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Different kinds of publishers

Main types of book publishers

The book publishing industry can be roughly broken down into the following areas, although there is a degree of overlap between some of them.


Seen as the most glamorous area of book publishing, and accordingly, the most competitive area of the business to find employment in, fiction publishing includes novels, novellas and collections of short stories. The most successful works can sell millions of copies, making millionaires out of a few lucky authors; their publishers are correspondingly well-paid.

Trade, non-fiction (illustrated and otherwise)

Trade publications are those aimed at a specific industry. They differ from those aimed at the general public by carrying information that is very sector-specific. There are other areas of non-fiction, however, that may be of more general interest, such as encyclopaedias, atlases and dictionaries.

Writers can be commissioned to compose non-fiction titles, although they are often written by interested parties at their own behest. Although mostly less lucrative than fiction publishing, some non-fiction works generate large amounts of revenue: autobiographies and biographies regularly top book charts.

Academic (schools, further education and higher education)

Academic publishers produce the text books used in schools, colleges, and by university undergraduates. Despite the huge market there are relatively few, usually very large customers who may buy many thousands of books, such as local education authorities. Also, because school curriculums have been increasingly standardised, it is common to find that relatively few titles are used by many thousands of pupils.


Vanity publishing is where the author pays for the cost of book production, as opposed to conventional publishing, where it is the publisher that pays the author for the content. The term is sometimes therefore seen as derogatory, the assumption being that if a publisher is not willing to pay for the work it is somehow sub-standard.

Although not always the case; it is true that this type of publishing is common where the book is unlikely to sell many copies and therefore recoup the costs of publication. This may be the case if the publication is in a niche area such as poetry.


Customer publishers typically take on work from other companies. The main role of these publications is to promote the company or organisation that is paying for them – examples of these sorts of publication would include in-flight guides, supermarket magazines found at checkouts, or catalogues that businesses distribute advertising products.


Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) publications are targeted at professionals working in these fields. Works in this area often consisted individual books dealing with certain topics, although it is common to find book series published in rapidly evolving fields. The specialist nature of this market meant that traditionally, books were produced in small runs, and as a result of the high fixed costs per unit, these books were expensive. New printing techniques are bringing changes however, and publishers often print individual copies on demand.