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Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century

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These are turbulent times in the world of book publishing. For nearly five centuries the methods and practices of book publishing remained largely unchanged, but at the dawn of the twenty-first century the industry finds itself faced with perhaps the greatest challenges since Gutenberg. A combination of economic pressures and technological change is forcing publishers to a These are turbulent times in the world of book publishing. For nearly five centuries the methods and practices of book publishing remained largely unchanged, but at the dawn of the twenty-first century the industry finds itself faced with perhaps the greatest challenges since Gutenberg. A combination of economic pressures and technological change is forcing publishers to alter their practices and think hard about the future of the books in the digital age.In this book - the first major study of trade publishing for more than 30 years - Thompson situates the current challenges facing the industry in an historical context, analysing the transformation of trade publishing in the United States and Britain since the 1960s. He gives a detailed account of how the world of trade publishing really works, dissecting the roles of publishers, agents and booksellers and showing how their practices are shaped by a field that has a distinctive structure and dynamic. This new paperback edition has been thoroughly revised and updated to take account of the most recent developments, including the dramatic increase in ebook sales and its implications for the publishing industry and its future.


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These are turbulent times in the world of book publishing. For nearly five centuries the methods and practices of book publishing remained largely unchanged, but at the dawn of the twenty-first century the industry finds itself faced with perhaps the greatest challenges since Gutenberg. A combination of economic pressures and technological change is forcing publishers to a These are turbulent times in the world of book publishing. For nearly five centuries the methods and practices of book publishing remained largely unchanged, but at the dawn of the twenty-first century the industry finds itself faced with perhaps the greatest challenges since Gutenberg. A combination of economic pressures and technological change is forcing publishers to alter their practices and think hard about the future of the books in the digital age.In this book - the first major study of trade publishing for more than 30 years - Thompson situates the current challenges facing the industry in an historical context, analysing the transformation of trade publishing in the United States and Britain since the 1960s. He gives a detailed account of how the world of trade publishing really works, dissecting the roles of publishers, agents and booksellers and showing how their practices are shaped by a field that has a distinctive structure and dynamic. This new paperback edition has been thoroughly revised and updated to take account of the most recent developments, including the dramatic increase in ebook sales and its implications for the publishing industry and its future.

30 review for Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Brown

    I've worked in the book business, on and off, since 2000, but I've never worked for a publisher (unless you count my own brief foray into publishing, which I'd imagine is as similar to working for a major publisher as fly fishing in an Idaho stream is to working on an industrial fishing boat off the coast of Norway). I've learned something of how they operate by working in bookstores and then working here at Goodreads, but it's an outsider's view. So I came to this book wanting to know more abou I've worked in the book business, on and off, since 2000, but I've never worked for a publisher (unless you count my own brief foray into publishing, which I'd imagine is as similar to working for a major publisher as fly fishing in an Idaho stream is to working on an industrial fishing boat off the coast of Norway). I've learned something of how they operate by working in bookstores and then working here at Goodreads, but it's an outsider's view. So I came to this book wanting to know more about how the publishers work, how they see the business, and how they became what they are today. Thompson's book delivers on all these counts, and if it can be a bit academic and dry at times, it makes up for this with its depth of knowledge. The early portions of the book were the most illuminating to me, as I was admittedly ignorant about much of the history involved in the book industry. I didn't really understand that the uber-powerful literary agent is a relatively recent phenomenon, and while I knew a lot about how bookselling had changed in the past fifteen years, I didn't know a lot about the 50 or so that preceded them. I also appreciated that Thompson, and the people he interviewed, seemed to understand that the value of a publisher is no longer producing the books (though the recent craze for Fifty Shades of Grey shows the value that the distribution arm of a major publisher provides), but rather in making the book visible, making it read, and getting people to discuss it. That's the real challenge now. I recommend this book for anyone looking to get a deeper understanding of the publishing industry. For those with a deep knowledge of the subject, much of it may be repetitive or even remedial. I would imagine that many will find value in the brief sections detailing the UK publishing business, or at least I found value in that, having no knowledge of that side of the business at all.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Pretty comprehensive view of the publishing industry today. I kind of wish I would've read a digital copy only because that would've lent itself to instant updates, which would've meant a synopsis of the DOJ's antitrust suit against the publishers and Apple, but I'm not sure that Thompson has actually examined that, or that he is actively keeping Merchants of Culture up to date aside from the occasional new edition. Overall, it was a really well-written and informative study of an industry I fin Pretty comprehensive view of the publishing industry today. I kind of wish I would've read a digital copy only because that would've lent itself to instant updates, which would've meant a synopsis of the DOJ's antitrust suit against the publishers and Apple, but I'm not sure that Thompson has actually examined that, or that he is actively keeping Merchants of Culture up to date aside from the occasional new edition. Overall, it was a really well-written and informative study of an industry I find quite fascinating yet befuddling. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in publishing as well as business in general. If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Craig Hodges

    An immensely satisfying and stimulating read. There is more light shed on the world of English-language trade publishing in this one book than any other I have encountered so far. In each chapter Thompson provides up-to-date insights and analysis of the various 'publishing fields' with a keen eye on the all important relational perspective. Throughout Thompson engages industry insiders and calls forth examples to help readers make sense the 'book supply chain' starting from the author and agent An immensely satisfying and stimulating read. There is more light shed on the world of English-language trade publishing in this one book than any other I have encountered so far. In each chapter Thompson provides up-to-date insights and analysis of the various 'publishing fields' with a keen eye on the all important relational perspective. Throughout Thompson engages industry insiders and calls forth examples to help readers make sense the 'book supply chain' starting from the author and agent relationship through to the varied ways consumers/readers now engage with books and ebooks. On 'Agents' After reading the early chapter on 'The Rise of Literary Agents' my previously uncomplicated view on how authors' interests are served by agents was challenged somewhat. And surprise, surprise, from that point on I sat up and paid much more attention to Thompson's insights. 'All agents have a cognitive map of the field of publishing houses, divided up into players of different size and strength, which are further divided into the imprints that are located within each house, and populated by editors and publishers whom the agent either knows personally or knows of...When an agent is considering which editor or publisher to approach about a particular book, he or she will usually have some names in mind - often editors whom they've worked with before and whose tastes they know well.' 'Finding a good agent,' as Thompson plainly states,'is a treacherous undertaking and often depends on an elusive mixture of good connections, good chemistry and good luck.' On 'Advances' 'Like many agents,' Thompson perhaps controversially points out,'Wylie believes that the only thing that will ensure that a publisher gets behind a book and publishes it energetically is the size of the advance they pay: the more they pay, the more they will get behind the book, prioritize it, put resources behind it and try to make it a success - 'It's an iron law.'' On 'Big Books' Thompson makes it clear that 'Big books do not exist in and by themselves: they have to be created. They are social constructions that emerge out of the talk, the chatter, the constant exchange of speech acts among players in the field whose utterances have effects and whose opinions are trusted and valued to varying degrees. In the absence of anything solid, nothing is more persuasive than the expressed enthusiasm (or lack of it) of trusted others.' 'Ironically, in a world preoccupied by numbers, the author with no track is in some ways in a strong position, considerably stronger than the author who has published one or two books with modest success and muted acclaim, simply because there are no hard data to constrain the imagination, no disappointing sales figures to dampen hopes and temper expectations. The absence of sales figures sets the imagination free.' On 'Extreme Publishing' 'Extreme publishing works particularly well with certain kinds of non-fiction books...' On 'The Gap' 'Once each publisher has been assigned a target for the coming year, they have to focus a great deal of effort on trying to meet it. They may talk with some of their editors and urge them to go out and find potential gap-filling books, or to come up with ideas for books that could help to meet the target they've been assigned.' 'Given the importance of unknowns for meeting budgetary targets, the task of finding unknowns assumes a huge significance in the working lives of middle managers in large corporations.'

  4. 5 out of 5

    Karin Slaughter

    Anyone who is not in the business of publishing (or trying to get in) will likely find this a bit tedious, but if you are in the business, or want to be, I think this is an important book to read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Julie Bozza

    Publishing is a bloody tough business, and this good hard look at trade publishing explains a lot about why. These days, just about anyone can publish in the sense of creating a book and making it available. As Thompson cogently points out, "But to publish something in the sense of making a book known to the public, visible to them and attracting a sufficient quantum of their attention to encourage them to buy the book and perhaps even to read it, is extremely difficult." Thompson explores trade Publishing is a bloody tough business, and this good hard look at trade publishing explains a lot about why. These days, just about anyone can publish in the sense of creating a book and making it available. As Thompson cogently points out, "But to publish something in the sense of making a book known to the public, visible to them and attracting a sufficient quantum of their attention to encourage them to buy the book and perhaps even to read it, is extremely difficult." Thompson explores trade publishing in its historical context and in light of significant recent changes. It is a business based on informed guesses and occasional serendipity, which sits uncomfortably with the corporate way of working in the large conglomerates. It is also an old business with odd (historical) ways of doing things that often sit uncomfortably with changing technologies. It seems clear that new models of publishing are called for - and I think that small publishers (especially those in fields mostly ignored by the large corporate publishers) are in a better position to be working out what those models might be. But somehow it will all continue. As Thompson concludes, "People will always want stories, and they will always want fresh ways to think about the world and about themselves ... [for which] the book has proven to be a most satisfying and resilient cultural form, and it is not likely to disappear soon." Three cheers for the book! Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I keep coming back to this book, realizing I'll never finish it. Oh, I've read it all (actually portions of it several times), but it's time to take it off the list even though it's not off my mind. In a nutshell, this should be required reading for anyone who aspirations to publish books, or to agent books, or to work in the publishing world in any shape, form, or fashion. Why? Because it describes why the quirky and usually inscrutable publishing world behaves as does and values what it values I keep coming back to this book, realizing I'll never finish it. Oh, I've read it all (actually portions of it several times), but it's time to take it off the list even though it's not off my mind. In a nutshell, this should be required reading for anyone who aspirations to publish books, or to agent books, or to work in the publishing world in any shape, form, or fashion. Why? Because it describes why the quirky and usually inscrutable publishing world behaves as does and values what it values inside that mysterious black box of the ms-in/book-out process. And it does all make a kind of sense, but only if you know how the industry "grew up" in the past hundred or so years. Read it and weep, or rejoice. Just don't ignore it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    I've had this one for a number of years and finally decided to try and knock it off my TBR. It's a pretty information-dense book to read, and definitely more on the business/economics side of things, so it took me a while to read. But it has a lot of really good information about the structure of book publishing in the US and the UK. I read the updated edition from 2012, so it's not completely current to 2019/2020, but covers a lot of still-relevant ground. I've had this one for a number of years and finally decided to try and knock it off my TBR. It's a pretty information-dense book to read, and definitely more on the business/economics side of things, so it took me a while to read. But it has a lot of really good information about the structure of book publishing in the US and the UK. I read the updated edition from 2012, so it's not completely current to 2019/2020, but covers a lot of still-relevant ground.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    Very informative. Bit dense from time to time, could be more to the point. And could have done with less details, definitely.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Tollok

    This was extremely informative. I set out to find a book to teach me about the publishing industry, and this book absolutely met that need. It went into small versus large publishing houses, independent versus big retail books stores, the role that the digital revolution has played in the field, and so much more. Let me be clear, this is practically a text book. It was a hard read for me, because I am mostly a fiction reader. But the author did an excellent job of delivering the information in a This was extremely informative. I set out to find a book to teach me about the publishing industry, and this book absolutely met that need. It went into small versus large publishing houses, independent versus big retail books stores, the role that the digital revolution has played in the field, and so much more. Let me be clear, this is practically a text book. It was a hard read for me, because I am mostly a fiction reader. But the author did an excellent job of delivering the information in a way that I could understand even though I was practically starting from scratch. For those who consume informational reading easier than I do, there are lots of graphs and notations that could beef up your experience more. There was an anecdote near the end of the book about an author, who Mr. Thompson said was a very good and accomplished mystery writer, who realized too late that she did not know enough about the publishing field to get her own career revitalized when it stalled and then fell out of favor with her publisher. I felt that should have come at the start of the book. I feel it would have resonated with many readers who were picking this up to learn about this industry because they hope to some day make their own creations a part of it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Brozyna

    Using insider interviews and a wealth of research, the author examines the interconnected roles of parent corporations, publishing executives and staff, literary agents and authors, and book sellers. Book publishing is full of seemingly illogical business practices: Why would an author be paid a huge advance when the publisher knows the book will lose money? Why would an editor encourage an unrepresented author to hire a literary agent when that's sure to reduce the publisher's profit? Why would Using insider interviews and a wealth of research, the author examines the interconnected roles of parent corporations, publishing executives and staff, literary agents and authors, and book sellers. Book publishing is full of seemingly illogical business practices: Why would an author be paid a huge advance when the publisher knows the book will lose money? Why would an editor encourage an unrepresented author to hire a literary agent when that's sure to reduce the publisher's profit? Why would and editor bid on a book when he doesn't want to publish it? How could an author with a history of solid-selling books be at a disadvantage to the debut author? This fascinating book details the peculiar forces that drive the industry.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Wens Tan

    Fascinating look into the structures and agents in the field of publishing in the last century. Love the way the author highlighted details that reveal the nuances in the agents' interactions. Fascinating look into the structures and agents in the field of publishing in the last century. Love the way the author highlighted details that reveal the nuances in the agents' interactions.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Phil Simon

    I read this book with considerable interest given what I do for a living. If you want to understand the history of publishing and why its future is in doubt, buy this book and read it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Priscilla

    This is probably the most useful book I've read in 2016. Great. This is probably the most useful book I've read in 2016. Great.

  14. 4 out of 5

    sam

    I tried, man. It's good, though! I tried, man. It's good, though!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hannah (Hannah’s Library)

    I read this for a class on book history and printing. This is a great read for any interested in publishing history!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    An enormous amount has been written, both online and in print, about the publishing industry in recent years – some of it perceptive; a little (a very little) well-informed; much of it complete rubbish, ranging from the ignorant to the merely opinionated. The vast majority of this body of commentary has one common factor: its authors have a relationship with the industry, whether as insiders (publishers, agents, authors, booksellers) or as outsiders (mostly self-published authors). That is to say An enormous amount has been written, both online and in print, about the publishing industry in recent years – some of it perceptive; a little (a very little) well-informed; much of it complete rubbish, ranging from the ignorant to the merely opinionated. The vast majority of this body of commentary has one common factor: its authors have a relationship with the industry, whether as insiders (publishers, agents, authors, booksellers) or as outsiders (mostly self-published authors). That is to say, everyone has some kind of an angle to play, a stance or interest (vested, conflicted or otherwise) to defend, or in plenty of cases an axe to grind. That stops here. John B. Thompson has written Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century from perhaps the only possible and credible disinterested perspective - that of the academic. He has examined publishing as a business phenomenon, and based his work not on opinion nor on wishful thinking, but on five years’ systematic research, including some 280 interviews with industry insiders amounting to 500 hours of first-hand evidence. Wisely, Professor Thompson has restricted himself to one field of publishing, and has clearly defined that field at the outset. The book focuses on English-language trade publishing in the USA and UK, i.e. general-interest publishing of both fiction and non-fiction, intended for a general readership and sold through the mainstream distribution network. He includes independent presses in his scope, along with print-on-demand and the e-book phenomenon, but excludes self-publishing; he includes Amazon and other online retailers, but excludes channels such as Lulu and Smashwords. He also confines himself to commenting on the general fiction and non-fiction market, with only passing reference to academic, professional and scholarly publishing, and none at all to specific market sectors such as children’s, young adult, science fiction, illustrated art books or self-help works. This scope is set out with admirable clarity in the introduction (pp. 12-13). Thompson traces the rise and rise of today’s publishing conglomerates, noting the three significant forces that have shaped the industry over the past decades: the rise of the major retail chains, the emergence of the literary agent, and the process of corporate acquisitions and mergers which began as early as the 1960s. It is not a story that makes for comforting reading – at least, not to the lover of good literature – as it is the story of the commercialisation and commoditisation of the written word. He shows, for example, that the early (1960s and 1970s) corporate mergers and acquisitions saw book publishing as just another element of the media and entertainment industry – media conglomerates would buy up publishers in order to secure an ongoing source of film rights. The model failed to deliver, but we are still living with its legacy, for example, in terms of HMV’s transformation of the Waterstone’s chain into a media outlet after 1998 (see p. 54). If the media conglomerates created the industry structure for the commoditisation of publishing, it was the literary agents who exploited that structure, and created the dynamic of exclusivity that has been a characteristic of mainstream publishing for the last three decades at least. At the end of the book, Thompson observes that the industry revolves around publishers, buyers and agents, with writers on the far periphery (p. 375). But agents forge their relationships with the big publishers, not with the small independents. A telling comment comes from Chris, previously a publisher at a small independent house before becoming an editor with one of the large corporations. “When I was at [the small independent house] I always thought of agents as my enemies,” he told Thompson; “now I see them as my friends” (p. 206). Thompson is even more forthright (and even less complimentary) about the role of agents in an online interview with Brooklyn Rail last November. There is one seeming inconsistency in Thompson’s thesis. In Chapter 3 he sets out five myths about publishing corporations (pp. 139ff). (“Myth 1: The corporations have no interest in publishing quality books. All they are interested in publishing is commercial bestsellers. … Myth 4: In the large publishing corporations, editors have lost the power they once had in the traditional publishing houses. Sales directors, marketing directors and accountants are the new power brokers and they decide what gets published.”) He seems anxious to dispel these myths, but spends much of the next 250 pages proving that – despite occasional exceptions – they hold absolutely true, at least for the large corporate players that dominate the industry. Indeed, they define much of the structure of the industry. On page 192, a London agent quotes a recent conversation with an editor at one of the big publishers: ‘I don’t like having this conversation with you because I want to publish this book, I love the story but I know what’s going to happen when I go to the acquisition meeting. They’re going to say, “Why are we bothering with these little books that are going to breathe all this valuable oxygen both creatively and promotionally.”’ These two “myths” are further validated again and again throughout the book. Of the 5,000-6,000 new titles published each year by the main US houses, Thompson reveals the alarming fact (p. 189) that only 25% will receive any serious attention from the publishers’ own sales teams. The impact of this kind of industry polarisation towards the bestseller is shown in Chapter 10, where he shows the number of titles selling between 10,000 and 40,000 copies declining by one third, whilst the (much smaller) number of titles selling over 200,000 copies more than doubled in the same period. The causal link is not hard to infer. In the same chapter Thompson puts a human face on this phenomenon. He tells the story of Joanne, a moderately successful mid-list author, who first discovered that her publisher was spending nothing on her marketing, and was then dropped altogether, despite a track record of nearly twenty years, six books, good critical reception and even winning prizes. The mainstream publishing industry is a hostile place to the writer – as another author puts it, “everything in publishing is disempowering for a writer” (p. 384). It can be a pretty hostile place for the reader, too, . Thompson devotes much of the last 50 pages of the book to a discussion of “the fundamental short-termism of the industry” (p. 386); this takes several forms, one of which is a distinction between “diversity of output” and “diversity of marketplace...the diversity of the books that are noticed, purchased and read” (p. 389). It is a crucial distinction, usually overlooked; the lack of diversity in the marketplace strikes at the very heart of our cultural health. Thompson takes a refreshingly cautious view of e-books, noting that “the world is often much more complicated than the technological determinist would like us to think” (p. 333). He voices concern over the devaluation caused by the e-book revolution, based on the experience of the music industry: he quotes one publisher as saying (p. 362), “Why are songs 99 cents? Because Apple says so. Can the music industry make money at 99 cents? No. But now what does everyone think a song should be worth? 99 cents.” It is a lesson that self-publishers would do well to think about: as Thompson observes (p. 368), “a major devaluing of intellectual property is unlikely to lead to an overall increase in the quality of content over time”. (Not that three decades of commoditisation has done wonders for the quality of content, mind you.) Though there are some rays of hope among small independent imprints, in general this book offers neither easy answers nor false comfort. Those who believe or who wish to believe, rightly or wrongly, that corporate mainstream publishing is on its deathbed – culturally hidebound, intellectually moribund, at risk of self-strangulation by an unsustainable commercial model – will find plenty here to reinforce their opinion. But those who dismiss or ignore mainstream publishing are missing the point. For whether we love the Big Five or loathe them, these are the organisations that have shaped our cultural landscape, our reading habits and expectations, for two generations or more. And Professor Thompson’s great achievement, at this time of tumult in the publishing industry, is to offer a comprehensive and dispassionate view of the forces that have shaped and continue to shape these organisations. Anyone who is interested in our shared cultural well-being ignores the implications of his work at their peril. Read this review on my blog

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jon Nguyen

    Useful, though dry If you’re looking to learn more about books and the publishing industry, this book gives a very detailed overview of how it all works. It goes through a lot of history and also gives you a good idea of how the whole supply chain around books works. Because it’s successful in this is why I rated it a 4. On the other hand, the book is very dry and lengthy. I’d only recommend it for people who are particularly motivated to learn about publishing, not for fun. The author is coming v Useful, though dry If you’re looking to learn more about books and the publishing industry, this book gives a very detailed overview of how it all works. It goes through a lot of history and also gives you a good idea of how the whole supply chain around books works. Because it’s successful in this is why I rated it a 4. On the other hand, the book is very dry and lengthy. I’d only recommend it for people who are particularly motivated to learn about publishing, not for fun. The author is coming very much from the perspective as an academic, someone who is an outsider to the business world. At times, this is great because he describes a lot of detail that an insider may not notice. On the other hand, the detail can get a little excessive. For example, at one point he remarks how it’s important that book marketing people now need to know that Flash video isn’t indexed in search engines. Overall a useful read. It only goes up until 2011 - I’d love to see an update for all the change that’s happened since then.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Idan Ben-Barak

    A comprehensive review of the book publishing business in the US and UK. For the right reader - i.e., someone not currently working in the industry who is nevertheless interested in how books are made and sold - it's an invaluable resource. Like every book, it has its limitations. In my mind, these are: - It was last updated in 2012. Some of the dynamics have changed since then, which is inevitable in an industry so sensitive to technological and technology-driven chages. The influence of Amazon a A comprehensive review of the book publishing business in the US and UK. For the right reader - i.e., someone not currently working in the industry who is nevertheless interested in how books are made and sold - it's an invaluable resource. Like every book, it has its limitations. In my mind, these are: - It was last updated in 2012. Some of the dynamics have changed since then, which is inevitable in an industry so sensitive to technological and technology-driven chages. The influence of Amazon and self-publishing would have taken up more space in a current edition. - It focuses almost solely on the US and UK. Other countries are mentioned only in passing. - It is well-written, but rather dense and fact-heavy. This is not a fun beach read. - It focuses on the mainstream and barely touches on large sectors of publishing, such as children's books. All of these limitations are acknowledged and addressed by the author - it's an honest book, and no book can be everything to everyone. If you wish to understand how the publishing industry works, read it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    N Perrin

    A detailed and well-reasoned overview of the shifts, trends, and structures that have determined the publishing industry over the past decades. Thompson does an excellent job of helping you understand the (mostly capitalist) logic that guides decision-making, new policies, or other innovations across the industry. It really comes at it from just about every angle while maintaining an excellent organization that is somehow simultaneously both chronological and topical. You will read about the rise A detailed and well-reasoned overview of the shifts, trends, and structures that have determined the publishing industry over the past decades. Thompson does an excellent job of helping you understand the (mostly capitalist) logic that guides decision-making, new policies, or other innovations across the industry. It really comes at it from just about every angle while maintaining an excellent organization that is somehow simultaneously both chronological and topical. You will read about the rise of chain bookstores, the invention of hardbacks, how literary agents think and operate, why America's four biggest publishing companies are owned by foreign companies, why British publishing is more laissez-faire than the American industry, and much more. This is an informative read for anyone involved with or interested in the publishing business, especially aspiring writers whose work will be manufactured through this system.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Marsico

    As an author and a business-owner who has a 10-year plan that includes taking on other authors for publication, I found this book hugely insightful, detailed, and useful. It balances the delivery of information between the conversational/quotes from industry insiders and data-centered evaluations of trends. Any author should read this to learn the industry on which they're work depends. Even the self-published author can gain more understanding of what they're up against. Learning the processes As an author and a business-owner who has a 10-year plan that includes taking on other authors for publication, I found this book hugely insightful, detailed, and useful. It balances the delivery of information between the conversational/quotes from industry insiders and data-centered evaluations of trends. Any author should read this to learn the industry on which they're work depends. Even the self-published author can gain more understanding of what they're up against. Learning the processes of the trade publishing industry sets authors, agents, editors, and small press owners up to be better advocates for themselves and their clients in the book industry as a whole. Since this book was written, the industry has continued to change, but the analysis functions as an eye-opening guide (or cautionary tale) nonetheless.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eli

    “Merchants of Culture” is an expansive and thoroughly researched exploration of the modern publishing industry. Thompson begins by introducing the building blocks of the profession: writers, literary agents, publishers, and booksellers. Each comprise a link of the publishing chain, adding unique value to the finished product. From there, Thompson uses these units to explain the phenomenon of big books, the digital revolution, and what future awaits writers and publishers alike. The thesis and ul “Merchants of Culture” is an expansive and thoroughly researched exploration of the modern publishing industry. Thompson begins by introducing the building blocks of the profession: writers, literary agents, publishers, and booksellers. Each comprise a link of the publishing chain, adding unique value to the finished product. From there, Thompson uses these units to explain the phenomenon of big books, the digital revolution, and what future awaits writers and publishers alike. The thesis and ultimate conclusion left me terrified and emboldened at the same time. I read this as part of a course on the publishing industry, and it informed much of my perspective throughout the remainder of the semester. Now, thanks to Thompson, every time I walk into a bookstore, you can bet I’ll be calculating the price paid for the books in the foremost display.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mary Innerst

    John B. Thompson gives an incredibly detailed look into all areas of publishing, ranging from agents to editors, from small presses to the Big 5 publishing houses, and from privately owned bookstores to nationwide bookselling chains. He includes extensive interviews from employees from all areas of the field, giving the reader a sense that they have gained inside information that could not be found just anywhere. It may be a bit of a dense read at times, however, the trove of relevant informatio John B. Thompson gives an incredibly detailed look into all areas of publishing, ranging from agents to editors, from small presses to the Big 5 publishing houses, and from privately owned bookstores to nationwide bookselling chains. He includes extensive interviews from employees from all areas of the field, giving the reader a sense that they have gained inside information that could not be found just anywhere. It may be a bit of a dense read at times, however, the trove of relevant information contained in the pages of Merchants of Culture will give any writer a fighting chance of becoming a published author.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Josh Paul

    I'm giving this book 5 stars because it delivers what it promises: Namely providing a detailed analysis of the trade publishing industry in the U.S. from roughly post-WW2 to the present. That said, it's a 5-star book that I probably wouldn't necessarily recommend to anyone I know because there aren't a ton of people who are interested in this kind of thing. People who might want to consider reading it: * Any who works in book publishing * Writers * People with an interest in business who want an exa I'm giving this book 5 stars because it delivers what it promises: Namely providing a detailed analysis of the trade publishing industry in the U.S. from roughly post-WW2 to the present. That said, it's a 5-star book that I probably wouldn't necessarily recommend to anyone I know because there aren't a ton of people who are interested in this kind of thing. People who might want to consider reading it: * Any who works in book publishing * Writers * People with an interest in business who want an example of how to explain the economics of an industry without getting caught up in the individual personalities of famous executives.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anna Tan

    Speed-read my way through most of it. It does have very interesting bits of information about how English-language publishing evolved in the UK and USA. However, since this was published in 2013, it's pretty out of date as to newest developments with ebooks. Which is the part I'd probably be the most interested in right now. As it is, it's still pretty helpful in developing my knowledge of how publishing has changed throughout the years... and how literary agents work. Which is what I need for my Speed-read my way through most of it. It does have very interesting bits of information about how English-language publishing evolved in the UK and USA. However, since this was published in 2013, it's pretty out of date as to newest developments with ebooks. Which is the part I'd probably be the most interested in right now. As it is, it's still pretty helpful in developing my knowledge of how publishing has changed throughout the years... and how literary agents work. Which is what I need for my project at the moment. LOL.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    A very good and helpful general overview of the publishing industry, especially for anyone interested in how editorial is being affected by developments in bookselling and corporate takeovers. Thompson is good at working in anecdotes and primary data, and analysing this as he goes along. However the book would have benefited from a more substantial conclusion where all of his research is tied together.

  26. 5 out of 5

    I wish I had eyeballs

    It was an enjoyable read and I'm glad I borrowed it from my local library. I rarely see these books explicitly about publishing itself. Some thoughts are repeated in a way that seemed superfluous to me, and so the book is slightly longer than how long it actually held my interest, but that's my only compliant. It was an enjoyable read and I'm glad I borrowed it from my local library. I rarely see these books explicitly about publishing itself. Some thoughts are repeated in a way that seemed superfluous to me, and so the book is slightly longer than how long it actually held my interest, but that's my only compliant.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Great book that summarizes the important influences on the trade book market in the USA and UK. It's a comprehensive study, written in clear language. Must read for everyone who's interested in the English publishing field. Great book that summarizes the important influences on the trade book market in the USA and UK. It's a comprehensive study, written in clear language. Must read for everyone who's interested in the English publishing field.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brian Cooper

    A contemporary overview of the business side of publishing, along with history. The book provides a good landscape and scope of the publishing industry -- it is not a book on how to become published, but an analytical paper of the current status of things and how they came about through history.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Roderick

    Vrey readable. Very interesting. A rare insight into the real world of business. I hope the author doesn't stop with just the publishing industry. Vrey readable. Very interesting. A rare insight into the real world of business. I hope the author doesn't stop with just the publishing industry.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Luna Harlow

    Obviously as it was published in 2012 it is now out of date; however, stunningly comprehensive, and makes pretty clear how book publishing got to the point it's at now. Obviously as it was published in 2012 it is now out of date; however, stunningly comprehensive, and makes pretty clear how book publishing got to the point it's at now.

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