Books: The Culture and Commerce of Publishing

Books: The Culture and Commerce of Publishing

Books: The Culture and Commerce of Publishing

Books: The Culture and Commerce of Publishing

Excerpt

Gustave Flaubert remarked more than a century ago that it was high time to get rid of the absurd notion that "books dropped like meteorites from the sky." He made this remark in connection with the publication of Hippolyte Taine's History of English Literature (1871), one of the early self-conscious efforts to see literature as rooted within a social context and as the expression of a specific society. Since Flaubert's day, literary critics and sociological analysts have further developed the approach that Taine adumbrated. Yet very few of them have attempted to look carefully at the organizational setting in which books are produced.

Ideas are the brain children of individuals; but books, in which ideas are given concrete shape so as to be conveyed to their intended audience, are the products of the collective work of members of publishing firms that specialize in the production and distribution of books. Thus, publishing houses are indispensable intermediary points in the diffusion of ideas. If the marketplace of ideas is to allow the blooming of many flowers, it is of the essence that there exist a publishing industry capable of fostering diverse intellectual and literary products that can compete for the attention of the public.

The roughly forty thousand books annually produced in America are not created in a vacuum. Instead, after a manuscript has been delivered to a publisher, an arduous process involving many people and lasting at least . . .

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