What does a publisher do? Source, procure, and commission (I)

What does a publisher do? is a series of posts designed to answer that question, interpreted not in the sense of “What functions does a publisher seek to fulfil?” but rather “What operations does a publisher (well, this publisher at any rate) perform?” This is the sixteenth post in the series.

The second post (‘What does a publisher do? Manage stakeholders’) in this series set out a framework for subsequent posts – a framework based on the types of stakeholders a publisher needs to work with. Today’s post outlines our interactions with our suppliers. So:

Owners, investors Workforce State
Clients, customers

The treatment in this post is extensive rather than intensive. That is, it displays the range of suppliers we use, rather than saying much about any of them. 

Our suppliers may be divided into two broad categories as follows:


  • authors; volume editors; contributors
  • peer reviewers; copy-editors; designers; typesetters; indexers
  • e-book converters and printers
  • distributors; wholesalers; library suppliers
  • bibliographic services
  • rights and sales representatives

General business

  • office suppliers
  • professional services (banking; accountancy; insurance)
  • IT and telecoms services (hardware; software; maintenance; broadband; telephony)
  • utility (electricity and water) companies; postal and courier services; and transport services
  • hotels, cafes, and restaurants.

This listing has one (I think only one) point of interest, which is that it shows how even a micro-publisher helps oils the wheels of the economic machine. Dozens of companies – by my reckoning closer to a hundred than to fifty – receive regular payments from us.

Let me add a note about the way we manage our sourcing, procurement, and commissioning. Increasingly, our working week is divided up by stakeholder type. That is, one day may be allocated to clients and customers (that is, dealing with marketing, sales, and distribution), while another day may be allocated to suppliers. 

The day dedicated to the managing suppliers may cover anything from reading a book proposal, sending out a contributor contract, ordering ink cartridges, or reserving a hotel room.

Note that these activities cut across the publishing-specific/general divide. This is not the way publishers traditionally organise themselves. My thinking is that there is something like a ‘procurement mindset’ and that it makes sense to do all such activities while, as it were, one has that hat on.

Moreover, division of labour on this basis helps to ensure that stakeholder management becomes a matter of practice rather than theory. 

I have no firm evidence to support that philosophy (or, for that matter, to contradict it). It’s based, for better or worse, on intuition. I’d be interested to know if there is anyone else out there who approaches these matters in at all the same way. 


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