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Publishing is the activity of making information, literature, music, software and other content available to the public for sale or for free. Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works, such as books, newspapers, and magazines. With the advent of digital information systems, the scope has expanded to include electronic publishing such as ebooks, academic journals, micropublishing, websites, blogs, video game publishing, and the like.
Publishing may produce private, club, commons or public goods and may be conducted as a commercial, public, social or community activity. The commercial publishing industry ranges from large multinational conglomerates such as RELX, Pearson and Thomson Reuters to thousands of small independents. It has various divisions such as: trade/retail publishing of fiction and non-fiction, educational publishing (k-12) and academic and scientific publishing. Publishing is also undertaken by governments, civil society and private companies for administrative or compliance requirements, business, research, advocacy or public interest objectives. This can include annual reports, research reports, market research, policy briefings and technical reports. Self-publishing has become very common.
"Publisher" can refer to a publishing company or organization, an individual who leads a publishing company or an imprint, or to an individual who leads a periodical.
Publishing in law
- As the process of giving formal notice to the world of a significant intention, for example, to marry or enter bankruptcy
- As the essential precondition of being able to claim defamation; that is, the alleged libel must have been published
- For copyright purposes, where there is a difference in the protection of published and unpublished works
Publishing became possible with the invention of writing, and became more practical upon the introduction of printing. Prior to printing, distributed works were copied manually, by scribes. Due to printing, publishing progressed hand-in-hand with the development of books.
The Chinese inventor Bi Sheng made movable type of earthenware circa 1045, but there are no known surviving examples of his work. Around 1450, in what is commonly regarded as an independent invention, Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in Europe, along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. This invention gradually made books less expensive to produce and more widely available.
Early printed books, single sheets and images which were created before 1501 in Europe are known as incunables or incunabula. "A man born in 1453, the year of the fall of Constantinople, could look back from his fiftieth year on a lifetime in which about eight million books had been printed, more perhaps than all the scribes of Europe had produced since Constantine founded his city in A.D. 330."
Missionaries brought printing presses to sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-18th century.
Historically, publishing has been handled by publishers, although some authors self-published. The establishment of the World Wide Web in 1989 soon propelled the website into a dominant medium of publishing. Wikis and Blogs soon developed, followed by online books, online newspapers, and online magazines.
Since its start, the World Wide Web has been facilitating the technological convergence of commercial and self-published content, as well as the convergence of publishing and producing into online production through the development of multimedia content.
The process of publishing (traditional)
Book publishers buy or commission copy from independent authors; newspaper publishers, by contrast, usually hire staff to produce copy, although they may also employ freelance journalists, called stringers. Magazines may employ either strategy or a mixture.
Traditional book publishers are selective about what they publish. They do not accept manuscripts direct from authors. Authors must first submit a query letter or proposal, either to a literary agent or direct to the publisher. depending on the publisher's submission guidelines. If the publisher does accept unsolicited manuscripts, then the manuscript is placed in the slush pile, which publisher's readers sift through to identify manuscripts worthy of publication. The acquisitions editors review these and if they agree, send them to the editorial staff. Larger companies have more levels of assessment between submission and publication than smaller companies. Unsolicited submissions have a very low rate of acceptance, with some estimates as low as 3 out of every 10,000 being accepted.
Acceptance and negotiation
Authors typically sell exclusive territorial intellectual property rights that match the list of countries in which distribution is proposed (i.e. the rights match the legal systems under which copyright protections can be enforced). In the case of books, the publisher and writer must also agree on the intended formats of publication — mass-market paperback, "trade" paperback and hardback are the most common options.
Where distribution is to be by CD-ROM or other physical media, the same rules are applied. However if distribution is offered electronically on the internet, national copyright can no longer be applied and this presents legal problems. These are usually solved by selling language or translation rights rather than national rights. Thus, internet access across the European Union is relatively open because of the laws forbidding discrimination based on nationality, but the fact of publication in, say, France, limits the target market to those who read French.
The parties must then agree on royalty rates, (the percentage of the gross retail price to be paid to the author), and the advance payment. The publisher will estimate the potential sales and balance projected revenue against production costs. Royalties usually range between 10–12% of RRP. An advance is usually one third of the first print run's projected royalties. For example, if the first print run is 5000 copies at $14.95 with 10% royalties, potential royalties would be $7475 (10% x $14.95 x 5000). The advance would therefore be $2490. Advances vary greatly, with established authors commanding larger advances.
Stages of Publishing
Although listed as distinct stages, parts of these occur concurrently. As editing of text progresses, front cover design and initial layout takes place, and sales and marketing of the book begins.
It is likely the author will be asked to work with an editor to improve the quality of the work. Publishers may maintain a house style, and staff will copy edit to ensure that the work matches the style and grammatical requirements of each market. Editing may also involve structural changes and requests for more information. Some publishers employ fact checkers, particularly regarding non-fiction works.
This stage includes the visual appearance of the product. The design process prepares the work for printing through processes such as typesetting, dust jacket composition, specification of paper quality, binding method and casing.
For standard fiction titles, the design is usually restricted to typography and cover design. For books containing illustrations or images, design takes on a much larger role in laying out how the page looks, how chapters begin and end, colours, typography, cover design and ancillary materials such as posters, catalogue images, and other sales materials. Non-fiction illustrated titles are the most design intensive books, requiring extensive use of images and illustrations, captions, typography and a deep involvement and consideration of the reader experience.
The activities of typesetting, page layout, the production of negatives, plates from the negatives and, for hardbacks, the preparation of brasses for the spine legend and Imprint are now all computerized. Prepress computerization evolved mainly in about the last twenty years of the 20th century. If the work is to be distributed electronically, the final files are saved in formats appropriate to the target operating systems of the hardware used for reading. These may include PDF files.
Sales and marketing stage
As editing and design are underway, sales people may start talking about the book with their customers to build early interest. Publishing companies often send advance information sheets to customers or overseas publishers to gauge possible sales. This information feeds back through the editorial process and may affect the formatting of the book and the strategy employed to sell it. For example, if interest from foreign publishers is high, co-publishing deals may be established whereby publishers share printing costs in producing large print runs thereby lowering the per-unit cost of the books. Conversely, if initial feedback is not strong, the print-run of the book may be reduced, the marketing budget cut or, in some cases, the book is dropped from publication altogether.
Dedicated in-house salespeople are sometimes replaced by companies who specialize in sales to bookshops, wholesalers, and chain stores for a fee. This trend is accelerating as retail book chains and supermarkets have centralized their buying.
Once editing and design are complete, the printing phase begins, starting with a pre-press proof, for final checking and sign-off by the publisher. This proof shows the book precisely as it will appear once printed and represents the final opportunity for the publisher to correct errors. Some printing companies use electronic proofs rather than printed proofs. Once approved, printing – the physical production of the printed work – begins.
Recently new printing process have emerged, such as printing on demand (POD) and web-to-print. The book is written, edited, and designed as usual, but it is not printed until the publisher receives an order for the book from a customer. This procedure ensures low costs for storage and reduces the likelihood of printing more books than will be sold. Web-to-print enables a more streamlined way of connecting customers to printing through an online medium.
In the case of books, binding follows upon the printing process. It involves folding the printed sheets, "securing them together, affixing boards or sides to it, and covering the whole with leather or other materials".
The final stage in publication involves making the product available to the public, usually by offering it for sale. In previous centuries, authors frequently also acted as their own editor, printer, and bookseller, but these functions have become separated. Once a book, newspaper, or another publication is printed, the publisher may use a variety of channels to distribute it. Books are most commonly sold through booksellers and through other retailers. Newspapers and magazines are typically sold in advance directly by the publisher to subscribers, and then distributed either through the postal system or by newspaper carriers. Periodicals are also frequently sold through newsagents and vending machines.
Within the book industry, printers often fly some copies of the finished book to publishers as sample copies to aid sales or to be sent out for pre-release reviews. The remaining books often travel from the printing facility via sea freight. Accordingly, the delay between the approval of the pre-press proof and the arrival of books in a warehouse, much less in a retail store, can take some months. For books that tie into movie release-dates (particularly for children's films), publishers will arrange books to arrive in store up to two months prior to the movie release to build interest in the movie.
If the processes above, up to the stage of printing, are handled by a third party and then sold to the publishing company, it is known as book packaging. This is a common strategy for smaller publishers, which buy the intellectual property rights then sell the package to other publishers and gain an immediate return on capital invested. The first publisher will often print sufficient copies for all markets and thereby get the maximum quantity efficiency on the print run for all.
Publishing as a business
There are four basic business models in book publishing:
- Traditional or commercial publishers: are selective as to which books they publish. If accepted, authors pay no costs to publish. In exchange for selling rights to their work, they receive free editing, design, printing, marketing and distribution services, and are paid royalties on sales.
- Self-publishing: The author uses a self-publishing service to publish their work. Self-publishing houses are not selective, allowing all-comers to publish anything they wish. Most self-publishing houses offer enhanced services (e.g. editing, design) but authors may choose which (if any) to use. The author bears all costs, keeps total control and retains full rights to the work.
- Vanity press: Vanity presses portray themselves as traditional publishers but are, in fact, just a self-publishing service. Unlike genuine self-publishing services, the author is often obliged to use some or all of their additional services, and the press will often take rights to the work as part of their contract.
- Hybrid publishing: Because traditional publishing has a high barrier to entry but self-published novels have a record of dismal sales, there have been attempts to bridge this gap using hybrid models. No one model has been fully proven at this stage.
Derided in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica as "a purely commercial affair" that cared more about profits than about literary quality, publishing is like any business, with a need for the expenses not to exceed the income. Publishing is now a major industry with the largest companies Reed Elsevier and Pearson PLC having global publishing operations.
Some businesses maximize their profit margins through vertical integration; book publishing is not one of them. Although newspaper and magazine companies still often own printing presses and binderies, book publishers rarely do. Similarly, the trade usually sells the finished products through a distributor who stores and distributes the publisher's wares for a percentage fee or sells on a sale or return basis.
The advent of the Internet has provided the electronic way of book distribution without the need of physical printing, physical delivery and storage of books. This, therefore, poses an interesting question that challenges publishers, distributors, and retailers. The question pertains to the role and importance the publishing houses have in the overall publishing process. It is a common practice that the author, the original creator of the work, signs the contract awarding him or her only around 10% of the proceeds of the book. Such contract leaves 90% of the book proceeds to the publishing houses, distribution companies, marketers, and retailers. One example (rearranged) of the distribution of proceeds from the sale of a book was given as follows:
- 45% to the retailer
- 10% to the wholesaler
- 10.125% to the publisher for printing (this is usually subcontracted out)
- 7.15% to the publisher for marketing
- 12.7% to the publisher for pre-production
- 15% to the author (royalties)
There is a common misconception that publishing houses make large profits and that authors are the lowest paid in the publishing chain. However, most publishers make little profit from individual titles, with 75% of books not breaking even. Approximately 80% of the cost of a book is taken up by the expenses of preparing, distributing, and printing (with printing being one of the lowest costs of all). On successful titles, publishing companies will usually make around 10% profit, with the author(s) receiving 8–15% of the retail price. However, given that authors are usually individuals, are often paid advances irrespective of whether the book turns a profit and do not normally have to split profits with others, it makes them the highest paid individuals in the publishing process.
Within the electronic book path, the publishing house's role remains almost identical. The process of preparing a book for e-book publication is exactly the same as print publication, with only minor variations in the process to account for the different mediums of publishing. While some costs, such as the discount given to retailers (normally around 45%) are eliminated, additional costs connected to ebooks apply (especially in the conversion process), raising the production costs to a similar level.
Book clubs are almost entirely direct-to-retail, and niche publishers pursue a mixed strategy to sell through all available outlets — their output is insignificant to the major booksellers, so lost revenue poses no threat to the traditional symbiotic relationships between the four activities of printing, publishing, distribution, and retail.
Newspapers are regularly scheduled publications that present recent news, typically on a type of inexpensive paper called newsprint. Most newspapers are primarily sold to subscribers, through retail newsstands or are distributed as advertising-supported free newspapers. About one-third of publishers in the United States are newspaper publishers.
Nominally, periodical publishing involves publications that appear in a new edition on a regular schedule. Newspapers and magazines are both periodicals, but within the industry, the periodical publishing is frequently considered a separate branch that includes magazines and even academic journals, but not newspapers. About one-third of publishers in the United States publish periodicals (not including newspapers).
The global book publishing industry accounts for over $100 billion of annual revenue, or about 15% of the total media industry.
Book publishers represent less than a sixth of the publishers in the United States. Most books are published by a small number of very large book publishers, but thousands of smaller book publishers exist. Many small- and medium-sized book publishers specialize in a specific area. Additionally, thousands of authors have created publishing companies and self-published their own works.
Within the book publishing, the publisher of record for a book is the entity in whose name the book's ISBN is registered. The publisher of record may or may not be the actual publisher.
Approximately 60% of English-language books are produced through the "Big Five" publishing houses: Penguin Random House (Bertelsmann), Hachette (Lagardère), HarperCollins (News Corp), Simon & Schuster (National Amusements) and Macmillan (Holtzbrinck). (See also: List of English-language book publishing companies.)
Directory publishing is a specialized genre within the publishing industry. These publishers produce mailing lists, telephone books, and other types of directories. With the advent of the Internet, many of these directories are now online.
Academic publishers are typically either book or periodical publishers that have specialized in academic subjects. Some, like university presses, are owned by scholarly institutions. Others are commercial businesses that focus on academic subjects.
The development of the printing press represented a revolution for communicating the latest hypotheses and research results to the academic community and supplemented what a scholar could do personally. But this improvement in the efficiency of communication created a challenge for libraries, which have had to accommodate the weight and volume of literature.
One of the key functions that academic publishers provide is to manage the process of peer review. Their role is to facilitate the impartial assessment of research and this vital role is not one that has yet been usurped, even with the advent of social networking and online document sharing.
Today, publishing academic journals and textbooks is a large part of an international industry. Critics claim that standardised accounting and profit-oriented policies have displaced the publishing ideal of providing access to all. In contrast to the commercial model, there is non-profit publishing, where the publishing organization is either organised specifically for the purpose of publishing, such as a university press, or is one of the functions of an organisation such as a medical charity, founded to achieve specific practical goals. An alternative approach to the corporate model is open access, the online distribution of individual articles and academic journals without charge to readers and libraries. The pioneers of Open Access journals are BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science (PLoS). Many commercial publishers are experimenting with hybrid models where certain articles or government funded articles are made free due to authors' payment of processing charges, and other articles are available as part of a subscription or individual article purchase.
Technically, radio, television, cinemas, VCDs and DVDs, music systems, games, computer hardware and mobile telephony publish information to their audiences. Indeed, the marketing of a major film often includes a novelization, a graphic novel or comic version, the soundtrack album, a game, model, toys and endless promotional publications.
Some of the major publishers have entire divisions devoted to a single franchise, e.g. Ballantine Del Rey Lucasbooks has the exclusive rights to Star Wars in the United States; Random House UK (Bertelsmann)/Century LucasBooks holds the same rights in the United Kingdom. The game industry self-publishes through BL Publishing/Black Library (Warhammer) and Wizards of the Coast (Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, etc.). The BBC has its publishing division that does very well with long-running series such as Doctor Who. These multimedia works are cross-marketed aggressively and sales frequently outperform the average stand-alone published work, making them a focus of corporate interest.
Independent publishing alternatives
Writers in a specialized field or with a narrower appeal have found smaller alternatives to the mass market in the form of small presses and self-publishing. More recently, these options include print on demand and ebook format.
The 21st century has brought some new technological changes to the publishing industry. These changes include e-books, print on demand, and accessible publishing. E-books have been quickly growing in availability in major publishing markets such as the US and the UK since 2005. Google, Amazon.com, and Sony have been leaders in working with publishers and libraries to digitize books. As of early 2011, Amazon's Kindle reading device is a significant force in the market, along with the Apple iPad and the Nook from Barnes & Noble. Along with the growing popularity of e-books, some companies like Oyster and Scribd have pursued the subscription model, providing members unlimited access to a content library on a variety of digital reading devices.
The ability to quickly and cost-effectively print on demand has meant that publishers no longer have to store books at warehouses, if the book is in low or unknown demand. This is a huge advantage to small publishers who can now operate without large overheads and large publishers who can now cost-effectively sell their backlisted items.
Accessible publishing uses the digitization of books to mark up books into XML and then produces multiple formats from this to sell to consumers, often targeting those with difficulty reading. Formats include a variety larger print sizes, specialized print formats for dyslexia, eye tracking problems and macular degeneration, as well as Braille, DAISY, audiobooks and e-books.
Green publishing means adapting the publishing process to minimise environmental impact. One example of this is the concept of on-demand printing, using digital or print-on-demand technology. This cuts down the need to ship books since they are manufactured close to the customer on a just-in-time basis.
A further development is the growth of on-line publishing where no physical books are produced. The ebook is created by the author and uploaded to a website from where it can be downloaded and read by anyone.
An increasing number of authors are using niche marketing online to sell more books by engaging with their readers online. These authors can use free services such as Smashwords or Amazon's CreateSpace to have their book available for worldwide sale. There is an obvious attraction for first time authors who have been repeatedly rejected by the existing agent/publisher model to explore this opportunity. However, a consequence of this change in the mechanics of book distribution is that there is now no mandatory check on author skill or even their ability to spell, and any person with an internet connection can publish whatever they choose, regardless of the literary merit or even basic readability of their writing.
Publication is the distribution of copies or content to the public. The Berne Convention requires that this can only be done with the consent of the copyright holder, which is initially always the author. In the Universal Copyright Convention, "publication" is defined in article VI as "the reproduction in tangible form and the general distribution to the public of copies of a work from which it can be read or otherwise visually perceived."
In providing a work to the general public, the publisher takes responsibility for the publication in a way that a mere printer or a shopkeeper does not. For example, publishers may face charges of defamation, if they produce and distribute libelous material to the public, even if the libel was written by another person.
Selling advanced reader copies given by a publisher is also illegal.
Privishing (private publishing) is a modern term for publishing a book but printing so few copies or with such lack of marketing, advertising or sales support that it effectively does not reach the public. The book, while nominally published, is almost impossible to obtain through normal channels such as bookshops, often cannot be ordered specially and has a notable lack of support from its publisher, including refusal to reprint the title. A book that is privished may be referred to as "killed". Depending on the motivation, privishing may constitute breach of contract, censorship, or good business practice (e.g., not printing more books than the publisher believes will sell in a reasonable length of time).
Notes and references
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- Börjesson, Lisa (2016). "Research outside academia? - An analysis of resources in extra-academic report writing: Research Outside Academia? - An Analysis of Resources in Extra-Academic Report Writing". Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 53 (1): 1–10. doi:10.1002/pra2.2016.14505301036.
- Clapham, Michael, "Printing" in A History of Technology, Vol 2. From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, edd. Charles Singer et al. (Oxford 1957), p. 377. Cited from Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge University, 1980).
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Binding is the art of folding the sheets of a book, securing them together, affixing boards or sides thereto, and covering the whole with leather or other materials
- Steven, Daniel. "Self-publishing – In traditional royalty publishing". publishlawyer.com. Daniel N. Steven, LLC. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
- Steven, Daniel. "What is self-publishing". publishlawyer.com. Daniel N. Steven, LLC. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
- "Self-publishing vs vanity publishing. Confused?". www.writersandartists.co.uk. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
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- WIPO. "Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works". Wipo.int. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
- "Microsoft Word – The Universal Copyright Convention _Geneva Text—September" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 November 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
- Winkler, David (11 July 2002). "Journalists Thrown 'Into the Buzzsaw'". CommonDreams.org. Archived from the original on 4 August 2007.
- Sue Curry Jansen; Brian Martin (July 2003). "Making censorship backfire". Counterpoise. 7.