Making evaluative judgements and sometimes making money: independent publishing in the 21st century

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Independent publishing is a sector of the cultural field that is perceived to be threatened by market forces but also one in which is buoyed by critical and commercial success and a rise in the number of small presses. The article innovates by probing the oft-neglected matter of evaluative judgements as publishers, in their role as cultural intermediaries, negotiate aesthetic, ethical, commercial and temporal considerations in deciding which books to publish. Drawing on primary data from a study of independent literary publishers from six countries, I draw attention to how they justify their decisions in order to mark their distinctiveness in the field and distinguish themselves from the corporate houses. I find that field-specific aesthetic judgements assess the extent to which literary manuscripts contribute to the conversation by responding to developments in the field. In contrast, decisions made on this basis of ethical considerations mean that the publishers’ output might veer from ‘art for art’s sake’ towards more heteronomous regions of cultural production in order to contribute towards a sense of the common good. Finally, the temporal dimension of evaluative judgements distinguishes independent presses from their rivals by pointing to a distant future of literary fame that reaches far beyond the marketing schedules of the corporate houses.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2018


  • aesthetics
  • independent publishing
  • evaluative judgements
  • ethics
  • taste


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