Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Makers
British Publishing in the Twentieth Century

Iain Stevenson
British Library - 25.00pds.-Hardback

This is the story of British book publishing through the 20th century. It looks at how the industry grew from a small elite trade to a world-class business of enormous cultural influence. There are studies of the key figures such as William Heinemann, Jonathan Cape, Allen Lane, Paul Hamlyn and Robert Maxwell, but also lesser-known but significant figures whose contributions were also vital. Organised chronologically by decade, it considers not only fiction and general trade publishing, but also academic, scientific, children’s, technical, and professional publishing. This is a fascinating tale of creative genius, individual endeavour, occasional duplicity and far-sighted vision that over the century made British book publishing so successful, and still underlies its role today. Enlivened with Iain Stevenson’s own experiences in the publishing industry, it is essential reading for anyone concerned with publishing, books and reading who wants to know how British books came to dominate the English-speaking world.

About the Author / Editor
Iain Stevenson is Professor of Publishing at University College, London. He has worked in publishing for over 30 years including at Longman, Macmillan, Wiley, and The Stationery Office, and was on the council of the Publishers Association. He founded the environmental publisher Belhaven Press, and his current research is centred upon the application of new technology in publishing.

And comment on the book from Liz Thomson in BookBrunch

It is quite possible that, five years from now, whatever constitutes “the publishing industry” will be almost entirely unrecognisable from the business that has evolved over the 534 years since Caxton set up his first printing press. Will the book as we have known it be as obsolete as a 78 rpm record, or even a 45? Will it, like the vinyl that preceded CDs (themselves now under threat), be a hip retro item? Or will books survive and thrive alongside their electronic counterparts much as radio has happily co-existed with television?

Iain Stevenson, Professor of Publishing at University College, London, ends Book Makers: British Publishing in the Twentieth Century on an optimistic note, concluding that “Britain has been exceptionally fortunate in possessing a cultural milieu that has enabled great publishing to flourish. Their successors are already in the making…” Let’s hope he’s right, but it’s hard to escape the fear that much of general publishing will become increasingly fixated on the transient and the trivial, great publishing surviving only in the hands of a few committed book people who decline to worship at the altar of market share and who are able to match ideas with authors and shape the resultant text. Book making, in other words, in quite a literal sense and in an environment where books are still spoken of as books and not as “product”. Thinking in terms of “product”, which it did long before the dawn of the download era and even before the arrival of the CD, was where it all began to go wrong for the music business.

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