The printing press was a big deal. It brought a communication revolution and led to the development of larger collective consciousnesses.

What I am refering to the printing revolution is the widespread dissemination of written content by publishing, widespread creation of content to be printed and widespread consumption of printed material.

Gutenberg was a spark which lit the fire of the printing revolution. But how widespread or rare was the....fuel and the oxygen?

Two parts

  • Could it have been occurred as readily in any year before 1450?
  • Could it have been occurred as readily in any sedentary civilization other than Europe?

I understand that it is broad, and borders opinion based, but, indulge me?

  • 4
    A relatively simple writing system was no doubt a huge factor for industrialising printing.
    – Semaphore
    Dec 3, 2019 at 7:57
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1 Answer 1


A modern misconception was that Gutenberg invented printing; this was not the case. Woodblock printing was a craft over a thousand years old when he came about.

Another misconception was that Gutenberg invented moveable type; this was not the case either. Moveable type was invented four hundred years before Gutenberg's time in China, and made its way to Europe eventually.

What Gutenberg did invent were various tools and procedures to print more, faster, and cheaper (most importantly the hand mould and the printing press, which significantly sped up the process). This allowed European printing to catch up with Chinese/Korean book production, and eventually overtake it.

So it is more appropriate to look at Gutenberg's work as a big evolutionary step, not actually a revolution. He didn't invent all of it in a blaze of divine inspiration; he (significantly) optimized existing processes.

There were corroborating factors that helped the "taking off" part in Europe.

One of them was already brought up by @Semaphore -- alphabets (prevalent in Europe) are easier to set in print than syllabaries or logograms, as there are fewer glyphs to chose from. This is a gradual quality, though; it is certainly possible to use moveable type with e.g. the Chinese writing system (see above).

Another factor favoring Europe was the high demand by wealthy patrons for one specific, large book -- the bible -- offering high potential profits that could be re-invested.

So... yes, it could have happened earlier, or in a different place of the world. It did happen in other places, to be exact -- it just did not "take off" the way it did in Europe.

  • 1
    Also the religious conflicts starting around the 1520's accelerated the usage of printing presses in England and Germany. Dec 3, 2019 at 10:19
  • @MarkJohnson: Printing had certainly had its part in propaganda elsewhere as well; I don't see that as a distinguishing factor making Europe special. I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to Euro-centrism.
    – DevSolar
    Dec 3, 2019 at 10:22
  • Such events often establish a product for long term usage. The point where it becomes a common everyday item that then spreads. Dec 3, 2019 at 10:28
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    The first part of your response does not answer my question much. I had already known and considered it while writing the question. Can you expand more in the second part?
    – Rohit
    Dec 3, 2019 at 10:41
  • @Rohit: I am not sure what there is to expand on. As you mentioned yourself, the question is broad and opinion-based, bordering on alternative history. There were factors that made printing easier and more profitable in Europe than in China (where the basic technology originated), and with Gutenberg's improvements, it got much easier and even more profitable...
    – DevSolar
    Dec 3, 2019 at 10:48

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