When I was invited to be the editor of PW’s 150th anniversary issue, I first turned to the five other quarter-century milestone anniversary issues—from 1897, 1922, 1947, 1972, and 1997—as a quick way to refamiliarize myself with the breadth of this magazine at which I had spent 26 years, the heart of my professional life. It is not that I had left PW—one seldom does, I had heard, and now stand in evidence thereof—for even in the years since my 2014 retirement, I have been a subscriber and kept abreast of the industry (and the doings of former colleagues). But in looking at the most recent anniversary issue, the 125th from 1997, an issue I had worked on closely, I saw an industry that, though recognizable, was truly of another era, culturally, politically, and most of all, technologically. Book clubs had nearly 20% of the market, Barnes & Noble and Follett’s were privatizing college bookstores, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz was talking to Oprah Winfrey about selling her titles along with the lattes, while the ABA was suing five publishers over price discrimination. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was sailing smoothly into his second term; Fox News was only six months old; there wasn’t even a Daily Show.

The 125th anniversary issue closed with select “publishing visionaries” looking ahead at changes that digital technology might bring. Electronic books were “not in themselves a threat,” said Grant McGuire, president at R.R. Donnelley, but “the World Wide Web” might distract people from reading. Consumer electronics expert Tony Seideman predicted that WebTV, pointcasting, and convergence were the coming Big Things, while Nicholas Negroponte, cofounder of the MIT Media Lab, asserted that the future was in electronic paper—“it looks and feels like paper” but is a “very fine transparent conductive grid.” Negroponte concluded: “I am not one to dwell on the smell of the printed book... or the black ink that comes off on my fingers.... I won’t miss them.” What everyone did miss was the initial public offering of Amazon.com two months earlier, on May 15, 1997.

A cascade of unpredictable changes have followed, affecting what books look like, how they are read or listened to, how they are purchased, where they are purchased, how they are priced, who writes them, distributes them, prints them, promotes them, and so on. These lightning-fast changes posed a threat to all segments in the industry—U.S. printing is not the same; the roster of book distributors has been totally transformed; independent booksellers and chains alike have suffered losses and re­adjusted; people can now read books with no threat of ink on their fingers or the smell of print, but it is thanks to a Kindle, or a phone, or a tablet not electronic paper or a DVD-ROM. PW managed to see it all “from a front-row seat,” as Andrew Albanese puts it. It is a tale we lived to tell and are beholden to tell it.

That was my first thought about adopting a theme for this issue: rather than dwelling on our 19th-century roots and 20th-century tenure, I recommended intensely focusing on the last 25 years, conveniently since our last anniversary issue, but substantively a much more important dividing line.

In the pages that follow you will see that focus holds, but only so far. There are indeed segments of the industry totally transformed or even brought into existence by the repercussions of the digital revolution, whether directly or indirectly—Sophia Stewart charts how the art of book promotion involves previously unimaginable platforms; NPD Book­Scan’s Kristen McLean assembles a portrait of what and who the public has been reading since the service’s launch almost 20 years ago; Julie Schaper, now with Ingram but long synonymous with Consortium, details her 30 years in the restructuring of independent press distribution; Marji Ross, longtime head of Regnery, writes about how Amazon and Fox News helped conservative publishers find their conservative readers (and vice versa). As well, certain publishing categories found their footing or found new horizons since the mid-’90s: Leonard Marcus writes about how the appearance of the first Harry Potter in 1997 changed children’s book publishing and inspired—and held—new readers; Calvin Reid, who helped the field of graphic novels and comics books get out of the comics bookstore environment into the general trade, details that phenomenon, while Cathy Grossman and Emma Wenner chart much the same kind of achievement in religion books, which branched out from the predominantly Christian bookstore market into the chains and indies. And of course, there’s the world of retailing, which has gone through perhaps the most enormous changes, with independent bookstores trying to survive first the spread of mall stores, then the growth and rapacity of the chains, then online book vendors led by Amazon, a tale ably tracked by veteran bookselling reporter Judith Rosen. Other categories touched on include books by politicians, midsize publishers, progressive publishers, self-publishing, book fairs domestic and international, libraries, evolving e-book and audiobook technology, and even printing.

But some matters did not fit into that smaller window of inspection. To look at censorship in book publishing, Gayle Feldman ranges back to the Comstock Act and the 1920s; Jim Milliot traces corporate consolidation back to the 1980s; John Maher dives deeply into PW’s archive to lay out not only the growth and change of PW over the many years but of the industry itself. And it is very clear that diversity in the business has always been lacking, as our three essayists on the matter attest and as Tracy Sherrod shows in her well-researched history of Black publishing and the publishing of Black voices from the early 20th century to today. Sherrod’s important piece—and prescription for the future—concludes our look at ourselves and the industry.

A concrete if simple example of focus tightening and then opening to a wider aperture is my feature on “Difference Makers” in the business. Our last anniversary issue listed 75 people who left an indelible mark, extending back to our founder, Frederick Leypoldt, and up through Bennett Cerf, Jason Epstein, Alfred and Blanche Knopf, Margaret McElderry, Barney Rosset, Maxwell Perkins, Roger Straus, Nan Talese, and Helen Wolff. We decided that into this club another 25 members should be inducted—those who have made their mark in this century. You will find them in the pages here, along with four PW staffers left off the earlier list who should not have been so overlooked, and six of our more recent own who have been invaluable in getting us to here. Apologies in advance to all those people who also made a difference in this vast business that depends on so many.

When Frederick Leypoldt, an anxious man with a bibliographer’s craving for order, decided that the publishing and bookselling business needed a reliable and timely source of information, he knew the problems firsthand, as a foreign book importer, bookshop proprietor, and publisher. Publishing and bookselling were different then—there was no applicable international copyright law, no agreed-upon territories, no rights business, and no agents (the first agency, A.P. Watt, was 20 years away). “Canvassers” went from town to town looking for book orders. “Auctioneers” made low-ball offers to publishers for unsold stock and then held a “trade” event—an auction—or shipped the excess to distant, underserved markets. Publishers might sell plates of a book to another publisher to print—or even sell “sheets.” Foreign editions could flood the market. As soon as Leypoldt published the first number of The Publishers’ and Stationers’ Weekly Trade Circular, on Jan. 18, 1872, he and his tiny staff started to bring some welcome order while also providing a forum for spirited debate, and there was plenty of that. The lively second volume of John Tebbel’s invaluable History of Book Publishing acknowledges that his major source was “the files of Publishers Weekly.”

Leypoldt’s humble ambition—“To make a practical paper, that should help the trade sell books and make money,” as well as serve as “an organ of trade education”—can be judged a success. Although Leypoldt died of exhaustion in 1884, his widow, Augusta Garrigue Leypoldt, in partnership with new owner Richard Rodgers Bowker, kept the Leypoldt vision alive. Only a historical review of this kind can discern the pattern, a kind of DNA, that runs from a German bibliographer and his Swiss-German wife to the Yankee R.R. Bowker to Jeff Bezos, a brilliant, ambitious young engineer from Princeton who dreamed of an “everything store.” By the mid–20th century, PW had become just part of a bibliographic juggernaut, the Bowker company, which published annually Index Medicus, Literary Marketplace, and Books in Print, the latter endeavoring to keep up-to-date with all available books. In 1969, R.R. Bowker was granted the contract to assign all ISBN numbers.

When that young engineer, in 1994, was looking for a product category that he could target and dominate for online sales, it was the existence of the downloadable Books in Print database and the unique then-10-digit identifier that each title carried that drew him to books. Judge as you will the fortunes and misfortunes owing to that lineage. A technological revolution is by definition change, and there is inevitable loss. But it seems clear that today, a quarter century into this revolution brought into being by internet commerce, the business and culture of publishing and bookselling—the trade, if you will—has proven resilient. Against steep odds, print survives, independent booksellers survive, independent publishers—and self-publishers—now more able than ever to get their wares to market survive as well. As has PW, testament to an industry keenly aware of the importance of getting reliable and timely information about book commerce and of keeping abreast of change.

Under Leypoldt, the PW masthead was adorned with his favorite quote from philosopher Francis Bacon: “I hold every man a debtor to his profession, from the which, as men of course do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to endeavor themselves, by way of amends, to be a help and ornament there unto.” Certainly, PW is a debtor to its profession, and for a long time now has endeavored to remain an essential ornament thereunto.

A cascade of changes since our last anniversary issue has transformed the business.

This article has been modified from the original version.