In the so-called Shepherd of Hermas written at Rome in the early 2nd century, we read:
(2) The elderly woman came and asked if I had already given the book to the presbyters. I said that I had not. 'You have done well', she said. 'for I have some words to add. Then, when I complete all the words, they will be made known through you to all those who are chosen. (3) And so, you will write two little books, sending one to Clement and the other to Grapte. Clement will send his to the foreign cities, for that is his commission. But Grapte will admonish the widows and orphans. And you will read yours in this city, with the presbyters who lead the church.
If this short note reflects a typical praxis, then books were published and handed out by the author, once they had been read by a few insiders and amendments had been made even by those first readers. But the publishing remained the author’s responsibility, also the first copying and sending out of the book. The first copies, then went to specifically commissioned people, as in this case to Clement who was the agent for foreign cities. These agents made further copies (as otherwise Clement could not have sent the book to a number of foreign ‘cities’), while others, as here Grapte, used their copy for instruction. The reading out the book to the leading people in the community, the presbyters, without handing it out, lay with the author. Books, therefore, did not simply made their way into the public. As today, there existed proper structures and procedures for the writing, correcting, proof-reading, revising, publishing, copying and distribution process that lead to a diverse readership with regards to location, purpose and intent. And, clearly, codices were becoming the form of this early 'mass' production phenomenon, clearly meant and directed as part of a sales chain of a formal book trade.