Who’s Really a Publisher?

April 2003
by Pat Bell

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Jan Nathan’s exploration of this question (PMA Newsletter, March) led me to decide to look for an answer by doing some digging into publishing’s past.


In the Beginning

Once, it was easy to get the answer to “Who’s really a publisher?” In classical times, an author or poet simply paid a scribe to make copies of a work for circulation. In more recent years, particularly during the 19th and 20th centuries, book publishers (our main interest here) were companies that paid authors for the right to publish the authors’ work.

Some authors, however, paid for their books to be published. Firms that did this sort of publishing were dubbed “vanity presses” by others in the industry because of the belief that authors were “vain” if they wanted to see their work in print so much that they were willing to pay for it. There was considerable stigma attached to books from vanity presses, which became notorious for demanding big sums of money in return for very little output. As a rule, bookstores and libraries would not buy books with those imprints.
Then, in the 1980s, personal computers, notably the Apple/Macintosh group, launched what became known as the “desktop revolution.” The accessibility of the computer, decent software, and a relatively low investment lowered the threshold for people wanting to get published; they could do it themselves.
The number of publishers increased d…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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