Customer Reviews


20 Reviews
5 star:
 (10)
4 star:
 (9)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant study of publishing as an end-to-end industry and its current challenges
Merchants of Culture is a fine study of the publishing world that will be interesting to lovers of books, business thinkers and of course professionals, including authors, in the publishing world. By writing a thorough and illuminating study of the world of publishing as it is developed and exists today, John Thompson has provided a useful case study of commercial...
Published on 27 Feb 2011 by Angus Jenkinson

versus
0 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Irony
How deliciously ironic that this title, of all titles, is not available in Kindle format! (Hence the single star rating.)
Published on 5 Nov 2012 by Mark M


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant study of publishing as an end-to-end industry and its current challenges, 27 Feb 2011
By 
Angus Jenkinson "angusjenkinson" (Cambridgeshire, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Merchants of Culture is a fine study of the publishing world that will be interesting to lovers of books, business thinkers and of course professionals, including authors, in the publishing world. By writing a thorough and illuminating study of the world of publishing as it is developed and exists today, John Thompson has provided a useful case study of commercial business models, indeed multiple case studies in as much as he looks at the world of the author, the agent, the publisher and the bookseller. For that reason, I would also recommend the book to academics and thinkers in the business world is one of the finest studies of an industry and a complete value stream that is available. The book is written to the highest standards of academic rigour but with the clarity and figure that makes it enjoyable for an intelligent reader.

Particularly during the last decade, the development of digital technologies have revolutionised publishing. Authors now write their books using wordprocessing. Publishers have digital work streams that connect the different elements of of their value stream, including proofreaders, typesetters and printers, as well as the archival process. Print on demand digital printing has of course opened up opportunities for self publishing (think Blurb), but it also creates new opportunities for small publishers and specialist texts. Kindle and other e-books are beginning to change the economics of bookselling, and indeed book publication.

Thomson has unprecedented access to major movers and players throughout the process and is used this to interview many of those who are deeply involved in the current industry, sometimes in changing it. His book is readable and thought-provoking. Most authors will certainly get important insights about the role of agents. Agents may learn something about publishers. And so on.

In the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, it's an important time for every citizen, and especially every book lover, to become informed about the state of play in the publishing industry, and this is the book that will do it.of
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview of how book publishing works., 25 Jun 2013
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (Paperback)
There are remarkably few books that examine the US and UK book industry in this kind of detail and with such understanding of the processes, and this one is also very readable. The hardback was published in 2010, and change continues apace, but this paperback has been updated to include recent developments. I recommend it to my students.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read and interesting, 14 Oct 2011
By 
L. McDowell (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (Hardcover)
I'm an MSc Publishing student and this book was on my reading list - certainly one of the most interesting texts on my list, it's well written and not overloaded by statistics. Worth a read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gentle reader..., 17 Jun 2011
By 
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Thompson's target audience appears to be people with a professional interest in book publishing, but it would be a pity if his occasionally dry style were to put off the more casual reader. In fact, anyone with an Amazon account might learn something from his analysis of the confused state in which the book world finds itself. Will publishing go the way of the music industry, or will it learn to adapt to new technology? Thought-provoking, to say the least...
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Depends on your interest area., 6 Jan 2011
By 
AlanMusicMan (North Cornwall) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I haven't read all through this book, I admit that I cherry picked the sections of most interest to me.

This book looks at where the publishing industry came from, and looks in detail at it's more recent history, the seismic changes brought about in the last 30 years by things like the Net Book agreement (and the effect of it on book retailers), the advent of electronic publishing, the ability of just about anyone to pirate books with photocopiers and scanners, the incredible advances in publishing techniques and technologies and the tortuous changes and complexities of how publishing is financed. It looks at how the publishing industry itself has had to continuously restructure, regroup and reinvent itself to account for ever more new channels and styles of publication. It looks at the dangers of dominant publishers, and revels in the almost seditious activities of the small players.

If that all sounds like a rollercoaster ride, it's because that's exactly what it has been, and will continue to be. My own interest area is in the effect on traditional publishing of electronic and online publishing, so although I skimmed the sections dealing with other matters I concentrated more on the sections concerned with e-everything. I did find the section on early publishing very interesting, I'd never really thought about how much the advent of internationally organised publishing must have changed the world.

On the e-publishing sections, Mr Thompson seems to reserve judgement on issues such as "will dead tree publishing survive" and "will people continue to pay for published work". He does explain, in some detail, the arguments and counter arguments of those who believe that conventional publishing has a future, and those who say it will eventually dissolve away and that citizen publishing will be all that is left. I think he is wise not to take sides: As the book shows, the recent history of the industry is littered with wildly inaccurate predictions of its demise, and yet it's still up and running. Whether it will take a generation change to bring about the prediction is something that we have to wait and see. In the meantime, the crazy, vibrant, cut-throat, erudite, banal, beautiful, shabby and fascinating industry of publishing will continue evolving towards the future. This book describes it all in a thoughtful way, without any rose-tinting.

If you have the least interest in the industry that shapes and delivers the various publications (paper or otherwise) you consume, you'll find material of interest in this book - though which sections you will read in detail will probably depend (like me) on your interest area.

If you actually work in publishing, you will be enthralled at a breathtaking ride around your industry and its history: You'll find much to provoke fresh thought, revaluation and probably heated debate about what is said.

Alan T
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Future Unwritten, 9 Sep 2010
By 
Mr. M. A. Reed (Argleton, GB) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's an odd position for Amazon to sell a book that details the massive quandry and turmoil the book industry is in - then again, big corporations invest in anti-Capitalism documentaries because there's money in it, after all. It's fairly open about many of the issues facing the market, including amazon's blacklist and DRM on Ebooks, as well as the issues of pricing, formatting, bulk discounting, and perhaps, in my opinion, the industry's biggest shame which is Ripping Off The Talent. Ultimately, though, it's an engaing, occasionally dry read, that details an uncertain industry in ever changing times, and, if you have an interest in where Publishing is going, this provides a compass and a map as to the many futures it has.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A snapshot of where publishing now lies, 30 Aug 2010
By 
 - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you want to find out what the state of modern book publishing is today then this is a good place to start. The book is thoroughly researched and will give you an overview of how things operate today in the paper-based industry: book fields with expert scouts; commissioning of books; keying, editing and printing; hardback and paperback; audio books and ebooks.

As the author makes clear, publishing is at a crossroads. There is a cataclysmic change just round the corner and this will hit both profit margins and indeed the whole way we think about books. The ground swell is in the amount of information being passed about the internet at present in electronic form: pdf documents, word files and the many ebook formats. The storm is on the horizon: already ebook sales at Amazon are exceeding hardback sales, and hardbacks are where publishers see their main profit.

Moreover, there is the possibility of chain hardback ' paperback ' ebook being broken or curtailed. The value of a book as far as the publisher is concerned might be $30, say, but the value to an author is likely to be only $3 per unit. Given the enormous amount of added-value in going to paper print, there is the temptation for authors to want to wrestle back control of the printing industry from the publishers, and middlemen such as Amazon could well be the people to do that: if there is no printed book, what do conventional publishers add to the process?

This book opens up all sorts of ideas about where the industry may be heading, whilst toeing the conventional publishing line, and leaves a gigantic questionmark over the whole industry, one that has survived 500 years but may have seen its day.

If you want to learn about conventional publishing as it stands now, this is as good a place as any to start.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars Tour de Force - an expert industry analysis, 12 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
An articulate, well-focused review proving expertly informed insight into the publishing industry. Essential reading for anyone studying this area. A foundational book!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book, 29 May 2014
By 
K. Singh (Hertfordshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (Paperback)
Any author, agent, editor, publishing company CEO should purchase this book. I was not aware of all the details involved in publishing a book. This book is an excellent guidance to exactly how fiction and non-fiction books are produced and it has a nice although rather brief history of publishing.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Merchants 1, Culture 0, 31 July 2011
By 
B. Bennetts (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Merchants of Culture (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.

He also confines himself to commenting on the general fiction and non-fiction market, with only passing reference to academic, professional and scholarly publishing, and none at all to specific market sectors such as children's, young adult, science fiction, illustrated art books or self-help works. This scope is set out with admirable clarity in the introduction (pp. 12-13).

Thompson traces the rise and rise of today's publishing conglomerates, noting the three significant forces that have shaped the industry over the past decades: the rise of the major retail chains, the emergence of the literary agent, and the process of corporate acquisitions and mergers which began as early as the 1960s. It is not a story that makes for comforting reading - at least, not to the lover of good literature - as it is the story of the commercialisation and commoditisation of the written word.

He shows, for example, that the early (1960s and 1970s) corporate mergers and acquisitions saw book publishing as just another element of the media and entertainment industry - media conglomerates would buy up publishers in order to secure an ongoing source of film rights. The model failed to deliver, but we are still living with its legacy, for example, in terms of HMV's transformation of the Waterstone's chain into a media outlet after 1998 (see p. 54).

If the media conglomerates created the industry structure for the commoditisation of publishing, it was the literary agents who exploited that structure, and created the dynamic of exclusivity that has been a characteristic of mainstream publishing for the last three decades at least. At the end of the book, Thompson observes that the industry revolves around publishers, buyers and agents, with writers on the far periphery (p. 375).

But agents forge their relationships with the big publishers, not with the small independents. A telling comment comes from Chris, previously a publisher at a small independent house before becoming an editor with one of the large corporations. "When I was at [the small independent house] I always thought of agents as my enemies," he told Thompson; "now I see them as my friends" (p. 206). Thompson is even more forthright (and even less complimentary) about the role of agents in an online interview with Brooklyn Rail last November.

There is one seeming inconsistency in Thompson's thesis. In Chapter 3 he sets out five myths about publishing corporations (pp. 139ff). ("Myth 1: The corporations have no interest in publishing quality books. All they are interested in publishing is commercial bestsellers. ... Myth 4: In the large publishing corporations, editors have lost the power they once had in the traditional publishing houses. Sales directors, marketing directors and accountants are the new power brokers and they decide what gets published.")

He seems anxious to dispel these myths, but spends much of the next 250 pages proving that - despite occasional exceptions - they hold absolutely true, at least for the large corporate players that dominate the industry. Indeed, they define much of the structure of the industry. On page 192, a London agent quotes a recent conversation with an editor at one of the big publishers: `I don't like having this conversation with you because I want to publish this book, I love the story but I know what's going to happen when I go to the acquisition meeting. They're going to say, "Why are we bothering with these little books that are going to breathe all this valuable oxygen both creatively and promotionally."'

These two "myths" are further validated again and again throughout the book. Of the 5,000-6,000 new titles published each year by the main US houses, Thompson reveals the alarming fact (p. 189) that only 25% will receive any serious attention from the publishers' own sales teams. The impact of this kind of industry polarisation towards the bestseller is shown in Chapter 10, where he shows the number of titles selling between 10,000 and 40,000 copies declining by one third, whilst the (much smaller) number of titles selling over 200,000 copies more than doubled in the same period. The causal link is not hard to infer.

In the same chapter Thompson puts a human face on this phenomenon. He tells the story of Joanne, a moderately successful mid-list author, who first discovered that her publisher was spending nothing on her marketing, and was then dropped altogether, despite a track record of nearly twenty years, six books, good critical reception and even winning prizes. The mainstream publishing industry is a hostile place to the writer - as another author puts it, "everything in publishing is disempowering for a writer" (p. 384).

It can be a pretty hostile place for the reader, too. Thompson devotes much of the last 50 pages of the book to a discussion of "the fundamental short-termism of the industry" (p. 386); this takes several forms, one of which is a distinction between "diversity of output" and "diversity of marketplace ... the diversity of the books that are noticed, purchased and read" (p. 389). It is a crucial distinction, usually overlooked; the lack of diversity in the marketplace strikes at the very heart of our cultural health.

Thompson takes a refreshingly cautious view of e-books, noting that "the world is often much more complicated than the technological determinist would like us to think" (p. 333). He voices concern over the devaluation caused by the e-book revolution, based on the experience of the music industry: he quotes one publisher as saying (p. 362), "Why are songs 99 cents? Because Apple says so. Can the music industry make money at 99 cents? No. But now what does everyone think a song should be worth? 99 cents." It is a lesson that self-publishers would do well to think about: as Thompson observes (p. 368), "a major devaluing of intellectual property is unlikely to lead to an overall increase in the quality of content over time". (Not that three decades of commoditisation have done wonders for the quality of content, mind you.)

Though there are some rays of hope among small independent imprints, in general this book offers neither easy answers nor false comfort. Those who believe or who wish to believe, rightly or wrongly, that corporate mainstream publishing is on its deathbed - culturally hidebound, intellectually moribund, at risk of self-strangulation by an unsustainable commercial model - will find plenty here to reinforce their opinion.

But those who dismiss or ignore mainstream publishing are missing the point. For whether we love the Big Five or loathe them, these are the organisations that have shaped our cultural landscape, our reading habits and expectations, for two generations or more. And Professor Thompson's great achievement, at this time of tumult in the publishing industry, is to offer a comprehensive and dispassionate view of the forces that have shaped and continue to shape these organisations. Anyone who is interested in our shared cultural well-being ignores the implications of his work at their peril.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Merchants of Culture
Merchants of Culture by John B. Thompson (Paperback - 16 Mar 2012)
£12.47
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews