A History of British Publishing

A History of British Publishing

A History of British Publishing

A History of British Publishing

Synopsis

This comprehensive history (first published in 1987) covers the whole period in which books have been printed in Britain. Though Gutenberg had the edge over Caxton, England quickly established itself in the forefront of the international book trade. The slow process of copying manuscripts gave way to an increasingly sophisticated trade in the printed word which brought original literature, translations, broadsheets and chapbooks and even the Bible within the purview of an increasingly broad slice of society. Powerful political forces continued to control the book trade for centuries before the principle of freedom of opinion was established. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the competition from pirated USA editions - where there were no copyright laws - provided a powerful threat to the trade. This period also saw the rise of remaindering, cheap literature, and many other 'modern' features of the trade. The author surveys all these developments, bringing his history up to the present age.

Excerpt

The sonorous phrases of the Book of Common Prayer have echoed through the hearts and minds of the English people for nearly four centuries. On the three or four thousand Sundays of a lifetime, men and women have heard the priest 'publish' the banns of marriage. The dictionary definition of the verb 'to publish' is 'to make known' or 'to make public', and it is in that sense that the priest uses it. It is, however, generally understood to apply to one particular form of making known or making public: the issuing for sale of printed matter, whether books, magazines or newspapers; more recently the producers of computer software have also begun to describe themselves as publishers. What is a publisher, and what is the process of publishing? It is perhaps easier to define what a publisher does not do. He does not write books. He does not print them, or bind them. He does not sell them to those who will read them. He is essentially a middleman between author and reader, but to perform that role he must undertake many complex tasks. He commissions or accepts books from authors. He prepares their manuscripts or typescripts for printing. He arranges for the production of the book by printers and bookbinders. He organises the provision of illustrations and dust jackets. He advertises and promotes the book in his catalogue and through various media. Finally, he sells his books, not to readers, but to booksellers and distributes them through the booksellers to the individuals and institutions who are his ultimate customers. The publisher therefore is an organiser; but he is also a financier. All of the operations of publishing are funded with the publisher's money. He pays his authors, he pays editors, illustrators, printers and binders. The promotional budget is his responsibility. Moreover, almost all of this money has to be spent before a single copy of the book can be sold. The publisher is, in the most literal sense, the capitalist of the world of books.

It is comparatively easy to define what a publisher does, but perhaps rather more difficult to define what he owns. He makes little capital investment in equipment beyond that of an ordinary office. He can function with few staff, for almost all of the operations of publishing can be undertaken on his behalf by others on a freelance or agency basis. How then does this

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