Different Types Of Book Publishers

19th February 2018
5 min read
4th October 2023

In this extract from The Publishing Business, Kelvin Smith and Melanie Ramdarshan look at the different types of book publishers within the current marketplace...


The Publishing Business book cover

Consumer, trade or general publishing

Publishers of what are variously known as consumer, trade or general publishing books produce novels, biography, cookery books and so on - books that we read for pleasure in our leisure time. These are primarily sold in bookshops (either physical or online), at airports or stations, and at supermarkets. We may also download books like these from online retailers, or direct from a publisher's website. Many authors of trade, general or consumer books have an agent (or literary agent) who represents their business interests, helps them to develop a career, and negotiates on their behalf of publishers and others who wish to make use of their clients' work. Some agents now also publish e-books (electronic books) for their clients. Some major international trade publishers are the Penguin Random House, and (in the UK) Hachette, HarperCollins and Pan Macmillan. The biggest trade publishers in the US are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette. These companies represent most of the imprints we are familiar with, apart from a few medium-sized independents such as Faber & Faber, Canongate, Chronicle Books and Workman Books. There are also a number of small presses, and digital start-ups, popping up regularly e.g. Made in Me - a creative design studio for children's entertainment, including digital books and apps, and Unbound - a participatory publishing model, based on crowdfunding.

Educational and ELT publishing

Educational publishers produce textbooks, supplementary reading materials, teachers' notes, exercises, digital teaching materials, tests and a wealth of other teaching and assessment aids. The content of educational publishing is geared to the needs of the curriculum, educational structure, and linguistic and cultural norms  of a particular national or state government. Educational publishers often publish ELT (English Language Teaching) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) publications as many of the same skills are required to develop materials. Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, McGraw-Hill and Macmillan are some of the major companies in this sector.

STM, academic, scholarly and reference publishers

Some of the biggest international publishers are those that disseminate research conducted by people working in universities and research centres throughout the world. These publishers now publish primarily in digital form, although some work is still printed. Major STM (scientific, technical and medical) publishers include Elsevier, Springer Nature, John Wiley & Sons and Taylor & Francis. There are several large university presses in this sector. The primary intended market for these companies are academic libraries, with the products being available through a subscription business model. This traditional model is undergoing a reform in the digital environment, in particular with the Open Access movement.


Although self-publishing has increased in visibility over the last few years, it is not a new phenomenon. Writers have been self-publishing since the advent of the written word, and famous authors, such as Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe began their careers by self-publishing. Additionally, authors such as Virginia Woolf and Dave Eggers have started small presses - Hogarth Press and McSweeney's respectively - to publish their work and that of other writers. The stigma associated with self-publishing has, however, lessened in recent years. The advent of the internet, blogging services and POD (print-on-demand) technology, the proliferation of self-publishing platforms (such as Lulu.com and CreateSpace), the rise of crowdfunding platforms (such as IndieGoGo), the growth in e-book sales, and the success stories of a number of, high profile, self-published authors (such as Amanda Hocking) has meant that self-publishing is now firmly established as an important part of contemporary publishing. It is difficult to gauge the exact impact of self-publishing on the traditional publishing industry - the majority of self-publishing is through e-books - because Amazon do not disclose their sales data. However, Author Earnings, which analyses Amazon's bestseller lists, estimates that self-published e-book sales rose from $510 million in 2014 to $600 million in 2015. In 2017, Author Earnings found that indie authors secured at least 20 per cent to the 35 per cent of e-book sales across five major English-language markets (United States, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Additionally Amazon launched a literary prize - The Kindle Storyteller Prize - for self-published e-books, which further integrates self-publishing into the publishing mainstream.

For an overview of publishing departments and learn who does what in the publishing process, read Publishing Roles

The Publishing Business is an invaluable guide to understanding what book publishing is and what it might become. Using popular and current examples, the second edition of this guide demonstrates that, to succeed, publishers must prove their commitment to producing accurate, attractive and well edited content, their ability to innovate pioneering digital technologies and their dedication to promoting their titles to new audiences.

Explaining the responsibilities at each stage of the publishing process, The Publishing Business describes current roles and practices, and provides much food for thought on how publishers can ensure their skills remain relevant in the digital age. Fully updated to take into account recent developments in the publishing world, it also includes additional real-world examples from a variety of publishing sectors, insightful interviews with industry experts and new and updated activities. Order here

Writing stage