Institution: University of Cambridge
Unit of Assessment: UoA23
Title of case study: The transformation of the book publishing industry in Britain and the US
1. Summary of the impact (indicative maximum 100 words)
Research undertaken by Professor John Thompson on the recent transformation of the book publishing industry has had an impact on practitioners in the publishing industry; on associated professions dependent on the publishing industry, such as writers of fiction and general interest nonfiction; on libraries and their acquisition policies; and on public debates. International reach is attested to by, among other things, invitations to address key professional bodies and writers organizations in the UK, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil and Argentina, citations in government reports in Norway and participation in policy discussions at the Library of Congress in the US.
2. Underpinning research (indicative maximum 500 words)
The underpinning research was carried out by Thompson in the period from 1999 to 2012 at the
Department of Sociology in Cambridge. During this period Thompson held two ESRC grants. The first grant supported a three-year research project on ‘New Technologies and Global Change in the
Book Publishing Industry’; this research focused on the transformation of academic and higher education publishing in Britain and the US from c1960 to c2005. It involved detailed case studies of 16 publishing firms in Britain and the US and around 230 interviews. The project had a full-time
Research Assistant (2000-2) who helped gather background materials, etc., but Thompson did all of the on-site research, all of the interviews and all of the analysis and writing-up. The key output was Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in
Britain and the United States.
The second grant supported a three-year research project on ‘Concentration and
Innovation in the Book Publishing Industry’; this focused on the transformation of mainstream trade publishing in Britain and the US from c1960 to c2010 and on the making of bestsellers. Thompson conducted all of the research, which involved more than 280 interviews with CEOs, CFOs, publishers, editors, sales managers, marketing managers, agents, booksellers, review editors, authors and others involved in the book publishing business. The End of Award Report was awarded the top grade – Outstanding – by the ESRC. The key output was Merchants of Culture:
The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century. Thompson carried out additional research in
2011, including 20 new interviews, to update the book for the new paperback edition, which was published in 2012.
The principal aim of these two research projects was to provide a systematic account of the changing structure of the modern book publishing industry and to examine the key challenges confronting the industry today. Prior to this research, the study of the modern book publishing industry had been largely neglected in the social sciences. The research set out to fill this gap.
The two main outputs, taken together, now represent the most sustained account of the transformation of the modern book publishing industry available in any language.
Thompson develops an original theory of publishing fields and uses it to analyse the structure and transformation of three of the most important sectors of the book publishing industry: academic publishing, higher education publishing and mainstream trade publishing. He shows that each publishing field is characterized by a distinctive set of processes and developments that comprise what he calls ‘the logic of the field’. By reconstructing this logic through careful fieldwork, he shows how and why the field has evolved as it has and why agents act as they do. He also sheds light on the key challenges faced by the industry today, as the unfolding of the logic of the field collides with a technological revolution that is