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Publishing Means Business


The Death and the Life of the Publisher

An Emergent Examination of Publisher as Curator and Cartographer



I am a book publisher. My creative practice involves, deceptively simply, making books. In an era of digital evolution and the oft-touted ‘death of the book’, will the future of the book publisher be one of innovation, or one of obsolescence? In this chapter I provide an abridged introduction to my ongoing research into the future of the publisher, particularly the logic behind this research investigation. I consider the benefits of—and I advocate for—practice-led research in a creative industry such as publishing. Finally, I explain what has led me to develop two emergent conceptual models of future practice for the publisher: publisher as curator and publisher as cartographer. Worth noting is the fact that I approach this research without nostalgia, well aware that I may indeed be foretelling my own (professional) death. So be it.

Publishers have long been acknowledged as playing a significant role in the production of cultural objects. In 1975, sociologist Lewis Coser stated publishers ‘stand at a crucial crossroads in the process of production and distribution of knowledge in any society’ (1975, 14). More recently, in 2008, futurist Bob Stein said publishers in ‘the networked era have a crucial role to play’ (2008, 6). Publishers certainly ‘exert considerable power in the selection and legitimisation of a text and its author’ (Richards 2016, 170).

Yet the practice of a publisher needs unpacking. It is complex and mostly un-interrogated. Overall, many scholarly accounts of publishing and the practice of the publisher are written from a place of theory, not practice, and the publisher’s role is not analysed in any depth. This speaks to both the contested space between the professional and the critical, and of what is not known: how (and if) publishers will function in the future.

In unpacking publisher practice, I’m seeking to answer—through a publisher’s lens—the questions Amy Hungerford asks in Making Literature Now: ‘How are books made today? From what social world does literature arise?’ (2016, 27) and ‘What if literary culture is a culture of making rather than a culture of reading?’ (2016, 9). (These questions guide my research; I present no definitive answers here.) So, to paraphrase reflective practice theorist Donald Schön, I am investigating how publishers practise their practice (1983, 60).


An all-encompassing history of the book and a full account of the publishing industry is beyond this chapter’s scope. Rather, I briefly explore the existing publishing field1 to set the scene for an examination of the research on, perceptions about, and practice of the contemporary publisher.2

For such a long-standing creative industry, it is odd that book publishing is one sector ‘about which little is known’ (Thompson 2012, viii), though I suggest collections such as this one, and the conference from which it was drawn, are changing this. While there is considerable scholarly research on books themselves and an academic tradition around the history of the book, theories about publishing itself are rare. Though digital technologies have ‘led to a raft of introspection within publishing studies and the industry itself, there is little explanatory theory predating it, looking at publishing in particular and not the book as a whole’ (Bhaskar 2012, 26). Publishing, an industry that makes culture (Nash 2013), has not been adequately theorised (Bhaskar 2013, 4).

In his own sociological study Merchants of Culture, John Thompson notes that there have only been a couple of inquiries into the modern publishing industry (Coser et al 1982 and Whiteside 1980); most other books on the industry have been written by publishers themselves and ‘are inextricably entangled with their own personal experiences and career trajectories’ (2012, 24). For Nash, most accounts on publishing are ‘autobiographical, hagiographic, or histories of literature, avoiding the business and economics of it all’ (2013). While I would add other research to Thompson’s list, such as Albert Greco’s two mono-graphs on publishing, Richard Guthrie’s 2011 work and the wide-ranging Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing (Carter and Galligan 2007), it is accurate to state that existing literature falls into two broad categories: academic studies, and publisher biographies and memoirs. More can be written about the changing practice of twenty-first century publishers facing the implications of seismic shifts in writing, reading and publishing cultures.

Indeed, the book publishing industry is undergoing significant and expansive change. After decades of ‘business as usual’, new technologies, reduced margins and competing entertainment options are forcing publishing houses to reassess their raison d’être (Thompson 2012; Clark and Phillips 2008; Greco 1997). Publishing has always been a fraught field, a ‘business that brings its own veterans to tears’ (Levine 2010, 137), particularly due to the challenges of negotiating space between commerce and culture (Bhaskar 2013; Young 2007). Publishers are ‘caught between the Janus-faced imperatives of symbolic worth and economic expediency’ (Bhaskar 2012, 16).

For some, despite this uncertainty, book publishing is a long way from being a dying industry (Guthrie 2011, 73), regardless of the fact that there are few industries who have had their ‘death foretold more frequently than the book publishing industry’ (Thompson 2012, viii); this is perhaps evidence of the pervasive ‘death discourse’ existing around publishing (Richards 2016). While for others, it is already dead:

Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word ‘publishing’ means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says ‘publish’, and when you press it, it’s done. (Shirky 2012)

Dying or not, the publishing industry is in flux because of a number of fundamental trends. These include globalisation, disintermediation,3 convergence and discoverability (Phillips 2014, xiii); the changing format of the book (Freeman 2012); self-publishing (Baverstock 2012); and the growth of the bookselling retail chains (and broader changes in the bookselling retail environment), the rise of the literary agent, and the growth of transnational publishing corporations as a result of decades of mergers and acquisitions (Thompson 2012, 22). Broader trends impacting the publishing industry include a rise in alternative media options, the decrease in long-form reading and an increase in pressures on audience time (Bhaskar 2013, 3). Some predict that the big corporate publishers will collapse within the next ten years (Nash 2010, 116), and new media companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple will continue to be major industry players (Guthrie 2011, 100).4

The convergence of different media on to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets creates ‘diversity and dynamism’ in the spectrum of digital publishing (Robinson 2012, 7) but also adds a new challenge for book publishing. Books have always competed with other entertainment options but ‘never has book publishing competed with these media on the exact same devices. The battle for eyeballs and dollars has never been so intense’ (McIlroy 2015).

With continuing innovation, complexity in digital publishing will only increase and it certainly pays to be ‘tolerant of ambiguity’ when considering the future of the digital market (Jones 2015). What is unambiguous, however, is that the digital effect is ‘transforming commercial trade publishing’ (Levine 2010, 138).

Ambiguity or not, opportunities arising from digital publishing will create a dynamic new publishing ecosystem (Robinson 2012, 7). For optimists—and I am one—the digital evolution will not change ‘the human need to read and write’ and in fact indicates a renaissance for the publishing industry (ibid., 8). It is indeed a fascinating time to be in publishing: ‘new attitudes mix with old standards, sometimes constructively and sometimes with struggle’ (ibid., 18). Certainly, the exploration and growth of digitally native books, including books that ‘cannot be printed’, heralds a ‘coming generation that is bound to the cloud, not the page, nor the pixel’ (Uglow 2014). So, perhaps, as Richards states, the ‘book is not dead, just morphing and playing around’, and publishing itself is not dead, but may simply have a few ‘major identity issues’ (2016, 184).

Publishers and Complexity

I have briefly set the landscape in which the publisher operates; I now expand on the practice. Publishing is a complex professional practice; its negotiation between commerce and culture involves subjectivity and uncertainty. It is at once a solitary and social practice. These multifarious interactions—these negotiations, this creativity—lead to the often fraught nature of publishing.

Publishers, as noted, are pivotal in knowledge production, or were considered so by Coser in 1975. Coser titled his paper ‘Publishers as Gatekeepers of Ideas’, noting that those who ‘control access to the medium that Gutenberg invented are still in a position to channel the flow of ideas and control a central, though by no means the only, medium for ideas’ (1975, 15). Publishers are gatekeepers in as much as ‘they are empowered to make decisions as to what is let “in” and what is kept “out”’ (ibid.). Though it may be useful to consider publishers this way, ‘the notion of gatekeeper greatly oversimplifies the complex forms of interaction and negotiation between authors, agents and publishers that shape the creative process’ (Thompson 2012, 17).

Despite publishing sometimes being considered an accidental profession, attracting staff for the cultural experience rather than the salary (Guthrie 2011, 75), a range of diverse and intricate skills are required to be a good publisher, including the ability to blend together ‘intellectual creativity and marketing nous’ (Thompson 2012, 19). The acquisition of content, and the interaction between publisher and author is ‘much more complex than it might at first seem’ (ibid., 16).

In the existing literature there is limited in-depth analysis of what the publisher does—the actual ontology, epistemology and practice of being a publisher. Publishers themselves may not know or may have no inclination to know what it is they do (Bhaskar 2012), which is in itself a point worthy of investigation.

Concisely (and I write as a publisher currently working in independent publishing), publishers create the ‘book’ as the text beyond the manuscript and as an object. They discover authors, create new book ideas and pro-actively commission works; they publish with a broad view on the shape and tone of their list over time; they gamble on the market; they negotiate contracts; they read, rewrite, cut and edit manuscripts; they envisage the finished book, commission cover designers, brief sales teams; they advocate for the author in the publishing house, and for the book in the wider world. And certainly in independent publishing they may have considerable autonomy. While there is a ‘fundamental simplicity’ to publishing—it ‘grows from the human need to communicate and a desire to do so in a way that survives time’ (Robinson 2012, 8)—the process of commissioning books is ‘in fact deeply troubled, and the whole gamut of editorial or creative input on the publishing side can tell us no more than that publishing involves content’ (Bhaskar 2012, 25).

Perhaps this is the case because publishers are seen as ‘backdrops’ and ‘keepers of many secrets’ in a culture in which ‘editor invisibility still dominates’ (Richards 2016, 171). Or perhaps the ‘complex layering of intangible values’ involved in creating books makes measuring or investigating publishing processes a challenge (ibid., 170). To counter this invisibility (for the purposes of research) and to understand the publisher role in the production of literature and the making of books, we need to:

… become as specific in our knowledge of the seemingly functionary figures as we are in the knowledge of the visionaries. Such ‘neglected agents’ of cultural formation not only play a crucial role in the cultural field but also constitute a set of actors for whom literary or artistic production matters beyond the moment of ordinary consumption. (Hungerford 2016, 38)

Publishers may still be considered the ‘mechanics of culture’, to use a term for book-trade workers in the first age of print (Brooks 2003, 678). Also, in the digital present, it may be easier to unpack publisher practice, particularly as ‘the digital literary sphere renders the actual functioning of cultural brokerage more transparent and more readily documentable than ever before’ (Murray 2015, 331).

Will publishers even be necessary in a new media world? In 2008, futurist Bob Stein acknowledged that in a networked era, publishers have a crucial role to play. Stein notes that the position will involve being:

… a producer, a role that includes signing up projects and overseeing all elements of production and distribution, and that of course includes building and nurturing communities … Successful publishers will build brands around curatorial and community building know-how and be really good at designing and developing the robust technical infrastructures that underlie a complex range of user experiences. (6)

Foretelling Stein’s publisher as brand-builder, scholar Robert Iliffe says eighteenth century editors and publishers were valued for their ‘ability to make “names” for their authors and construct public “identities” for them. They were supposed to be trustworthy managers of the transit of private and personal material into the public sphere’ (2013, 168).

Publishing is a practice that is multifaceted and exists in a field undergoing digital, creative and economic disruption. Maybe these factors limit investigation into the specifics of publisher practice. Or perhaps it is because there may not be a happy ending. In a 2010 interview, Clay Shirky recounted the Upton Sinclair observation: ‘It’s hard to make a man understand something if his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.’

Practice-Led Research

Given some of the nebulous skills and services publishers provide— creativity, emotional intelligence and intellectual curiosity—any research needs to allow for such uncertain terrain. There are, of course, numerous possible methodologies; however, as a working publisher, practice-led research was the most relevant approach for me, and I outline its benefits to publishing research below.

Practice-led research is an experiential methodology that blends theory, practice and evaluation in a sophisticated form of investigation. It allows for the complexity and uncertainty of the current publishing field along with the subjective experience of publishing practice. Practice-led research leads to ‘new understandings about practice’ (Candy 2006, 3),5 and it has innovative and critical potential because of its:

… capacity to generate personally situated knowledge and new ways of modelling and externalising such knowledge while at the same time revealing philosophical, social and cultural contexts for the critical intervention and application of knowledge outcomes’. (Barrett and Bolt 2007, 2)

It is a hybrid research strategy in which the creative practice is the central organising role. By placing creative practice at the centre, it subscribes to Heidegger’s theory of praxical or emergent knowledge—that is, that ‘ideas and theory are ultimately the result of practice rather than vice versa’ (Barrett and Bolt 2007, 6). Thus, practice-led research ‘improves both the practice itself and our theoretical understandings of that practice’ (Haseman and Mafe 2009, 14). It is ‘critical, reflective, investigative praxis’, which ‘involves the crucial and inextricable meld of theory and practice’ (Stewart 2007, 124).

As noted, publishing is a subjective, creative profession and any investigation into publishing practice requires a research strategy that deals with this subjectivity. Practice-led research achieves this; it is ‘characterised by specific difficulties associated with the articulation of subjective decisions and aesthetic judgements’ (de Freitas 2002, 7). A research strategy ‘characterised by emergence and complexity’ (Haseman and Mafe 2009, 217), practice-led research is ‘unruly, ambiguous and marked by extremes of interpretive anxiety’ (ibid., 220)—much like the practice of publishing itself I suggest. In fact, practice-led research embraces these challenges: ambiguities, complexity, emergence and other such qualities must be at ‘the heart of [the] research enterprise’ (ibid.). There is a synergy, a reflexivity, that evolves from the synthesis of creative practice and research itself; more than the sum of its parts, practice-led research ‘becomes truly emergent in its outcomes’ (ibid.). It is the appropriate strategy for this research because it contributes to both knowledge and practice and is ‘concerned with the nature of practice and leads to new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice’ (Candy 2006, 3).

In the creative industries, research is often ‘motivated by emotional, personal and subjective concerns’, therefore practice-led research ‘operates not only on the basis of explicit and exact knowledge, but also on that of tacit knowledge’ (Barrett and Bolt 2007, 4). Critical reflection and specific research into tacit knowledge in publishing practice are limited. Perhaps this is because, in our apparent desire for certainty in ‘professions where ambiguities abound, we forget to ask personally and professionally developing reflective questions’ (Bolton 2010, xv). Practice-led research requires the researcher to ‘cultivate and render explicit the tacit knowledges which are being deepened through the research’ (Haseman and Mafe 2009, 223). This explication of tacit knowledge is valid in the publishing field. While publishers may have a practical understanding of the field, they are not necessarily able to explain it: they ‘know how to play the game … but they may not be able to formulate these rules in an explicit fashion’ (Thompson 2012, 12).

This lack of reflection within the profession has created a tension between practice and theory, with much of the research in publishing studies necessarily undertaken by academics rather than practitioners. Though scholarly research is clearly essential and eminently valuable (and requires skills that practitioners may not have), knowledge of the industry can only be enhanced with more practitioner-driven research. Thus, this research seeks to answer a key question driving practice-led research in the creative industries: ‘how can theory and practice be linked more productively and creatively in the future, in a search for a genuine praxis?’ (Yeates 2009, 139). I use practice-led research to connect theory and practice by engaging in a dialogue between critical publishing theory and my own publishing practice, along with the practice of other publishers. Practice-led research connects experience of the work and its explanation (de Freitas 2007), and thus offers a deeper understanding of this field.

Emergence and reflexivity are ‘foundational and constituting’ aspects of practice-led research (Haseman and Mafe 2009, 218), and reflective practice is a sound research method within practice-led research. In publishing, where practice may be unquestioned, it is especially relevant and involves ‘interrogating both our explicit knowledge … and implicit knowledge’ (Bolton 2010, 43). It challenges the practitioner to get to the heart of their practice, by critiquing any aspect of their professional life, anything ‘taken for granted’ (ibid., 48; my emphasis). From my experience, it seems much is taken for granted or considered a given in the publishing world, and this would benefit from more investigation.

A central challenge in practice-led research is to operate from this place of reflexivity while remaining immersed in, and open to, ‘the possibilities generated through creative practice’ (Haseman and Mafe 2009, 222). In my view, using a reflective practice framework helps to find a critical space from which to witness one’s creative practice and research, so the researcher can ‘reflect upon and view the work they are creating, analyse the dynamics of their practice, be alert to the larger patterns emerging in the work, engage in theory building and claim significance for the work’ (ibid.). Reflexivity requires the researcher to ‘stay with personal uncertainty, critically informed curiosity, and flexibility to find ways of changing deeply held ways of being: a complex, highly responsible social and political activity’ (Bolton 2010, xix).

Reflective practice is used when there is incongruity between traditional ways of practice and knowledge and a diverse and uncertain practice situation. As Schön states:

Let us search, instead, for an epistemology of practice implicit in the artistic, intuitive processes which some practitioners do bring to situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness and value conflict. (1983, 49)

Choosing reflective practice as a primary research method for practice-led research into publishing allows for uncertainties, doubt and states of unknowing. It is ‘central to the art through which practitioners sometimes cope with the troublesome “divergent” situations of practice’ (ibid., 62), such as the troubled, uncertain state of the publishing profession. Indeed, disconcerting questions are expected to arise in the research because reflective practice is ‘essentially personally, politically and socially unsettling’ (Bolton 2010, 6). Reflective practice and reflexivity are ‘transgressive of stable and controlling orders’ (ibid., 7), involve ‘making aspects of the self strange’ (ibid., 14), and can lead to powerful emotions arising both in practice and reflection (ibid., 36).

With the goal of practice-led research being to ‘advance knowledge about practice, or to advance knowledge within practice’ (Candy 2006, 3), I ask the key practice-led research question: ‘How can the findings of a practice be best represented?’ (Haseman and Mafe 2009, 216).

Conceptual Models of Practice

In an attempt to answer the above question, this research is developing—or perhaps playing with—conceptual models for the future publisher. This is an appropriate analogical approach given that the qualitative researcher ‘may be aided drawing from different perspectives on the same question or topic’ (Richards and Morse 2007, 91). Particularly, the use of metaphor and analogy allows for, and helps to communicate, new creative perspectives. Metaphors and analogies are a ‘way of making sense of the world’ and make the ‘abstract concrete’ (Bolton 2010, xx).

The two conceptual models I am developing—curator, cartographer—provide the scaffold for my ongoing investigation and may contribute to this research’s ‘theory-engaging’ and ‘theory-recrafting’, an emerging integrated approach to practice-led research in the creative industries (Yeates 2009, 140). Will conceptualising the publisher as curator or cartographer articulate the future practice and value of publishers?

These two models arose from my initial research, which was situated in a number of theoretical theoretical frameworks: the fields of publishing studies, curatorial studies, and social cartography and cultural geography. These broad disciplinary fields form the critical contexts for, and help to frame, the research and practice by triangulating ‘the practice, the professional and critical contexts’ (Haseman and Mafe 2009, 224); by providing a ‘means through which to discuss practice as research and to locate the studio enquiry within the context of historical, social political and contemporary ideas relating to practice’ (Barrett and Bolt 2007, 193); and by synthesising contexts to offer new insights. It is through these lenses that the influence and future of the publisher will be interrogated and envisaged.

Publisher as Curator

Curation has been a buzz word for the past few years, particularly with regard to online content creation. Research on curation has focused on its origination in fine arts culture or, more recently, its role as an active practice that implicates artist, viewer and curator (Martinon 2013). The concept of publisher as curator has not been examined extensively, though the comparison has been mentioned (Stein 2008) and questioned (Nash 2015). There are many parallels between publishing and curation that could inform future publishing practice—for example, seeing changes in publishing mirrored in the move from curating as ‘vocational work in institutional contexts to a potentially independent, critically engaged and experimental form of … practice’ (O’Neill 2012, 2). In an era of profligate content creation and consumption, content curation itself is a disputed practice: while Maria Popova’s curator’s code (2012) drew both considerable criticism and support, Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen argues that curation is overvalued (2013). The consideration of curation as a political tool that can be used outside of politics (O’Neill 2012, 2) connects with my personal interest in publishing as a catalyst for social change.

It is a logical analogy because publishers ‘cultivate authors and act like gallery or museum curators when they nurture their artists and their art’ (Robinson 2012, 17). The future publisher will ‘command multiple platforms, all with a digital heart. This raises the question— if the publisher is a curator, for content and for the consumers of it—of what his or her preferences will be. What content will the publisher be bringing to the party?’ (ibid., 18).

It may be asked, what does the curator contribute to the artist and art, so we can—or perhaps should—also ask, what does the publisher contribute to the author and book? One scholarly support for this kind of investigation is sociologist Howard Becker’s theory of art as collective action. As Becker states: ‘All the arts we know about involve elaborate networks of cooperation’ (1974, 768) and support personnel; and these networks, these relationships, both engender and constrain the creative artistic process (770). This can apply to publishing: analogies considered for this research included publisher as midwife and nurturer—support personnel, in essence— but also censor and anachronism, in effect constraining the artistic process.

In conceptualising art as collective work, we can move away from ‘framing the curator’s role as … neutral provider (and, therefore, invisible)’, which ‘only reinforced a modernist myth that artists work alone, their practice unaffected by those with whom they work’ (O’Neill 2012, 128). In fact, some take the curator’s influence further: ‘the role of the curator is to make art’ (Wade 2005). Paying heed to the role of curator as an artistic contributor and as part of a creative support network also bridges the oppositional divide between artist and administrator that appears in Adorno’s theories around cultural production (O’Neill 2012, 88). And yet the importance of the curator has been disputed and even noted as having a deleterious impact on artistic agency, though this may result from a ‘nostalgia for the perceived certainty of the fixed division of labor between artist, curator, and critic’ (ibid., 123). As curator Hans Ulrich Obrist states: ‘Artists and their works must not be used to illustrate a curatorial proposal or premise to which they are subordinated’ (2014, 33).

I see the shifts and emergent ideas in curating being mirrored in the opportunities and challenges to the status quo prompted by the digital disruption occurring in the publishing industry. For example, the relationship between artist, curator and audience is ‘being replaced by a spectrum of potential interrelationships’ (O’Neill 2012, 129), much like the spectrum of interrelationships I see as being potentially offered by transmedia storytelling, alternative publishing, the democratisation of authorship, the dissolution of traditional publishing models and more.

But the relevance of curating to publishing has been questioned by some, which leads to the next mode of practice. From the synergy of publishing studies and curatorial studies, a second conceptual model arises: publisher as cartographer.

Publisher as Cartographer

This concept extends an idea posited by publishing innovator Richard Nash—that is, that the term curation is abused and, when considering publishing, we are ‘too focused on filter, and not enough on map … map, on the other hand, is about finding user-friendly ways to display all the information, not a tiny subset of it. It’s about saying, we’ll show you everything, and give you the means to navigate towards it’ (2015).

Nash explains the idea of mapping further:

Effectively we’re way too focused on processing data, and not enough on how to effectively render data for the human brain to process it itself. Moreover, and I can’t emphasize the significance of this: maps are fun in themselves. Filters are not. Map is where the cultural action is. (2015)

My research takes this emergent concept and extends it beyond rendering data with this analogy of publisher as cartographer. There exists logic in this analogy, for mapping and story have long been entwined: ‘narration is historically part of cartography, which, after all, concerns the story of a place and has at times even embraced fictional forms of representation’ (Bruno, in Smith 2008, 157). Expanding on this metaphor, my research draws on the discipline of cultural geography and cultural cartography to explore what shape publisher as cartographer would take.

The analogy connects to ideas around whether publishers censor, influence or engender the experience of the author and reader. Cartography has an ‘insistent ethical dimension’ (Cosgrove 2008, 160) and yet the making and subsequent reading of a map involves considerable subjectivity and interpretation. As Cosgrove articulates, in a digitised, new media world, the idea of the map as ‘a tangible, finished object and mapping as a specialised scientific activity seem[s] to be giving way to a virtual cartography in which the map image is avowedly provisional and ephemeral, and mapping a creative, participatory activity no longer the preserve of professional cartographers and geographers’ (ibid., 162).

In his discussion of mapping as a tool for literary analysis, Franco Moretti noted that a map isn’t an ‘explanation’; rather, it offers ‘a model of the narrative universe which rearranges its components in a non-trivial way, and may bring some hidden patterns to the surface’ (2007, 53). Maps can be ‘more than the sum of their parts: they will possess “emerging” qualities, which were not visible at the lower level’ (ibid.). Emergent cartographic concepts and practices are ‘generating an active and intensely practical engagement with everyday cultural life’ (Cosgrove 2008, 178), a cultural life in which publishers are immersed. Cultures themselves (and the cultural products produced) are ‘maps of meaning through which the world is made intelligible’ (Jackson 1989, 2). If maps are more than just the terrain they may represent, if (to echo Baudrillard) maps precede the territory, then the role of cartographer—geographic, social or cultural— is a most intriguing one when superimposed on the role of the future publisher.


It is important to investigate, to paraphrase Hungerford, the institutions and relationships that organise and shape literary work—that is, both the works themselves and the work, the labour, itself—and consider the provocative question noted earlier: ‘What if literary culture is a culture of making rather than a culture of reading?’ (2016, 9).

In researching this culture of making, I continue to focus on the two models of publisher practice identified and to explore what these models will look and feel like to a practising publisher. I am finding many rather elegant parallels between publishing and curating, and publishing and cartography. And the creative, digital, radical shifts in publishing find counterparts in the shifts occurring in curation and cartography. Indeed, a connection also exists between curating and cartography—curating can be considered a ‘form of map-making that opens new routes through a city, a people or a world’ (Obrist 2014, 1). Perhaps that is the life of the future publisher.

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1Though much is happening in the fields of scholarly, educational and professional publishing, this chapter centres on the adult trade (or consumer) publishing industry—that is, books published into the commercial book trade for general adult readers—across the English-language territories.

2In this chapter, the term ‘publisher’ refers to the individual role of publisher, commissioning editor or acquiring editor; I will use ‘publishing house’ to distinguish between individual publishers and publishing companies.

3No longer are mediators such as publishers or booksellers required.

4As an example, in 2013 the industry saw the merger of two of the biggest corporate publishing houses when Random House and Penguin joined to form one conglomerate, with the expected redundancies occurring since. As another, Amazon’s revenue grew from US$511,000 in 1995, its first year of operation, to US$1.64 billion in 1999, US$74.45 billion in 2013, and an expected US$100 billion in the next year or two (Milliot 2015, 4).

5In an often contentious field, Candy makes a constructive distinction between practice-led research and practice-based research: ‘If a creative artefact is the basis of the contribution to knowledge, the research is practice-based … If the research leads primarily to new understandings about practice, it is practice-led’ (2006, 3).

Publishing Means Business

   by Aaron Mannion, Millicent Weber and Katherine Day