Most people are familiar with what a publisher is. After all, books, movies, magazines and newspapers – as well as the Internet – make up a huge portion of our entertainment and information gathering. But the world of publishing is extremely large and there is a lot to know about it. In this article, we will be exploring that world completely including both publishing and the publishers behind it.
What is Publishing?
So, the first question must be answered is what is publishing. Publishing is generally defined as the activity behind duplicating a work of written content and making it widely available. This is done through distribution channels that are already in existence. Although technically, audiobooks, music and video entertainment are published, we will be focusing on written content for the purposes of this article. This includes things like books, magazines and newspapers, although we will also be including online publishing.
What is a Publisher?
The next question has to do with the definition of a publisher. Simply put, a publisher is someone who publishes. Publishers can range from huge companies that put out hundreds of different types of content to very small publishers that only publish once or twice a year. A publisher may also refer to a person, although it usually refers to the company that supports that person. Publishing is a strong business in the United States, although print publishing has definitely declined in recent years and decades.
The History of Publishing
Publishing first started when writing first started. People were able to write down stories and information so that it was always the same and there was a record of it. They could then make copies of that writing and distribute it. As you might imagine, this was a tedious task, so it was only done for very important works. This is one of the reasons why so little has survived through the ages.
Of course, when printing came to be, publishing things were a lot easier. It put all of the scribes out of business of course, but they probably didn’t much enjoy copying huge tomes manually anyway. Most people think that the 1400s is where printing first came from and where the first printing press was born. Although it was true that Johannes Gutenberg invented actual movable type in 1450, there was a sort of movable type created by a Chinese inventor named Bi Sheng around 1045. But Gutenberg definitely was the father of modern printing, with innovations never seen before.
Let’s look at some of the publishing methods that are currently in existence today. This is not a comprehensive list, nor does it include the aforementioned audio and video publishing.
Books: books are obviously the first thing that comes to mind when you think about publishing. The publishing has been done for centuries, encompassing both fiction that you read for pleasure and academic textbooks that are used in schools. Although the e-book has definitely dealt print books a blow, they are still in competition and all you have to do is go to a local bookstore to see that.
Magazines: magazines are another publishing method that is used today. Periodicals like magazines are published weekly or monthly and encompass a huge range of topics, some broad and some very small.
Newspapers: you are probably also familiar with newspapers. Although many people get their news online these days, or read newspapers on a tablet, the print newspaper is still very much in fashion. You can buy it at the supermarket or from one of the vending machines on the sidewalk. Newspapers are a very specific type of publication that is easy to recognize instantly.
Other Print Media: of course, there is other print media out there as well. Closely related to the newspaper is the newsletter. Newsletters are often just a single page perhaps two, and they may be limited to a very small audience. For example, many companies publish newsletters for their employees. Other kinds of print media that can be published include mailing advertisements, flyers and much more.
Blogs: now we will get into some of the digital publishing that is going on today. The first one that we will be discussing is the modern blog. Although blogs can be considered a form of publishing, oftentimes they are more about personal information what is going on in the blogger’s life than they are about topics that a broader range of people would be concerned about. However there are review blogs and news blogs as well.
E-Newsletters: E-newsletters are a type of publication that is usually sent to an email inbox. Subscribers sign up for an electronic newsletter and then they receive information from the company or individual publishing the newsletter. For the most part, these have replaced the print newsletter because they are so much cheaper to produce.
Websites: another form of publishing is the website. Most people do not think about their website – or any website really – as a publication, but under normal definition putting information on the web so that everyone can view it is definitely considered publishing. This is especially true for websites that publish regular content such as major news organizations that publish articles solely on their website.
Articles: articles are definitely another form of publishing online. You can publish articles in many places around the web with your own content. These are different than articles that you might post on your own website or blog. There usually posted on third-party websites such as Web 2.0 sites.
EBooks: finally, e-books are another form of publishing. E-books have taken over when it comes to fiction. Although it will be a long time before the print book is – out-of-print so to speak – e-books are steadily becoming more popular as more and more people get devices that can read them. Amazon is definitely the primary party responsible for the rise of e-books and e-book publishing.
Other Online Publishing: there are also other forms of online publishing that we have not covered here. In fact, there is a great deal of variety when it comes to publishing on the web.
The Publishing Process
Now, let’s take a look at the publishing process. Although the process may differ between organizations, when it comes to publishing large quantities through big name publishers, the process is very similar.
Procurement: the first step in the publishing process is procurement. In order to publish something, a publisher has to have something to publish. In the book world, authors send in their completed manuscripts in the hopes that the publisher will accept them and publish them, giving them not only an opportunity to sell books and exposure for their author brand, but also in advance of some kind. However, this works differently depending upon what you are publishing exactly.
Acceptance: the next step is acceptance. Publishers have to accept something that they think they will be able to sell or use in order for them to publish it. Again, using the book world as an example, publishers will accept manuscripts from authors and offer them in advance and a contract. With websites, newspapers, magazines and other types of publications, the acceptance may come from an editor that works directly with writers employed by the publisher.
Editing: editing is also an important step in the process; each book, article or piece has to be edited. Writers are expected to do as much editing on their own as they can, whether you are talking about publishing books are publishing articles on the web. Sometimes, depending upon the publisher, a piece gets no editing whatsoever.
Design: the next step in the process is design. Again, with some publishers this step will be unnecessary. For example, in order to publish an article on a blog, there will be almost no design done. However, even adding pictures to a blog post may count as design. With the book, the design of the interior is important and the cover is especially important.
Pre-Publication Promotion: with some types of publishing, there is a great deal of promotion that is done before the pieces even published. This is especially true in the book world, although it is not true for every author. Some books get a great deal of promotion before they are published and some get none. With other types of publications such as magazines and newspapers, individual articles are not promoted unless they are front page or featured.
Publication: obviously, the next step after promoting the piece is to publish it. This is an interesting step because just because someone is a publisher does not mean that they actually do the physical work of duplicating and printing a book or piece. Many local newspaper offices do have their own printing press and do their own publication, but some book publishing companies, magazines and other publications contract with printing companies that do nothing but print.
Distribution: the next step in the chain is distribution. You cannot just publish something and then hope that people will write to you and somehow order it. Every publishing company has to distribute whatever it is that they are publishing. For example, in the book world, major publishers list their books and a couple of different catalogs. One is called the Baker & Taylor catalog, and it is a catalog that libraries and schools order from. The other major catalog and distribution channel is called Ingram. Ingram is a catalog for booksellers. Bookstores order from the Ingram catalog and then put those books on their shelves.
Post-Publication Promotion: finally, the very last step in the chain is promotion after the book is been published. Again, not every author gets this treatment. Some authors get hundreds of thousands of dollars in promotion, while others simply get listed in the catalogs and the author has to hope for the best.
Types of Publishers
Now, let’s take a look at some of the different types of publishers that are out there. As you might have realized by now, just because a company has publisher in its name doesn’t necessarily mean that they actually do their own printing and publication. That’s because the publication is the entire process. Let’s take a look at each of these broken down by the various types of publications that they work with.
Newspaper Publishers: the first is newspaper publishing. Depending upon the type of publication, newspaper publishing may be done in-house or outsourced – as far as the actual printing goes. But the articles that are written, the design of the newspaper and all of the other parts that make a newspaper work are usually done in-house. Where the printing is done doesn’t really make a difference. A newspaper publisher is usually an office where reporters work, where editors control the content and where design is done in advertising is bought and sold.
Magazine Publishers: the next type of publisher that we will be discussing is the magazine publisher. Magazine publishers are generally the type of publication that outsources their printing. In fact, even big magazines may only have a small staff because many of their articles come from freelance writers. It is not unusual for smaller magazines to have a single editor that goes through submissions and decides what to put in the next issue, outsourcing everything else.
Book Publishers: of course, the main focus for the examples given in this article has been book publishers. Book publishers generally publish fiction and nonfiction books. However, these nonfiction books are not usually academic textbooks which we will cover later. Instead they may be how-to, biographies, exposes or other types of nonfiction. Book publishers generally pay their authors in advance and then publish a book first in hardcover, followed by a paperback publishing later which may or may not be purchased by another publishing company that deals specifically in paperbacks.
Directory Publishers: the next type of publisher that we will be discussing is the directory publisher. Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a directory publisher is the telephone directory. But there are lots of directories out there, including student directories, trade-specific directories, directories of companies and organizations and much more. Directory publishers are familiar with how directories work and they specialize many times in publishing this specific type of content.
Academic Publishers: academic publishers are the next type of publisher that we will be discussing. Academic publishers usually published just academic textbooks. These are almost always published in hardcover, and they contain various graphs, figures, pictures and other elements. Although there may be publishers that published various kinds of books including academic, these are usually restricted to one specific publisher; in other words, a publisher that does nothing but publish textbooks.
Independent Publishers: finally, there are also independent publishers out there. Independent publishers are kind of like the renegades of the publishing industry. For one thing, they may publish a variety of materials including fiction novels, magazines and various other types of publications. One specific type of independent publisher that is become quite popular in the self-publishing world is the print-on-demand publisher. A print-on-demand publisher such as CreateSpace, publishes books only when an order comes in for them. They have been able to reduce the cost of printing books so much that they can afford to print one single book at a time.
There are lots of different types of publishing and publishers out there. Publishing first began when people started writing, with scribes copying scrolls by hand in order to distribute them in a limited fashion. The Gutenberg press was the first practical mass publishing machine. From there, technology improved drastically and books and other materials were able to be published relatively cheaply.
The book publishing process is a relatively long one, starting with procuring the book or other item for publication and then going through a step-by-step process that includes editing the book or content, designing all the elements for it, promoting it both before and after the publication of it and distributing it widely.
There are also quite a few publishers out there. Many publishers only do one specific type of publication. For example, some publishers only handle certain types of fiction books while others will take just about any genre fiction or nonfiction. Some publishers only handle academic textbooks. There even publishers out there that work with directories, as well as independent publishers that will handle various types of publications.