In the 6th century AD, China invented printing, a form of it referred to as block printing. And, this became the basis for modern printing as we know it.
China made two very valuable contributions to publishing – that of paper (in AD 105) and printing. While there is evidence to suggest that block printing may been invented much before, in its earlier form, fell into disuse. China’s block printing techniques, on the other hand, were far advanced, and greatly improved book production. An improvement such as this should have spread through the world, but it did not.
The Arabs had strong trade ties with the Chinese and the Europeans. One would imagine, that such ties would have helped spread an invention as significant as block printing and paper. While paper made its way to Europe, block printing didn’t.
Part of the reason, are the Arabs. Their insistence on hand copying the Quran (printing of the religious text was allowed only as late as the 1820s) meant block printing was not even considered as an option for mass production of books. But, such is the nature of human necessity, that printing was invented, all on its own, in Europe.
Enter Johannes Gutenberg.