A theory of book publishing in five acts: the prologue

When I set up the ‘Towards a theory of publishing‘ page above, I wrote that I was doing so as a substitute for the more extended, rounded, treatment that I could see no immediate prospect of writing. I’m now going to make an attempt at such a treatment, as a result of two catalysts:

  1. reflecting on Michael Bhaskar’s theory outlined in The Content Machine, reviewed here on 12 November and 19 November last year;
  2. discovering, when scrolling through my draft posts for this blog, that some years ago, working for a couple of evenings in a cafe in Newcastle upon Tyne, I had in fact made a start on the task.

I had forgotten.

I plan to publish the theory in the form of a sequence of five weekly posts, each published on a Thursday — beginning on 14 January.

Three qualifications before the posts begin:

  1. the theory should properly be called a ‘pragmatic theory’. There are two reasons for this. First, whereas Bhaskar was concerned to develop a theory that suited all historical situations, I’m really concerned only with the present and foreseeable future;
  2. I’m more concerned than Bhaskar to derive implications for practice. Though I don’t think a theory must necessarily yield such implications — there’s nothing wrong with pure theory — temperamentally I prefer theories that can in some ways function as tools
  3. though the theory I’ll be posting does provide a more extended and rounded treatment than the ‘Towards a theory page’, it will remain far from comprehensive.

Overall, a more accurate title for the series of posts would be ‘A sketch for a pragmatic theory of book publishing’. But that sounds too cumbersome to use.


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