Although the centuries-old practice of copying books by hand had become obsolete with the invention of the printing press, books remained rare commodities for a long time. The expensive manufacturing and the low levels of alphabetisation meant the number of potential readers was very limited at the beginning. This changed towards the end of the 18th century with the onset of industrialisation, which created a mass market for books, particularly in the fast-growing cities. As early as 1796 Alois Senefelder created a simple procedure for reproducing works with lithography, however it was only in 1904 that this principle was refined into what we now know as modern offset printing and large print runs could be created inexpensively.
In the following years, a debate unfolded about the manufacturing of modern books as consumer articles. Conservatives and bibliophile educational elitists took a sceptical view of this. It was only after the War that affordable books became reality. The Rowohlt publishing house played a pioneering role in this. From 1946 to 1949 it published foreign literature on newspaper print. In 1949, the so-called rotary novels became the rororo books that are still printed on newsprint today. The tremendous success of the series started the era of the cheap paperback.