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Merchants of Culture 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0745647869
ISBN-10: 0745647863
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Editorial Reviews


"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."
The National

"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."
Cultural Sociology

"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

"As soon as I tore open the box, I had to start reading...It's frank, comprehensive, well-researched, with lots of interviews with people who know - and it pulls no punches. Want to know about the rise of the literary agent or why your mid-list books aren't marketed properly or what the digital revolution means for the author in the street? Then buy this book."
Karen Ball, author of Starring Me as Third Donkey and several other children's books

About the Author

John B. Thompson is Professor of Sociology at Jesus College, University of Cambridge.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Polity; 1 edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745647863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745647869
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,421,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Bennetts on July 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
An enormous amount has been written, both online and in print, about the publishing industry in recent years - some of it perceptive; a little (a very little) well-informed; much of it complete rubbish, ranging from the ignorant to the merely opinionated.

The vast majority of this body of commentary has one common factor: its authors have a relationship with the industry, whether as insiders (publishers, agents, authors, booksellers) or as outsiders (mostly self-published authors). That is to say, everyone has some kind of an angle to play, a stance or interest (vested, conflicted or otherwise) to defend, or in plenty of cases an axe to grind.

That stops here. John B. Thompson has written Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century from perhaps the only possible and credible disinterested perspective - that of the academic. He has examined publishing as a business phenomenon, and based his work not on opinion nor on wishful thinking, but on five years' systematic research, including some 280 interviews with industry insiders amounting to 500 hours of first-hand evidence.

Wisely, Professor Thompson has restricted himself to one field of publishing, and has clearly defined that field at the outset. The book focuses on English-language trade publishing in the USA and UK, i.e. general-interest publishing of both fiction and non-fiction, intended for a general readership and sold through the mainstream distribution network. He includes independent presses in his scope, along with print-on-demand and the e-book phenomenon, but excludes self-publishing; he includes Amazon and other online retailers, but excludes channels such as Lulu and Smashwords.
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Format: Paperback
I came to this book after the book industry newsletter Publishing Trends recommended it. I had just finished two other books about the book business, 'The Times of Their Lives' by Al Silverman and 'The Late Age of Print' by Ted Striphas. Of the three books, 'Merchants of Culture' provides the best overview of where the industry stands today. I have worked in this sometimes crazy business for nearly twenty years and John Thompson 'gets it' better than any other writer I have encountered. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there and Thompson has nearly perfect-pitch when recounting where the lines of power lie and why things happen the way they do. For his part, Ted Striphas actually takes a deeper dive than Thompson and his book is more profound in many ways. Still, Thompson provides a better starting point and many will find that they need go no further than 'Merchants' to satisfy their curiosity.
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Format: Hardcover
From cuneiform tablets to papyrus reeds to the early centuries of movable type, publishing was a power in the world and aimed at the needs and necessities of the cultural elite. But then in the 19th century literacy began to spread down to the growing middle classes and address the interests of ordinary people. But it was up until the invention of desktop publishing in the later decades of the 20th century that ordinary people had access to publishing. The rapid technological advances of the 21st century thus far have continued to compel the publishing industry into new modes of production, distribution, and fiscal survival with the coming of such innovations and electronic publishing and Kindle readers. "Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business In The Twenty-First Century" by John B. Thompson provides an informed and informative history and description of how trade publishing operates, as well as the contributions and responsibilities of key components of the publishing industry including agents and booksellers, as well as the publishers themselves. Of particular interest is Thompson's analysis of how digital publishing is beginning to dramatically affect and alter trade publishing. Superbly researched and presented, "Merchants of Culture " is a seminal addition for academic library collections and essential reading for members of the publishing industry (including authors and book reviewers!) seeking to adapt to the constantly changing influences of modern technologies upon the art and economics of trade publishing.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I set out wanting to learn more about the publishing industry, and thanks to this highly informative book, I did. I particularly enjoyed the anonymous professionals and their uncensored comments about where publishing has gone in the 21st century. My only caveat is that the book tended to repeat itself on occasion; other than that, the prose, though written by a Cambridge don, is clear and really describes a complex subject in terms the layman can understand. I now know about The Gap and paying for display place in bookstores which I had no idea existed. A job very well done!
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Format: Paperback
John Thompson's Merchants of Culture was a thorough and in depth look at the publishing industry in the 21st century, focusing on the changes brought on in our technologically advanced world. Thompson clearly states his intentions and defines his parameters in the introduction, looking to focus on English-language trade publishing in the United States and in the UK. His discussion was largely based in adult fiction and general non-fiction, with brief mentions of academic, and scholarly publications. Thompson's research is outstanding, comprising of over 280 interviews, and over 500 hours of recorded material, in addition to the facts and figures offered on different aspects of the industry. Though the writing is a bit clumsy and he is often too repetitive, Merchants of Culture offers a good overview of the publishing trade, including facets of technology that greatly affect the industry.

The first three chapters of the book work to offer the reader understanding of the publishing trade and also describe the three key developments in publishing that shape and have substantial consequences on the trade. The first of these influential developments being the retail chains and the ongoing transformation of book purchasing, the second is the rise of the literary agent, and lastly, the emergence of transnational publishing corporations. The following chapters work towards showing how these three developments have created the structure and shape of the publishing field today.

Thompson goes on to explain certain features of the industry in terms of his previously described developments, including the polarization of the giant publishing firms to the small independent presses, the success of certain best selling books, and the "shrinking window display" offered by book sellers.
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