The manuscript books of the 14th and 15th centuries were affected by the rise of humanism and the increased use of the vernacular languages. Many texts were found in monastery libraries and Library collections throughout western Europe were searched with the aim of recovering and purifying the classical texts. The restored texts, often with humanistic commentaries, became prized books that were collected by whoever could afford them.
The invention of printing in Europe is usually attributed to Johannes Gutenberg in Germany about 1440-50, although block printing had been carried out from about 1400. Gutenberg's achievement was not a single invention but a whole new craft involving movable metal type, ink, paper, and press. In less than 50 years it had been carried through most of Europe, largely by German printers.
Printing in Europe is inseparable from the Renaissance and Reformation . It grew from the climate and needs of the first, and it fought in the battles of the second. It has been at the heart of the expanding intellectual movement of the past 500 years. Although printing was thought of at first merely as a means of avoiding copying errors, its possibilities for mass-producing written matter soon became evident. The market for books was still small, but literacy had spread beyond the clergy and had reached the emerging middle classes. The church, the state, universities, reformers, and radicals were all quick to use the press. Not surprisingly, every kind of attempt was made to control and regulate such a "dangerous" new mode of communication.
It may be said that book printing , after its birth in medieval Germany, was carried to maturity in humanistic Italy. The printing press reached Italy very early (1462-63), via the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco, near Rome, which had strong German connections and a famous scriptorium. In Rome the church encouraged the production of inexpensive books. In Italy as in Germany, however, it was the great commercial towns that became centres of printing and publishing.
The initial period of printing, a restless, highly competitive free-for-all, runs well into the 16th century. Printing began to settle down, to become regulated from within and controlled from without, only after about 1550. In this first 100 years, the printer dominated the book trade. The printer was often his own typefounder, editor, publisher, and bookseller.
Printing participated in and gave impetus to the growth and accumulation of knowledge. At the same time, printing has facilitated the spread of ideas that have helped to shape alterations in social relations made possible by industrial development and economic transformations. By means of books, pamphlets, and the press, information of all kinds has reached all levels of society in most countries.
Freedom of the press was pursued and attacked for the next three centuries; but by the end of the 18th century a large measure of freedom had been won in western Europe and North America, and a wide range of printed matter was in circulation.