COVID-19 vaccinations, cases, excess mortality, and much more
Explore our COVID-19 data

Books, manuscripts, and written communication have played a crucial role in the spread of ideas and the development of culture.

Historically, books were seen as a luxury commodity: reserved for the literate, and only affordable to those with a high income. Studying the production and sales of books over time can give us some proxy for income and wealth across countries.

We can also look at trends, beyond income, to understand how religion, culture, and other context-specific factors might influence book publications and sales.

Books have been a useful indicator of the generation and communication of ideas. Even prior to the first printing press by Gutenberg, around 1440, societies communicated in written form using tablets, scrolls, sheets of papyrus, and other materials.

Finally, books provide a good proxy for literacy rates within a population. Literacy is a crucial indicator of human development and education.

On this page, you can find historical data and visualizations relating to manuscript and book production.

The crucial event that changed the landscape of book production was the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg around 1440.1 But this data also looks at the history of manuscripts that preceded printed books.2

Interactive charts on Books