Publishing is the circulation of literature, music, or information. It is the activity of making information available to the general public. In some cases, authors may be their own publishers, meaning originators and developers of content also provide media to deliver and display their content. Also, the word "publisher" can refer both to an individual who leads a publishing company or an imprint and to an individual who owns/heads a magazine.
Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works, such as books (the "book trade") and newspapers. With the advent of digital information systems and the Internet, the scope of publishing has expanded to include electronic resources such as the electronic versions of books and periodicals, as well as micropublishing, websites, blogs, video game publishers, and the like.
- 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- For copyright purposes, where there is a difference in the protection of published and unpublished works
There are two basic business models in book publishing:
- Traditional or commercial publishers: Do not charge authors at all to publish their books, for certain rights to publish the work and paying a royalty on books sold.
- Self-publishing: The author has to meet the total expense to get the book published. The author should retain full rights, also known as vanity publishing.
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 printing. 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."
Eventually, printing enabled other forms of publishing besides books. The history of modern newspaper publishing started in Germany in 1609, with publishing of magazines following in 1663.
Historically, publishing has been handled by publishers, with the history of self-publishing progressing slowly until the advent of computers brought us electronic publishing, which has been made evermore ubiquitous from the moment the world went online with the Internet. The establishment of the World Wide Web in 1989 soon propelled the website into a dominant medium of publishing, as websites are easily created by almost anyone with Internet access. The history of wikis started shortly thereafter, followed closely by the history of blogging. Commercial publishing also progressed, as previously printed forms developed into online forms of publishing, distributing 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
Book and magazine publishers spend a lot of their time buying or commissioning copy; newspaper publishers, by contrast, usually hire their staff to produce copy, although they may also employ freelance journalists, called stringers. At a small press, it is possible to survive by relying entirely on commissioned material. But as activity increases, the need for works may outstrip the publisher's established circle of writers.
For works written independently of the publisher, writers often first submit a query letter or proposal directly to a literary agent or to a publisher. Submissions sent directly to a publisher are referred to as unsolicited submissions, and the majority come from previously unpublished authors. If the publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts, then the manuscript is placed in the slush pile, which publisher's readers sift through to identify manuscripts of sufficient quality or revenue potential to be referred to acquisitions editors for review. The acquisitions editors send their choices to the editorial staff. The time and number of people involved in the process are dependent on the size of the publishing company, with larger companies having more degrees of assessment between unsolicited submission and publication. Unsolicited submissions have a very low rate of acceptance, with some sources estimating that publishers ultimately choose about three out of every ten thousand unsolicited manuscripts they receive.
Many book publishers around the world maintain a strict "no unsolicited submissions" policy and will only accept submissions via a literary agent. This policy shifts the burden of assessing and developing writers out of the publisher and onto the literary agents. At these publishers, unsolicited manuscripts are thrown out, or sometimes returned, if the author has provided pre-paid postage.
Established authors may be represented by a literary agent to market their work to publishers and negotiate contracts. Literary agents take a percentage of author earnings (varying between 10 and 15 percent) to pay for their services.
Some writers follow a non-standard route to publication. For example, this may include bloggers who have attracted large readerships producing a book based on their websites, books based on Internet memes, instant "celebrities" such as Joe the Plumber, retiring sports figures and in general anyone a publisher feels could produce a marketable book. Such books often employ the services of a ghostwriter.
For a submission to reach publication, it must be championed by an editor or publisher who must work to convince other staff of the need to publish a particular title. An editor who discovers or champions a book that subsequently becomes a best-seller may find their reputation enhanced as a result of their success.
Acceptance and negotiation
The authors of traditional printed materials 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.
The situation is slightly more complex if electronic formatting is to be used. Where distribution is to be by CD-ROM or other physical media, there is no reason to treat this form differently from a paper format, and national copyright is an acceptable approach. But the possibility of Internet download without the ability to restrict physical distribution within national boundaries presents legal problems that 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.
Having agreed on the scope of the publication and the formats, the parties in a book agreement must then agree on royalty rates, the percentage of the gross retail price that will be paid to the author, and the advance payment. The publisher must estimate the potential sales in each market and balance projected revenue against production costs. Royalties usually range between 10–12% of recommended retail price. An advance is usually 1/3 of the first print run total royalties. For example, if a book has a print run of 5000 copies and will be sold at $14.95 and the author is to receive 10% royalties, the total sum payable to the author if all copies are sold is $7475 (10% x $14.95 x 5000). The advance in this instance would roughly be $2490. Advances vary greatly between books, with established authors commanding larger advances.
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.
A decision is taken to publish a work, and the technical legal issues resolved, the author may be asked to improve the quality of the work through rewriting or smaller changes and the staff will edit 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. Editors often choose or refine titles and headlines. Editing may also involve structural changes and requests for more information. Some publishers employ fact checkers, particularly regarding non-fiction works.
When a final text is agreed upon, the next phase is design. This may include artwork being commissioned or confirmation of layout. In publishing, the word "art" also indicates photographs. Depending on the number of photographs required by the work, photographs may also be licensed from photo libraries. For those works that are particularly rich in illustrations, the publisher may contract a picture researcher to find and license the photographs required for the work. The design process prepares the work for printing through processes such as typesetting, dust jacket composition, specification of paper quality, binding method and casing.
The type of book being produced determines the amount of design required. 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
The sales and marketing stage is closely intertwined with the editorial process. As front cover images are produced, or chapters are edited, sales people may start talking about the book with their customers to build early interest. Publishing companies often produce advanced information sheets that may be sent to customers or overseas publishers to gauge possible sales. As early interest is measured, 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.
After the end of editing and design work, the printing phase begins. The first step involves the production of a pre-press proof, which the printers send 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 find and correct any errors. Some printing companies use electronic proofs rather than printed proofs. Once the publisher has approved the proofs, 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.
Publishing as a business
Derided in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica as "a purely commercial affair" that cared more about profits than about literary quality, publishing is fundamentally a business, with a need for the expenses of creating, producing, and distributing a book or other publication not to exceed the income derived from its sale. Publishing is now a major industry with the largest companies Reed Elsevier and Pearson PLC having global publishing operations.
The publisher usually controls the advertising and other marketing tasks, but may subcontract various aspects of the process to specialist publisher marketing agencies. In many companies, editing, proofreading, layout, design, and other aspects of the production process are done by freelancers.
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.
If the entire process up to the stage of printing is handled by an outside company or individuals, and then sold to the publishing company, it is known as book packaging. This is a common strategy between smaller publishers in different territorial markets where the company that first buys the intellectual property rights then sells a package to other publishers and gains 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.
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.
Print on demand is rapidly becoming an established alternative to traditional publishing. In 2005, Amazon.com announced its purchase of Booksurge and selfsanepublishing, a major "print on demand" operation. CreateSpace is the Amazon subsidiary that facilitates publishing by small presses and individual authors. Books published via CreateSpace are sold on Amazon and other outlets, with Amazon extracting a very high percentage of the sales proceeds for the services of publishing. printing and distributing. One of the largest bookseller chains, Barnes & Noble, already runs its successful imprint with both new titles and classics — hardback editions of out-of-print former best sellers. Similarly, Ingram Industries, the parent company of Ingram Book Group (a leading US book wholesaler), now includes its print-on-demand division called Lightning Source. In 2013, Ingram launched a small press and self-publishing arm called Ingram Spark. Payment terms are much closer to those of Amazon and less favorable than those they offer to more established publishers via Lightning Source. Among publishers, Simon & Schuster recently announced that it will start selling its backlist titles directly to consumers through its website.
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.
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