Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century by John B. Thompson (published by Polity) is this month’s “Book of the Month.”
I took this 432 page book with me on vacation and was mesmerized by its detailed analysis of the history of publishing and bookselling. Thompson’s chapter on “The Rise of Literary Agents” was, of course, particularly interesting.
I have been a student of this industry for 30 years and thoroughly enjoy understanding its nuances. (It just dawned on me that this means I’ve read nearly 1,500 issues of “Publisher’s Weekly!”) In my opinion, this is the one book you should read if you want an overview of everything that goes into the publishing business. Did you know that the practice of allowing booksellers to return stock for full credit did not start in the U.S. until the early 30s? It was used during the Great Depression as a way to stimulate sales and to encourage booksellers to carry more inventory without risk. Eighty years later that practice still plagues the industry (see my post “Many Happy Returns“).