the production of magazines in the 19th century and the writer of the article also included their name on their works. Illustrations were inside of the magazines now and were often used as home décor (Benedict). The 19th century also came with the new knowledge that if ads for other companies were included in magazines, the magazine company would be able to make more money (Lauder).

Photographs were in magazines for the first time when halftone printing became cheap and available in the 20th century (Benedict). Some magazines, such as Time, Look, and National Geographic, began focusing on photography in their magazines. With photographs being printed in magazines, readers began to be more demanding with the magazines’ overall appearance (Lauder). Engravers for the cover of magazines were replaced with art directors. The computer changed magazines when digital art was accepted for the first time—Scientific America being the first magazine to publish without the use of film (Benedict).

The 21st century marked the beginning of many print magazines beginning to publish their articles on their own websites. Websites improved the engagement of their readers because companies would be able to include games, chatrooms and easy ways to contact the company (Garvey). E-readers (such as Nooks and Kindles) and smartphone applications make it more accessible for people to read a magazine at any chance they can get. Social media allows magazine companies to get their articles seen by even more people and to use features such as streaming live from an event (“Magazines”).

Starting from being written on linen papers to being published on the internet, the evolution of magazines has had quite the change since the 17th century. 200 years of the media will change and advance, and that will be the same for the next 200 years of this print media.

The History of Newspapers 

The Precursors of Newspaper 

The concept of a newspaper has its roots in antiquity, however these “proto-newspapers” differed significantly from the newspapers of today. Among the earliest we know of was the Acta Diarna of ancient Rome, which took the form of a large banner which detailed things such as certain current news events and senate proceedings. The brainchild behind this form of public news was statesman and emperor Julius Caesar, who conceived the idea in 59 BCE. This state-run news source would be displayed in common areas where it would be seen by many passers-by and would remain in use for at least 200 years. A notable aspect of the Acta Diarna is that it also displayed business related information and even gossip, very similarly to the advertisements and tabloid newspapers of today. (Straubhaar, 2008)

The “public news banner” concept is not limited to ancient Rome, as there existed a very similar system in the Aztec civilization of Mesoamerica. This parallel development makes sense, as it is an efficient way to spread news to the masses in societies where no advanced printing techniques are available or known. (Straubhaar, 2008)

Printing Technology

During the 13th century, Venetian explorer Marco Polo traveled across Asia and observed, among many things, a printing technique that was used in China. (Szalay, 2017) This consisted of a set of wooden blocks which had phrases carved onto them. Ink was applied to the blocks and they were then stamped onto paper. A major flaw lay in the fact that the wooden blocks often broke after repeated use. This “block-printing” method spread to Europe nonetheless, and pioneers in the print industry experimented on more efficient ways to perfect the method. One such visionary was Johannes Gutenberg, who, in the mid 15th century, solved the durability issue by creating blocks of individual letters which were composed of metal alloy. This, paired with a wooden printing press machine, led to a much quicker way of printing large amounts of text, which is crucial for mass communication. (Kreis, 2017)

The Newspaper is Born

Financial institutions needed a way to inform business people of various trade and maker related subjects. With the print industry booming due to the printing press, these financial institutions, particularly Germany’s House of Fugger, printed and distributed newsletters which contained this important information in the 16th century. Newsletters were still mostly business-based, however the early 17th century saw a further innovation with the Dutch Corantos. These newsletters included new subjects such as local news and even gossip. (Strout, 2002)

The Issue of Censorship in the 17th Century

The lack of freedom of religion was an increasingly recognized issue among citizens of Europe, and at around the same time, the amount of censorship in press was also noticed. One particular example of the latter is John Milton’s Aeropagitica (1644). This work was an essay on divorce, and Milton’s frustration was with the Church, who refused to publish it. He abhorred the censorship, for example by the Parliament, and protested that free press was crucial, stressing that diversity and different opinions and ideas were key to the people being truly informed. This is significant because it shows how issues of diversity and representation have been issues with the press for a very long time and still are to this day. (Straubhaar, 2008)

The Colonists vs The Authorities

The New World had the same issue of censorship as the Old World, as demonstrated with Benjamin Harris’s Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick. This was the first of the colonial newspapers, and its operation was ceased by authorities after just one issue because it contained scandalous stories about the British Crown and the authorities and their puritan ways. Meanwhile, the newspaper that was approved and published by the royal authorities, John Campbell’s Boston News-Letter, continued to be published for 72 years. (Straubhaar, 2008)

“Join or Die” is significant because it is a political cartoon created by Benjamin Franklin in 1754 and published in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. It depicts a snake separated into eight sections, with each section labeled as a colony, and was originally created to support the colonists, then under control of Britain, to help fight in the Seven Years War, against France. It was later used to rally support of the colonists’ revolution against the British in 1774- the American Revolution. (Gevinson, 2011)

Penny Press and Yellow Journalism

In 1833, Benjamin Day made newspaper history by creating and selling a brand-new newspaper, The Sun, for only one cent, compared to the higher prices of every other newspaper available in New York City. This lower price allowed far more people to have access to the news, however the quality of said news is debatable. Still, it sold very well and was even delivered, for the first time, by a newsboy, so people did not have to go far to get a copy. Many similar “penny press” papers would appear, starting a trend. (McNamara, 2017)

Yellow Journalism refers to the sensationalist fake news-papers which were particularly prominent in the 19th century. The term originated from a feud between two newspaper publishers for the rights behind a popular comic strip at the time, Yellow Kid. Afterwards, the two publishers created exaggerated accounts of the supposed tyrannical rule of the Spanish over their colony of Cuba. A fake news article claiming the sinking of the Maine, a US battleship, was caused by the Spanish military, is believed to have been a major factor in the start of the Spanish-American War in 1898. (US Department of State)

Photojournalism Changes the Game

Images in newspapers had existed for a considerable time, however these were reprints of illustrations which were sometimes based off actual photographs. However, in the late 19th century, the halftoning process for printing photographs was created, in which the photographs were rendered by dots which created a recreation of the original photograph. This method would remain the main method of rendering photographs in newspapers until digital printing of color photographs onto the newspapers in the latter half of the 20th century, which is the method used in newspapers nowadays. (mattdm, 2015)


 The purpose of this historical overview is to provide a perspective on how print media has been a part of human society since there were scribes to read and write for those in power. Before there were books, there were scrolls. Before there were newspapers, there were town criers. Newspapers weren’t widespread until the American people made it so. When a new medium is introduced in the marketplace we tend to be worried about existing media. Due to the possibility it could be negatively affected by new media being produced. Although, somehow old media has found ways to remain in the presence of new medias. Print media was the primary source of our information before the internet, and even though the media has changed, publishers have stayed true to their format and content. We are making history right now as we know it. Devices are being invented that change how we access information. What we are doing right now to change media will be in history books one day, not just textbooks. With the growth and capabilities of the Internet, we are shown throughout history that media will always continue to prosper.

Works Cited 


BENEDICT, STACEY. “Magazine Industry.” Encyclopedia of Communication and Information, edited by Jorge Reina Schement, vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2002, pp. 568-573.

Berret, Charles. “Walter Benjamin and the Question of Print in Media History.” Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 41, no. 4, 2017, pp. 349–367.

“Books and Publishing.” Communication Booknotes Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 1, 2009, pp. 35–38..

Garvey, Ellen Gruber. “Magazines.” Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 5, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003, pp. 191-196.

Gevinson, Alan. “Teaching History.org, Home of the National History Education Clearinghouse.” “Join or Die” | Teachinghistory.org, Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, 25 Feb. 2011, teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/19227.

Kreis, Steven.”The Printing Press.” Historyguide.org. N.p., 2000. Web. 25 Oct. 2017.

LAUDER, TRACY. “Magazine Industry, History of.” Encyclopedia of Communication and Information, edited by Jorge Reina Schement, vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2002, pp. 575-579.

Magee, Monique D., et al, (editors) “Magazines.” Market Share Reporter: Trends Over Time, 2012, pp. 383-396.

mattdm. “How Were Photographs Printed in Newspapers in 1929?” Printing – How Were Photographs Printed in Newspapers in 1929? – Photography Stack Exchange, StackExchange, 25 Jan. 2015, photo.stackexchange.com/questions/59679/how-were-photographs-printed-in-newspapers-in-1929.

McNamara, Robert. “Startling Price Cut to a Penny Made Newspapers Available to Everyone.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 31 Aug. 2017, www.thoughtco.com/penny-press-definition-1773293.

Straubhaar, Joseph, Robert LaRose, and Lucinda Davenport. “NEWSPAPERS.” Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2008. 91-98. Print.

Szalay, Jessie. “Marco Polo: Facts, Biography & Travels.” LiveScience. Purch, 29 Aug. 2017. Web. 25 Oct. 2017.

STROUT, LAWRENCE N. “Newspaper Industry, History of.” Encyclopedia of Communication and Information, edited by Jorge Reina Schement, vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2002, pp. 659-665.

U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/yellow-journalism.



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Introduction to Media Studies Copyright © by Samantha Knapton, Allie Butterfield, Lindsay Brenner, Keegan Burch, and Samuel Kfoury is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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