So, how long have people been copying books in South Africa?

12229361The answer might astonish you.

In his enlightening new book The Hidden History of South Africa’s Book and Reading Cultures, published by UKZN Press (and regrettably not yet available on Paperight), Archie L. Dick offers us this juicy tidbit of knowledge about how books were shared and circulated in the early days of the Cape colony:

“[…] copying and circulation culture was widespread at the Cape throughout the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth century. Common readers and writers copied and distributed handwritten pietistic works, hymn books, school books, and children’s stories. Even after printing arrived, only one copy of an almanac was sold in each of the Cape’s districts, Lady Anne Barnard complained, because ‘all the inhabitants read or copied out of that one'”. p. 20

So, it seems the twin problems of agreeable circulation methods and of readers pirating texts – and denying publishers their profits – has existed since the advent of the Cape colony, and the city that Paperight happily calls home.

Why, then, has it taken us so long to figure out a permissive solution to the fair Cape’s (and, for that matter, South Africa’s) book circulation woes? It isn’t even a vaguely new problem!

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