Books have been at the center of science and the arts for centuries. How has the production and sales of books changed over time?

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

Historically, books were a luxury commodity: only affordable to the most wealthy. Studying the production and sales of books over time can therefore give us an idea for how income and wealth have changed over the last centuries.

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

Writing has been key in the generation and communication of ideas. Even prior to the invention of the first printing press by Gutenberg, around 1440, societies communicated in written form using tablets, scrolls, sheets of papyrus, and other materials.

Finally, books also 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 history 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


  1. Eltjo Buringh and Jan Luiten Van Zanden (2009) – Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, a Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries. In The Journal of Economic History The Journal of Economic History Vol. 69, No. 2 (Jun., 2009), pp. 409-445. Online here.

  2. Particularly interesting is the transition from manuscripts to books – book production became more efficient, prices decreased and the consumption of books increased.

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Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie (2023) - “Books” Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

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    author = {Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie},
    title = {Books},
    journal = {Our World in Data},
    year = {2023},
    note = {}
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