The sea change* in printing and publishing

* sea change” originated in Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest,” which was written in about 1610. Sea change was the physical transformation that the sea had wrought in Ferdinand’s drowned father. It now means a profound transformation. 

I absolutely adore printers’ trays.

I trained as a journalist from the late 70s so I have always had printers’ trays or type cases.  We actually used them in those days and I used to take any old drawers they threw out and use them for display.

These two I bought here in Sweden – they still held the old metal letters when I purchased them. The one on the right holds all my clay animals and African matchbox puzzles. The left one holds mementoes – from stones and shells picked up on special beaches, to tiny snow globes and Russian nesting dolls. Every single thing in these trays has great sentimental value to me.

Printers’ trays are drawers from from so-called ‘type cases’, where the metal letters used for printing text were used. You had to lay out everything by hand in those days. The ones I worked with had the typeface and size labelled on the front of the drawer, but there were many different designs. With most of them, you could lay the drawer on top of the case. Uppercase letters are so called because capital letters were kept in the upper part of the case, while the lower part of the case held the smaller (lowercase) letters. Moreover, the saying ‘mind your Ps and Qs’ comes from typesetters warning their apprentices to not confuse the p and q letters when setting the type.

The type cases on the wall in the top photo came from one of the places where I teach. The huge building used to house a printing works. The elevators and rooms are enormous because of the size of the machinery and the weight of the paper that used to be housed there. The floors are all reinforced and there is soundproofing because the machines were so noisy and heavy. The building itself is enormous, with high ceilings, huge windows and gigantic rooms. That shows how big and heavy the printing industry was.

When I trained, there were the journalists, the photographers, the subeditors (who used to fact check and correct grammar), the layout artists and designers, the typesetters, and the printers. If we wanted a caption on a photograph it had to be sent to someone separate from the layout specialist and the photographer, for example. Then it all had to be sent to print within the deadline, for distribution the next day.

That entire profession has been turned on its head by the internet, social media and technological advancements. One person can do everything from their computer, and most things are not printed anymore. The whole industry is immediate with news hitting social media within seconds.

The paper industry – in Sweden anyway – is still pretty large because they produce packaging (all those internet purchases need boxes and envelopes), and things like toilet paper. But the printing industry is a fraction of its previous size. I still read books, and prefer printed books. But I generally buy Kindle books because I read mostly in English and don’t want to wait for weeks for a paper book to be sent from another country.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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