- Hardcover: 440 pages
- Publisher: Polity; 1 edition (September 14, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780745647869
- ISBN-13: 978-0745647869
- ASIN: 0745647863
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 34 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,088,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Merchants of Culture Hardcover – September 14, 2010
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"A fine-grained snapshot... of the terminal struggle of traditional publishers. [Thompson's] mordant picture of an industry in crisis gives publishers, writers and readers much to think about."
Jason Epstein, The New York Review of Books
"[Thompson] draws on valuable interviews and the mass of statistics that the field itself devours in search of success. He offers a calm, relatively sanguine account of contemporary publishing, a world dominated by the $6 million advance, the blockbuster and the buzz."
Times Literary Supplement
"Thompson bring forensic keeneness, acuity, breadth, depth and wit to this page-turning study of the book trade, its denizens, demons and deities. [Merchants of Culture] ought to be prescribed reading for publishers, booksellers, writers, authors, reporters, reviewers and critics."
Mail & Guardian, South Africa
"John B. Thompson's research has produced an excellent history and analysis; it's a wonderful book, highly recommended."
Australian Book Review
"The single most impressive fact to drive home about this remarkable book is that Thompson displays a rare gift, that of presenting a world of the most heart-stopping complexity in short, simple, inter-related steps ... This is a book to buy and use and keep on your shelf."
"A superb history and analysis of publishing and bookselling, from the 1960s to the present, against the background of the rapidly expanding digital media. A salutary, scary read."
John Conwell for The New Statesman
"A thorough and thoughtful analysis of publishing as a relatively self-contained world - a 'field' obeying rules that are ultimately economic, but in ways refracted through maneuvers and conflicts that defy simple cost-benefit analysis. Anyone interested in publishing will want to read it."
Inside Higher Ed
"For some time to come, this is bound to be the definitive thing to read for anyone trying to understand the infrastructure of book culture - especially as it has taken shape over the past two or three decades."
"This impressively comprehensive and revealing analysis of the structures and processes of modern publishing is timely as the industry faces its digital future."
Katharine Reeve, Times Higher Education Book of the Week
"Thompson's study is one of the most valuable studies on publishing in recent decades, and promises to be the new reference point for sociological research on the publishing industry."
"A very valuable book that is likely to become the standard reference on the Anglo-American publishing industry for many years to come."
"For the uninitiated, Merchants of Culture provides a very perceptive, thorough and in-depth view of how trade publishing really works in the English-speaking world today. For those of us in the business or for writers who are mystified by their publisher's behavior, it offers a penetrating account of our business by a very shrewd, analytical observer. This book is the only thing I've ever read about our industry that has really got it."
William Shinker, President and Publisher of Gotham Books and Avery Books, Penguin Group USA
"Thompson's analysis of UK and US trade publishing is extraordinarily acute and insightful. It should be required reading for new entrants to the industry - but it will also illuminate many things for old publishing hands."
Helen Fraser, Former Managing Director, Penguin Group UK
"This uncommonly perceptive and thorough study tells you all you need to know about the publishing industry at a time of momentous change."
Drake McFeely, Chairman and President, W.W. Norton & Company
"One of the most intelligent and accessible accounts of the curious business of trade book publishing I have read. Anyone interested in knowing more about how our industry works - and where it might be headed - will find this book invaluable."
Morgan Entrekin, CEO and Publisher, Grove Atlantic
"An eye-opening tour of both American and British trade publishing. Even veterans in the publishing world will learn a lot, and novices will feel welcome, in this behind-the-scenes examination of how book publishing works in an age of mass marketing and digitization. Thompson knows more about contemporary publishing than any other scholar. He asks just the right questions of his sources, and their responses offer unique and illuminating testimony from an array of publishing insiders. Theoretically sophisticated but not burdened by academic apparatus, this is a landmark work."
Michael Schudson, Columbia University
"Thompson's ground-breaking research into the world of consumer book publishing provides a fascinating insight into the high-risk culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Revealed is the world of agents and scouts, of auctions and deals, often with large sums of money paid out to authors, as publishers gamble in the hope of signing the next Harry Potter or Dan Brown. His work is of the highest quality and should be read by all those concerned about our literary culture and its future."
Angus Phillips, Director, Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies
"From now on whenever anyone asks me how they can get published or get a job in publishing I'm going to tell them to buy this book because it is simply perfect at summing up how the whole messy business works and explaining why it very frequently doesn't work. It teaches a careful reader as much as any three year degree course on the subject."
Andrew Crofts, author of The Freelance Writer's Handbook
Karen Ball, author of Starring Me as Third Donkey and several other children's books
From the Back Cover
The world of book publishing is going through turbulent times. For nearly five centuries the methods and practices of book publishing remained largely unchanged, but at the dawn of the 21st century the industry finds itself faced with perhaps the greatest challenges since Gutenberg. A combination of economic pressures and technological change is forcing publishers to alter their practices and think hard about the future of the book in the digital age.
In this book the first major study of trade publishing for more than 30 years Thompson situates the current challenges facing the industry in an historical context, analyzing the transformation of trade publishing in the United States and Britain since the 1960s. He gives a detailed account of how the world of trade publishing really works, dissecting the roles of publishers, agents and booksellers and showing how their practices are shaped by a field that has a distinctive structure and dynamic. Against this backdrop Thompson analyzes the impact of the digital revolution on book publishing and examines the pressures that are reshaping the field of trade publishing today.
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What I didn't like: A lengthy chapter on the digital revolution is, by this point, a bit out of date. Yes, some of the general principles still apply, but there's no commentary on the current resurgence of print or even the self-publishing movement and its role in putting price pressure on traditional publishers. The writing style is awkward at times, and the author sometimes repeats himself where such repetition isn't needed. Also, Thompson clearly has to make efforts to avoid biting the hand that feeds him. The edition I read was published by Plume (which is owned by Penguin). So it makes perfect sense that he pulls his punches. Any severe criticism of big publishing or its corporate owners is offset by several caveats. For example, Thompson dismisses André Schiffrin's THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS as extreme, but doesn't engage with Schiffrin's arguments or even acknowledge that Schiffrin's perspective was based on decades of first hand experience.
Summary: Read it for the juicy stories, feel free to skim past the passages that are outdated or reek of academic pseudo-theory. If you're interested in books like this, maybe also check out the more up-to-date LITERARY PUBLISHING IN THE 21ST CENTURY or the aforementioned THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS.
John B. Thompson's effort explains much of the mystery of how books get published, what goes into marketing titles, and why some authors make millions. More important, Professor Thompson clearly explains, with little use of academic jargon, the epic changes (computers, business consolidation, the Internet, Kindle, etc.) of the last few decades in book publishing---from the corner independent bookstore to Amazon.com. Wisely, he sticks with the New York and London centers of serious print publishing instead of trying to cover India, China, and the rest of the known world.
I, for one, will be interested to read in about five-years time Professor Thompson's then thinking on the full range of changes to publishers and writers as wrought by Kindle and other such apparently transformational products.