The publishing industry is an ever-changing sector. If you are new to the publishing industry there is a lot to learn.

We have put together this guide to help you understand the difference between the various publishing industries included in the publishing sector. Keep reading to find out more.

Who Are The ‘Big 5’ Publishers?  

The ‘Big 5’ are the 5 largest publishing companies in the United States – HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, and Hachette.

There are other publishing companies that are also very reputable and operate a large business, but aren’t classified in the Big 5. 

After the Big 5, you have the mid-level book publishers. These companies are the top of their field, but they tend to specialize in certain types of publishing or focus on certain content which means they are not as large as some of the other companies.

Finally, you have the independent book publishers which are smaller businesses. There are still lots of fantastic publishers in this category. 

What Are The Three Main Types Of Publishers? 

There are lots of different categories of publishers, but the four main types are Academic, Consumer, Educational, and Professional. 

Academic Publishing

The aim of academic publishers is to produce and distribute academic research through various forms. This includes non-fiction books, academic journals, textbooks, magazines and online resources.

Academic publishers will work closely with scholars, researchers, and various other figures to find the most relevant and reliable content. 

Academic publishing is considered to be the sector that pushed the development of digital publishing, due to the demand for academic resources to be more widely available.

A lot of journals are available online, and universities sign up for subscriptions to give their students access to the study and reading material.  

Consumer Publishing 

Consumer publishing, also called Trade publishing, caters to a much wider audience than academic publishing. They find and publish content that is relevant to the general population in the form of fiction and non-fiction.

This includes novels, poetry, plays, biographies, recipe books and many more. General interest history books, science books, etc that are not academic works will fall under this category.

Consumer publishing makes up the majority of the published works you will find in general bookstores and on bestseller lists. 

Bargain Book Publishers 

Included in the consumer publishing category are the so-called ‘Bargain’ book publishers. These publishing companies look for quantity of sales rather than the quality of the product.

They tend to produce highly illustrated non-fiction books which are cheap to make such as souvenir books, craft books etc.

The authors tend to be contracted to the publisher and will produce multiple books on various topics, without having a specific area of expertise. 

Educational Publishing 

Educational Publishing might sound similar to academic publishing, but it is very different.

Instead of publishing the results of academic research, they publish educational materials aimed at specific groups such as schools, colleges and universities.

The content is tailored for the examining board or the curricula to ensure that the students are consuming relevant information. 

This is an exciting area of publishing as it involves innovation and experimentation with different styles of learning and teaching. 

Professional Publishing 

Professional publishers produce content that is aimed at people working in certain professional fields. This could include business, law, finance etc.

Some people argue that professional publishing can be sorted into either academic or consumer publishing depending on how in-depth the content is, but others feel that it is its own category. 

What Are The Different Publishing Industries?

What Are The Two Different Types Of Publishing? 

There are two main types of publishing – traditional publishing and self-publishing. 

Traditional Publishing 

Traditional publishing involves using an established publisher to produce and distribute the content. The process differs depending on the type of publishing you require.

For example, in consumer publishing an author will submit their manuscript for submission and if it is accepted the publisher will send it to one of their editors who will make any necessary amendments.

The publisher will then produce the book and distribute it, taking a cut of the profit or paying a one off fee to the author. Some authors will have an agent who works with a network of publishers and will be able to negotiate more favorable terms. 


Self-publishing works very differently to traditional publishing. An author will write their content, possibly source their own editor, and then use their own resources to publish their work.

This could be printing books, or publishing the work online. There are many different platforms that support self-publishing online, many of them are free to use. 

Self-publishing is most prevalent in consumer publishing. A self-publishing academic work would be considered less reliable if it did not have the backing from an established academic publisher.

A college or university is unlikely to purchase a large order of self-published educational material for their students as opposed to textbooks from an established educational publisher. 

Some authors choose to self-publish to maintain creative control and to retain 100% of their profits.

However, it can be stressful having to manage every aspect of publishing yourself, and it is hard to achieve high sales without the backing of a publisher.

It is a good option for authors who know a lot about the publishing industry, or those who are not aiming for high sales figures. 

What About Hybrid Publishers? 

Hybrid publishers are a mix between traditional publishers and self-publishing companies. There is less structure than a traditional process and the vetting and editing process is less stringent.

However, they still offer some editing and support to the authors and assist with the production and distribution of the finished work, taking a cut of the profits.

Hybrid publishers range in price, and the quality of their service ranges with it! Some offer marketing strategies and have good working relationships with bookstores etc, and others will not push the sales side very hard. 

What Are Book Packagers? 

Book packaging companies, also known as book development companies, are different from traditional publishers. They have the resources to produce the books, but the not reputation that goes along with an established publishing company.

Book packagers will pitch a book idea to an established publisher. If they get the green light, they will source the content and produce the book, with varying degrees of involvement from the publishing company.

Once the books have been produced, the book packager will pass them on to the publishing company to be distributed. The book packager and the publishing company share the profits from the book, or they agree on a one-off fee. 

Publishing companies will use book packagers for books that are expensive to produce, or books that they don’t have the resources to produce at that time.

Perhaps it is a specialist photography book that requires extra high-quality printing, or they already have too many books in production to take on a new project.

They can outsource the production to the book packager and still make money from the books. The book packager benefits from higher sales by using the publishing company, as they don’t have resources and reputation to distribute the book themselves.

It’s a win-win situation. 


This guide is a helpful overview of the different publishing industries to give you a better understanding of the sector as a whole.

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