By the Book—Publishing as an Art World: An Examination of a Cultural Industry

By the Book—Publishing as an Art World: An Examination of a Cultural Industry 

Monica Miller 

School of Communication, Simon Fraser University

CMNS 480: Communication Networks in Art

Instructor: Jan Marontate 

April 20, 2015

Becker's notion of art worlds "examines the relationships among creators, distribution networks, art works, and society" (Alexander, 2003, pg. 67). Becker also argues that every aspect of the art world is shaped by the whole system that produces them"”art is a collective activity and a process, not just a finished product. The production of culture perspective also sees how art is created, produced and distributed as part of a larger system. We can apply both these principles to the publishing industry; a book is not just a finished product, is it the result of the effort of many people, some who work directly and others who assist indirectly. The author is not a sole creator, operating in a silo. There is a whole process of production, beyond just conceiving the idea and putting words on paper. "Cultural objects are filtered through"”and affected"”by the people and systems that create and distribute them", states Alexander (2003, pg. 68), referring to the cultural diamond, which depicts the interrelated stages of creation, production, and distribution of art. Using the concept of art worlds and the particular constraints put upon them as well as the notion of the production of culture, we will examine ways in which the traditional book publishing industry conforms to these theories, and the concerns related to this compliance. 

In traditional trade publishing, as well as self-publishing, there is a network of individuals and systems in place. The production of culture approach also speaks of art as a collective activity, but refers to it as "˜occupational careers', or a career system within a particular cultural field. An aesthetic system is as part of this sustained collective activity and "requires that someone create and maintain the rationale according to which the art is seen to make sense and to be valuable" (Alexander, 2003, pg. 69). In publishing, this is the traditional publisher: sometimes seen as the gatekeeper, but also as a curator. They seek authors that fit into the existing system"”either saleable work, or the genre mandate of the publishing house. These are what Becker calls "working within a system of constraints" (pg. 69) and possibilities. Becker describes the constraints and possibilities of art work as activities that "are needed for the art to be created that are not done by core personnel called "artists" must be done by someone else" (Alexander, 2003, pg. 71). The production of culture perspective would see this as part of the organizational structure, one of the six facets of the production of culture perspective (the other facets are technology, law and regulation, industry structure, career, and market). Multi-national firms like Penguin Random House or HarperCollins, embody the bureaucratic form with clear-cut division of labour and deeply hierarchical authority system (Peterson & Anand, 2004, pg. 316). Although the author is frequently the sole recipient of the credit, there are many interconnected occupations and interdependent tasks associated with publishing. The author may work alongside an editor, designer, and publicist, influencing and shaping the manuscript and its publication. But aside from these personnel directly connected to the author, there are dozens of other core personnel, such as the sales representative who pitches to the booksellers, the human resources officer, the bookkeeper who manages paycheques and author royalties, the warehouse manager who facilitates shipments and processes returns"”just to name a few. All of these roles in book publishing and distribution are types of filters; Alexander (2003) describes using Hirsche's notion of how the system filters objects (pg. 76). The literary agents and acquisitions publishers become gatekeepers who decide what manuscripts to accept. "A gatekeeper filters products (or people) as they enter or leave a system" (Alexander, 2003, pg. 76). The publisher becomes a "biased filters" through which they must "reject weak and eccentric manuscripts" and choose "manuscripts that match their tastes and ideas of what a strong seller will be" (Alexander, 2003, pg. 76). The bookseller, literary critics, and book reviewers are also types of filters"”which Hirsche calls "surrogate consumers" (cited by Alexander, 2003, pg. 76). The theory of the gatekeeper fits into notions of the production of culture in the late 1970s, which influenced Becker writing about art worlds in 1982 (Alexander, 2003). Peterson has since further developed and honed these theories, which are relevant to our understanding of publishing as an art world and the system in which it operates. 

The production of culture perspective focuses on how cultural objects are shaped by the systems and networks within which they are "creative, distributed, evaluated, taught, and preserved" (Peterson & Anand, 2004, pg. 311). Arts policy, as law and regulation, deeply affects many forms of cultural commerce both nationally and provincially. Policy is also a form of constraint, or a type of affordance (depending on the regulation). The establishment of the Canada Council in 1957 marked the start of a new ideological project, especially for Canadian publishing and literature. In 1951, the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences produced what is known as the Massey Report. The report, completed by Massey, three other men, and one woman, rationalized that by nature of its geography, Canada required public investment in distribution technologies in order to create the unified nation desired in the 1950s. It was the beginning of an "era of modernist cultural policies designed for national development and intended to define and defend the relation between culture and the state" (Beale & Van Den Bosch, 1998, pg. 7). In discussing Canada's history, Beale & Van Den Bosch (1998) note that "national self-definition has been a key mandate for cultural policy" (pg. 3) as the proximity to the United States resulted in increased efforts to protect Canada's cultural industries. Cultural protectionism, "market failure" arguments for state intervention, and the intended "civilization" of Canadians were the lofty goals of the Canada Council. While the Massey Report was unequivocally significant, each piece of law and legislation can affect the cultural industry and landscape both directly and indirectly. "Cultural policy encompasses aspects of citizenship and human rights (related to language, class, race, ethnicity, and gender), the public funding of cultural institutions, national parks and heritage sites, the training of artists, subsidy of the cultural industries, and state funding and the regulation of broadcasting and telecommunications" (Beale, 1999, pg. 435). We can see this reflected by how Statistics Canada classifies culture, like tourism, as "not an explicitly recognized industry in the traditional list of North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industries" ("Economic Contribution of the Culture Sector to Canada's Provinces", 2007). Culture and tourism bleed across several industries including recreation, transportation, restaurant, and hotels. As such, unfortunately, fully comprehensive studies encompassing the breadth and width of the cultural industry are unavailable from Statistics Canada. 

The state involvement is deeply embedded through government funding with arts and culture grants, as well as various laws and acts. Beale (1999) states Canadian cultural policy is directly related to the state "establishing cultural norms and creating institutions through which ideas about culture are negotiated and cultural expression realized" (pg. 435). It is also important to note that policy-making exists in a very conventional format, which more easily maintains the existing cultural hegemony. Policy relating culture is enacted through many different types of documents indirectly, such as the Official Languages Act regarding Canada's bilingualism or the Multiculturalism Act. Young (2001) details the Multiculturalism Program, which upon the Multiculturalism Act's mandate, provided grants to publishers for "writers who use the non-official languages "¦ as well as those writers who use the official languages but who have a specific cultural experience to convey". Other policies are more direct, such as the Copyright Modernization Act or policy regarding publishing subsidies and arts funding. The expansion of fair dealing in the Copyright Modernization Act now includes education, which directly affects educational publishers as fewer Universities opt in to Access Copyright, a rights distributor. The divided jurisdiction between provincial and federal bodies for the regulation of policy is also important in understanding how arts and culture funding and subsidies are distributed, and most of the policies we discuss are federal. 

In the 1970s, a group of Canadian-owned publishers formed the Independent Publishers' Association (IPA) to lobby the government for industry policy and protection following the sale of a Canadian publisher to an American-owned firm. In 1972, the Canada Council began offering federal support for publishers through a direct funding program as well as support for export initiatives (Association of Canadian Publishers, n.d.). Over the years, funding has developed into the current programs which include the Canada Council for the Arts, The Canada Book Fund (previously known as the Book Publishing Industry Development Program), The National Translation Program for Book Publishing, the Copyright Act (now the Copyright Modernization Act), and the Public Lending Right ("Investing in the Future of Canadian Books" 2010). Among the three levels of government"”municipal, provincial, and federal"”each has a different share of public spending allotted for the cultural industries. Certain discrepancies and significant differences exist regionally regarding resources, audiences, and cultural producer. Although there are established funds and avenues for obtaining economic support from the government, the criteria can unintentionally limit those eligible. According to the Survey of Book Publishers, as cited in "Investing in the Future of Canadian Books" (Canadian Heritage, 2010), "the Canadian book industry produces almost 10,000 new Canadian-authored books" [2004], and "generates over $2 billion in revenues each year" [2006]. In 2006, "Canadian-owned publishers account for 56% of the publishing sector's revenues, employ two-thirds of its workers, and publish over three-quarters of new Canadian-authored books." However, in order to receive Publisher Support funding from the Canada Book Fund, applicants must be a book-publishing firm in operation for at least 36 months, financially viable, as well as at least 75% Canadian-owned and Canadian-controlled, to name a few criterion (Canada Book Fund, 2013). For an author to receive a Professional Writing grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, they must meet the Canada Council's definition of a professional artist. Even the Emerging Writer category includes hurdles: "Grants for emerging writers are intended for writers who have published one literary book with a professional publishing house or the minimum of past literary publications required" (Canada Council for the Arts, n.d.). It should be noted that the Canada Council for the Arts has a much wider range of grants available and includes storytelling, literary performances, author residencies, translation grants, travel grants, and even specific grants for Aboriginal Peoples. 

Although some criteria are necessary in order to evaluate applications and demonstrate a commitment to artistic creation, these requirements do not operate in a silo. The time required to research and complete grants is valuable in an over-worked and under-paid cultural sector, as well as how the state defines what is worthy of funding in Canadian literature. These "established cultural norms and institutions are a type of convention"”a constraint identified by Becker as the standards, rules, and formal characteristics that are associated with a particular art world (Alexander, 2003). Peterson & Anand (2004) cite work using the production of culture perspective to show "how organizational routines [of the newsroom] determine what would be defined as "˜news'" (pg. 312). Book publishing is also heavily reliant on conventions and existing organizational routines: from the top-down organizational structure of the industry and genre categorization, to existing sales and marketing tactics. Even newer forms of publishing still rely on traditional publishing conventions, from spelling and grammar, to layout, printing and binding. In fact, the belief in the power of the written word can be considered a convention too. As well, "artists who choose personnel in established ways find their work more easy to complete" (Alexander, 2003, pg. 72); Authors who write in traditional styles, use familiar tropes, and fit into standard genres will find quicker success. Literary agents will be more familiar with the marketability, acquisitions editors will more easily identify the author's place in their publishing lists, marketing departments and publicists will know how to position the title for maximum exposure, and booksellers will know who to recommend the title to. The downside is that authors that challenge these traditional genres, or do not strictly fit in one box, may be overlooked or overshadowed. In this respect, editors and publishers also serve as gatekeepers, as do a whole network of marketing people such as publicists and book reviewers. These individuals are shaped by both internal politics and external networks that influence decisions by unobtrusive controls. Peterson & Anand (2004) see these facets of industry structure and the organization structure to be two parts in an extensive field of the production of culture. 

Another facet identified by Peterson & Anand (2004) and also by Becker (Alexander, 2003) is the market. Oft overlooked, the constraint of market structures in the production of culture has deeply affected the publishing industry. Artworks, especially physical works such as books, are cultural products and thus subject to the traditional rules and structures of the market. One of the dominant approaches identified by Acord & DeNora (2008) is art as a commodity; consumption of commodities has become second nature in the developed world. According to a report from The Conference Board of Canada (August 2008), "the economic footprint of Canada's culture sector was valued at $84.6 billion in 2007, constituting 7.4 per cent [sic] of Canada's real gross domestic product." The estimate took into account "substantial direct, indirect, and induced contributions of the culture sector." However, Gollmitzer and Murray (2009) believe that the creative economy sector is largely invisible as "[a]rtists and cultural-creative workers manager complex work flows, interruptions, part-time contracts, transitions, and unpaid work" with little income security or stable employment benefits (pg. 3). These can even be core personnel roles such as sales reps and services like distribution that may be in-house at a large publisher but contracted out by smaller publishers. A major market factor is the increasing concentration of both Canadian and global publishing, as more multi-national firms grow and consolidate. We can point to the recent merger of Penguin Books and Random House as a prime example, which required the sign off from several countries to ensure the merge wouldn't violate anti-trust or competition laws. These market forces relate back to issues around policy and law, demonstrating how interconnected cultural production can be. 

However, unlike Becker, Bourdieu did not believe it was so clear to pinpoint the particular systems of cultural production. Bourdieu subscribed to a belief in the "charismatic ideology of creation" which "prevents us from asking who has created this "creator" and the magic power of transubstantiation with which the "creator" is endowed'" (cited by Hesmondhalgh, 2006, pg. 212). As Hesmondhalgh explains, for Bourdieu this does not mean looking at the wider network of individuals involved in the production of culture. Thus, Bourdieu used his own theoretical terminology of habitus, capital and field to explain cultural creation. Bourdieu also notes that cultural capital can be acquired unconsciously through our class position in the social hierarchy; unequal distribution of capital affects the functioning of capital equally: those who already possess social capital can more easily obtain more social capital, thus perpetuating the systemic disproportion. Still, Bourdieu classified books as objectified cultural goods"”art as a commodity"”and one of the three forms that cultural capital can exist in. 

Although the system through which art is created, produced and distributed is only one part of the puzzle, putting the relationship between creators, products, and society under scrutiny can be valuable to understanding how they are shaped. We realize that such sustained collective activity is part of the larger system and there are many factors to consider when looking at an art world, which are incredible interrelated. When considering the diversity of voices in literature, one can point the finger at the publishers, or the editors, but they are not the sole culprits. A whole interconnected system works to maintain"”and sometimes change"”the existing conventions and structures of cultural production. The facets of the art worlds' theory and the production of culture approach can help to analyze the related components of an art world as complex and mature as book publishing. 


Acord S.K. & DeNora, T. (2008). Culture and the Arts: From Art Worlds to Arts-in-Action. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 619 (1), pg. 223"“237. DOI: 10.1177/0002716208318634 

This paper looks at the subfield of arts sociology that focuses on arts-in-action, which evolved from the concept of consumption of the arts. Moving from the explicit culture of consumption, Acord & DeNora look at the aesthetic and cognition-based engagement of implicit culture. Beginning with a brief review of literature, the authors look at several trends in sociology of the arts, as cultural products move into a more active role in consumers' lives. The paper draws on DeNora's previous work with affordances; how cultural objects allow particular uses as opposed to directly producing particular actions. The authors use several examples and previous studies to illustrate arts-in-action, most of which date from the late 1990s onward. 

Alexander, V. (2003) Chapter 5: Art Worlds. In V. Alexander, Sociology of the Arts: Exploring Fine and Popular Forms (pg. 67-82). Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell. 

In this chapter, Alexander gives a summary of Howard Becker's descriptions of art worlds and the earlier notion of the production of culture approach. The chapter ties in Becker's theory of art as collective activity and provides an overview of the division of labour in art worlds, constraints and possibilities, conventions, and distribution. Becker was influenced by an earlier theory of the production of culture approach in the 1970s by notable theories such as Peterson, Hirsch, Crane, and later DiMaggio. This includes the ideas of gatekeepers, reward and classification systems, market structures, and careers. The chapter also briefly addresses the issue of digital technology and its affect on these facets of art worlds. Alexander then uses the cultural diamond approach to criticize the production of culture theory, but emphasize how it is useful when posing a particular set of questions. 

Association of Canadian Publishers (n.d.). About"“History. Retrieved from 

The Association of Canadian Publishers' website includes a detailed timeline of the ACP's history, as well as an introduction to how it was formed. Established in 1976, the ACP was preceeded by the Independent Publishers' Association (IPA), in response to a publisher takeover and decline of Canadian-owned publishers. Several independent publishers banded together to lobby the government, and the ACP was born. This webpage includes a timeline of the association's accomplishments, as well as hurdles. 

Beale, A., and Van Den Bosch, A. (1998). Introduction. In A. Beale & A. Van Den Bosch (eds.), Ghosts in the Machine: Women and Cultural Policy in Canada and Australia. Toronto, ON: Garamond Press. 

The introduction provides the overview for this book, a feminist analysis of cultural policy in Australia and Canada. Drawing on the similarities of these two countries, with post-colonial histories, moves toward deregulation and privatization in cultural industries, and the constant relationship gender plays in policy. The importance of policy in cultural sectors is often diminished. Cultural policy also operates in a highly masculine and traditional institutional environment. This book addresses issues of representation in cultural policy-making decisions and the place of gender within the policy itself. 

Beale, Alison (1999). From "˜Sophie's choice' to consumer choice: framing gender in cultural policy. Media Culture Society, 21(4): 435-458. 

Beale gives an overview of cultural policy in Canada, specifically policy that relates to the cultural industries. Beale then details how existing cultural/communications policy currently obscures gender politics. Policy-making is determined through specific historical processes, processes that are already gendered, and therefore maintain dominant frameworks of society. These processes are largely invisible, but the effects of the policy"”on women, minorities, and the poor"”can be seen through statistical analysis. 

Canada Council for the Arts (n.d.). Canada Council Grants. Retrieved from 

This website details the grant program for professional writers and creative writing. They include definitions, eligibility requirements, program descriptions, and application deadlines. 

Canadian Heritage (July 2010). Investing in the Future of Canadian Books: Review of the Revised Foreign Investment Policy in Book Publishing and Distribution. Discussion Paper. Retrieved from 

A discussion paper prepared by Canadian Heritage to examine how the Revised Foreign Investment Policy in Book Publishing and Distribution (1992), initially introduced in 1985, remains effective to a changing world and supportive of Canadian books. The review of the policy was brought about in 2007 by the Competition Policy Review Panel following a year of research and review in which they mandated the need to review cultural industry policies every five years. The first step of the review is to seek input from Canadians. This paper frames the discussion and consolidates industry information for stakeholders. 

Canadian Heritage (21 November 2013). Canada Book Fund 2014-2015 - Application Guide - Support for Publishers. Canada Book Fund. Retrieved from 

This website details the Canada Book Fund grant program for publishers. The application guide includes objectives and definitions of the program, eligibility requirements, application information, and relevant deadlines relating to support requests and approvals. 

The Conference Board of Canada (August 2008). Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada's Creative Economy. The Conference Board of Canada, Report. 

This was a report prepared by The Conference Board of Canada, in association with Canada Heritage, for the International Forum on the Creative Economy. Intended as an overview for Forum participants, the report collates data, studies, and literature to demonstrate the value of culture as a vital part of the creative economy. The report includes definitions and frameworks, social and economic statistics, trends, and analyzes the interconnected aspects of the cultural industries. 

Gollmitzer, M., and Murray, C. (May 2009). Work Flows and Flexicurity: Canadian Cultural Labour in the Era of the Creative Economy. Canadian Conference of the Arts. 

This is a follow-up report prepared for the Canadian Conference of the Arts examining cultural labour in Canada. Gollmitzer & Murray presented the initial report, From economy to ecology: A policy framework for creative labour, in September 2008. The 2008 report explored a new approach to policy-making for the cultural industries using a term called "creative economy", which they defined and critiqued, connecting to to current staistics. They found that the cultural sector was often vagely defined and frequently underestimated. This 2009 report not only builds on the 2008 report, but extends the examination of policy measures to worldwide examples, and looks at both the categories that are shaping research and the limitations of them. They have found, again, a sector that is largely uncoordinated due to the vast array of activities or separated from the larger framework of policy measures. 

Hesmondhalgh, D. (2006). Bourdieu, the media and cultural production. Media, Culture & Society, 28 (2), pg. 211"“231. DOI: 10.1177/0163443706061682 

This paper introduces Bourdieu and his theory of cultural production, particularly his own terms of habitus, capital and field. Capital are different types of resources, such as symbolic, economic, cultural. Fields are particular social spaces that are interconnected yet autonomous, such as political fields, cultural field, and economic field. Hesmondhalgh uses several examples to explain the division of sub-fields, measurement of capital, consumption, and how this relates to power in society. Although fairly abstract, Bourdieu's theories are very applicable, and Hesmondhalgh criticizes other approaches (such as the production of culture) as being unaware of the connectedness of the facets. Hesmondhalgh also critiques Bourdieu's literary output, specifically related to individual case studies. 

Peterson, R.A. & Anand, N. (2004). The Production of Culture Perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, pg. 311-334. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.30.012703.110557 

This article provides a detailed introduction to the production of culture perspective, from the late 1970s onward. The six facets of production"”technology, law and regulation, industry structure, organization structure, occupational careers, and market"”are detailed and a range of studies are used to demonstrate how these facets can be applied to various art worlds. Technology refers to the tools of communication; law and regulation encompasses policies both national and global, as well as deregulations; industry structure is used for looking at industrial fields and the way art sectors are institutionalized; organizational structure is the types of organization within the industry, such as entrepreneurial or bureaucratic; occupational careers refers to the career system of each cultural field and the network of relationships within; and markets, which access the consumers. The article then looks at several case studies to apply and extend the perspective. 

Statistics Canada, Culture Statistics Program (March 2007). Economic Contribution of the Culture Sector to Canada's Provinces. Research Paper, 81-595-MIE "” No. 037. Retrieved from 

This research paper from the Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics Division of Statistics Canada was sponsored by the Department of Canadian Heritage. It examines the cultural sector of the Canadian economy for each province from 1996"“2003, and analyzes the economic contribution and employment. The report includes expenditure, growth, employment and output of the cultural sector in comparison to the national total. The intent was to provide a measure of the provincial economies, comparatively, and in combination. 

Young, Judy (2001). No Longer "Apart"? Multiculturalism Policy and Canadian Literature. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 33(2), 88-116. 

Young analyses existing literature that criticized Canada's Multiculturalism Policy for creating a marginalization of artists and producing unequal art worlds"”the Eurocentric "approved' high art, and the ethnic minority "˜folk' art. Young feels that although this may have been true at one time, in the past thirty years, our literary institutions now increasingly reflect the diversity of Canada's peoples. Young examines how the Multiculturalism Policy and it's activities have supported a more inclusive Canadian literary art world. Through use of examples and correcting anecdotal misinformation about Multiculturalism programs, Young demonstrates how the Multiculturalism policy and supported activities have affected the Canadian literary establishment and canons. 



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