Publishing is the process of production and dissemination of literature or information - the activity of making information available for public view. In some cases authors may be their own publishers, meaning: originators and developers of content also provide media to deliver and display the content.
Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works such as books (the "book trade") and newspapers. With the advent of digital information systems and the Internet, the scope of publishing has expanded to include electronic resources, such as the electronic versions of books and periodicals, as well as micropublishing, websites, blogs, video games and the like.
Publishing includes: the stages of the development, acquisition, copyediting, graphic design, production - printing (and its electronic equivalents), and marketing and distribution of newspapers, magazines, books, literary works, musical works, software and other works dealing with information, including the electronic media.
Publication is also important as a legal concept: (1) as the process of giving formal notice to the world of a significant intention, for example, to marry or enter bankruptcy; (2) as the essential precondition of being able to claim defamation; that is, the alleged libel must have been published, and (3) for copyright purposes, where there is a difference in the protection of published and unpublished works.
Process of Publishing
Book and magazine publishers spend a lot of their time buying or commissioning copy; newspaper publishers, by contrast, usually hire their own staff to produce copy, although they may also employ freelance journalists, called stringers. At a small press, it is possible to survive by relying entirely on commissioned material. But as activity increases, the need for works may outstrip the publisher's established circle of writers.
For works written independently of the publisher, writers often first submit a query letter or proposal directly to a literary agent or to a publisher. Submissions sent directly to a publisher are referred to as unsolicited submissions, and the majority come from previously unpublished authors. If the publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts, then the manuscript is placed in the slush pile, which publisher's readers sift through to identify manuscripts of sufficient quality or revenue potential to be referred to acquisitions editors for review. The acquisitions editors send their choices to the editorial staff. The time and number of people involved in the process is dependent on the size of the publishing company, with larger companies having more degrees of assessment between unsolicited submission and publication. Unsolicited submissions have a very low rate of acceptance, with some sources estimating that publishers ultimately choose about three out of every ten thousand unsolicited manuscripts they receive.
Many book publishing companies around the world maintain a strict "no unsolicited submissions" policy and will only accept submissions via a literary agent. This shifts the burden on assessing and developing writers out of the publishing company and onto the literary agents. At these companies, unsolicited manuscripts are thrown out, or sometimes returned, if the author has provided pre-paid postage.
Established authors are often represented by a literary agent to market their work to publishers and negotiate contracts. Literary agents take a percentage of author earnings (varying between 10 - 15 per cent) to pay for their services.
Some writers follow a non-standard route to publication. For example, this may include bloggers who have attracted large readerships producing a book based on their websites, books based on internet memes, instant "celebrities" such as Joe the Plumber, retiring sports figures and in general anyone whom a publisher feels could produce a marketable book. Such books often employ the services of a ghostwriter.
For a submission to reach publication it must be championed by an editor or publisher who must work to convince other staff of the need to publish a particular title. An editor who discovers or champions a book which subsequently becomes a best-seller may find their own reputation enhanced as a result of their success.
Derided in the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica as "a purely commercial affair" that cared more about profits than about literary quality, publishing is fundamentally a business, with a need for the expenses of creating, producing, and distributing a book or other publication not to exceed the income derived from its sale.
The publisher usually controls the advertising and other marketing tasks, but may subcontract various aspects of the process to specialist publisher marketing agencies. In many companies, editing, proofreading, layout, design and other aspects of the production process are done by freelancers.
Dedicated in-house salespeople are sometimes replaced by companies who specialize in sales to bookshops, wholesalers and chain stores for a fee. This trend is accelerating as retail book chains and supermarkets have centralized their buying.
If the entire process up to the stage of printing is handled by an outside company or individuals, and then sold to the publishing company, it is known as book packaging. This is a common strategy between smaller publishers in different territorial markets where the company that first buys the intellectual property rights then sells a package to other publishers and gains an immediate return on capital invested. Indeed, the first publisher will often print sufficient copies for all markets and thereby get the maximum quantity efficiency on the print run for all.
Some businesses maximize their profit margins through vertical integration; book publishing is not one of them. Although newspaper and magazine companies still often own printing presses and binderies, book publishers rarely do. Similarly, the trade usually sells the finished products through a distributor who stores and distributes the publisher's wares for a percentage fee or sells on a sale or return basis.
The advent of the Internet has therefore posed an interesting question that challenges publishers, distributors and retailers. In 2005, Amazon.com announced its purchase of Booksurge and selfsanepublishing, a major print on demand operation. This is probably intended as a preliminary move towards establishing an Amazon imprint. One of the largest bookseller chains, Barnes & Noble, already runs its own successful imprint with both new titles and classics - hardback editions of out-of-print former best sellers. Similarly, Ingram Industries, parent company of Ingram Book Group (a leading US book wholesaler), now includes its own print-on-demand division called Lightning Source. Among publishers, Simon & Schuster recently announced that it will start selling its backlist titles directly to consumers through its website.
Book clubs are almost entirely direct-to-retail, and niche publishers pursue a mixed strategy to sell through all available outlets - their output is insignificant to the major booksellers, so lost revenue poses no threat to the traditional symbiotic relationships between the four activities of printing, publishing, distribution and retail.