What is the actual motive of publishers?

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Leiden Uninersity
Faculty of Arts
English Department
Book and Digital Media Studies

What is the actual motive of publishers?

Comments on Albert N. Greco’s The Book Publishing Industry (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003) Chap. 1.

Olivier Nyirubugara
4 October 2005

Olivier Nyirubugara, June 2005

Olivier Nyirubugara
Graduate in Publishing and Digital Media Studies
Graduate in American Literature.

The title of my comment is at the same time the question I would like to answer while commenting on the answer (to the same question) that A.N. Greco gives us in his book.

In chapter 1 largely dedicated to statistics and inquiry reports on the publishing industry in the United States, Greco attempts to define the motivations, or let’s say, the vocation, of publishing houses. He writes:

“In a market economy, the objectives of the most publishers are rather modest: to sell enough copies to pay the publishing house’s employees, taxes, and other expenses while making a contribution to the world of letters. Hopefully, a profit can be made and a royalty paid to the author”(p.1).

I deduce from this quotation that the objectives are presented going from the most important to the least important, which seems to be the logical way. In that logic, the primary motivation of publishers is to generate money in order to pay salaries, taxes and other expenses. The second, which can be combined with the first, is the ´altruistic´ mission to contribute to the world of letters. The third, which comes after a highly meaningful “hopefully” and after a `full stop`, is PROFIT. “Hopefully” makes it accessory, not as important as the two other motives. It means that if the two first are satisfactorily met, the publisher will have done a good business.

To my understanding, the order should be reversed. Publishers pursue first PROFIT and act only when they are assured to make PROFIT. Publishing houses are first of all business companies before being charities or any other form of non-lucrative organisations.

Greco’s statement could however be valid for university presses or those of research organisations whose prime mission is not to make profit but to contribute to the propagation of knowledge. In this regard, they receive subsidies to be able to function.

To illustrate my opinion, I would like to use Greco’s introduction to the book, where he writes: “Yet it would be foolish and possibly dangerous for any one to forget even for a moment that publishing IS ESSENTIALLY A BUSINESS” (p. x).The Collins& Robert dictionary explains “business” as referring to “ a particular area of work or activity in which the AIM is to make a PROFIT”.

To conclude, I think the best definition of the mission of a ‘commercial’ publishing house would be the one of making as much profit as possible through book publishing and selling. Of course `the world of letters` takes advantage of it, but it is not on the top of the publisher’s priority list.

To reach that goal, the house owner has to pay salaries ( otherwise his employees would leave the company), taxes (because the government would close the house), and other expenses (like electricity because without it he cannot make money). All these contribute to the achievement of the primary goal, PROFIT. That is why not all scripts are accepted for publishing. They are carefully screened and accepted because they will generate money, or rejected because they can lead to useless losses.

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