What is publishing?

The term ‘publisher’ has two meanings. On one hand, it refers to a person responsible for managing and running a publishing enterprise, or for getting material published. On the other hand, the term publisher can refer to the publishing enterprise itself. These enterprises include small book publishers and large publishing houses, magazine publishers, desktop publishers, e-zine publishers, self-publishing enterprises, and non-profit organisations involved in publishing, such as universities, galleries, professional bodies, community groups.

Each publisher will answer the question, “What to publish?” differently. Some establish a limited repertoire of publication activities, focusing on academic books, novels, westerns, romance novels, text and educational books, informative or self-help books or material on specific topics such as health and wellbeing, ostrich farming etc., fashion or gardening magazines, music scores etc. Other publishers will engage in a wider range of activities, publishing books, journals, monographs and newspapers in their different branches. The nature of the publishing enterprise will determine what kinds of texts they will publish, and how they choose which texts to publish.


The nature of the enterprise can also determine the content, format, quantity and quality of its publications. For instance, a grass-roots publisher might offset low budget and limited readership with low grade paper and no or few colour photographs. A larger, wealthier publisher, on the other hand, might offset the cost of quality materials, many colour photographs, and flashy, glossy format with high retail price and by aiming for a much more general, larger readership. While the more popular and expensive magazine features mostly general interest, light reading to attract an ever-larger audience, the grass-roots magazine may feature specialist articles and lots of personal stories to develop a loyal though small audience.



Publishing is a business and, like any business, can be either profitable or unprofitable. The initial choice that faces any publisher is what to publish. This relates not only to the content of the publication, but also size, format, quantity and commercial potential. Most publishers apply restrictions on what they will publish, minimising the danger of over-extending their resources (physical and intellectual) or harming their reputation by producing inferior products in some areas. Some choose to focus on certain categories of writing, and to build their business by producing a limited but quality range of products (such as children’s books). There can be considerable market value in growing a reputation as a publisher of a certain kind of book (or journal or newspaper).


Each time a publisher confronts a new manuscript or idea for a publication, he or she must decide whether or not to publish it, even if it was commissioned. While personal taste will probably influence the publisher’s decision (consider how many best sellers were repeatedly rejected by unimpressed publishers), the decision will also be based on some basic, practical questions; among them, how closely the manuscript (or article) aligns with the publisher’s standard criteria and requirements. Market analysis helps a publisher make these kinds of decisions.