Visiting speaker, 24 Apr 2012: John B Thompson on trade publishing in the present day

John B. Thompson will be presenting his paper, ‘Merchants of Culture’, at 5.15pm on Tuesday, 24 April 2012. The talk will take place in the Cardiff Humanities Building, Room 2.48.

These are turbulent times in the world of book publishing. For nearly five centuries the methods and practices of book publishing remained largely unchanged, but at the dawn of the twenty-first century the industry finds itself faced with perhaps the greatest challenges since Gutenberg. A combination of economic pressures and technological change is forcing publishers to alter their practices and think hard about the future of books in the digital age.

In his book, Merchants of Culture (2010, 2012)—the first major study of trade publishing for more than 30 years—Thompson situates the current challenges facing the industry in an historical context, analysing the transformation of trade publishing in the United States and Britain since the 1960s. He gives a detailed account of how the world of trade publishing really works, dissecting the roles of publishers, agents and booksellers and showing how their practices are shaped by a field that has a distinctive structure and dynamic. By reconstructing this dynamic he is able to shed fresh light on how bestsellers are made and on why many thousands of books and authors find themselves marooned in an industry increasingly focused on short-term growth and profitability. Against this backcloth Thompson analyses the impact of the digital revolution on book publishing and examines the pressures—both economic and technological—that are re-shaping the field of trade publishing today.

The outcome of nearly five years of research, this major new book will establish itself as an exemplary work in the study of contemporary culture and will be essential reading for anyone interested in books and their future.

About the speaker
John B. Thompson is Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. His many publications include Ideology and Modern Culture (1990), The Media and Modernity (1995), Political Scandal (2000), Books in the Digital Age (2005) and Merchants of Culture (2010). His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and he was awarded the European Amalfi Prize for Sociology and the Social Sciences in 2001 for Political Scandal. For the last ten years he has been working on the changing structures of the book publishing industry in Britain and the United States. His most recent book, Merchants of Culture, is a comprehensive account of the development of Anglo-American trade publishing, from the rise of the publishing corporations and the retail chains to the digital revolution.  A revised and updated paperback edition of Merchants of Culture has just been published by Polity in the UK and Penguin in the US.

Download a flyer for the talk (PDF).


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