Text & Context: Publishing in Contemporary Culture

Syllabus for Fall 2018
Mondays 9:30am–12:30pm, rm 2290
John Maxwell,



First principles

This course is an examination of the significance, contemporary state and developing trends in publishing, mostly from a Canadian perspective, across book, periodical, online, and scholarly forms.

As a seminar, PUB800 operates as a community of inquiry in which, through reading, writing, and discussing, we will together build a collective understanding of publishing and its key issues. We will work largely in public: all written and presented work will reside on this website, which will grow to be the archive of our efforts. We will write, comment, and publish, and thereby actively shape our writing and reading contexts.

The recommended texts for this class are:

Lorimer, Rowland. 2012. Ultra Libris: Policy, Technology, and the Creative Economy of Book Publishing in Canada. Toronto: ECW Press.

Younging, Greg, 2017. Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and about Indigenous Peoples. Edmonton: Brush Education.

Vermeer, Leslie, 2016. The Complete Canadian Book Editor. Edmonton: Brush Education.

A comprehensive reading list for the course can be found in our Zotero Bibliography (above, and at

As well, the “Pinboard Links” above, (collected at collect interesting readings week to week as we move through the term.

You should also be following the following (as it were), as we will make reference to these over the course of the term:


PUB800 is a graduate seminar. We read, we write, and we discuss. Collectively, we come to new understandings about issues and perspectives.

A good part of the approach in this course is about story and storytelling: we encounter established narratives and explanations of things, and critically engage to see whether we can can come up with better or alternative readings and tellings. We will annotate and gloss weekly readings using the sytem.

While our approach will be mostly informal, this is a graduate course, so scholarly methods and standards are important; evidence needs to be presented and properly cited, and we are accountable to different perspectives on a given issue.

Each student will be responsible for a critial presentation and interrogation of a particular topic; we will negotiate the details and scheduling of these in the first two weeks of the term.

You will also write four short essays (1000–1500 words) on topics to be negotiated. Essays will be posted on the course website (which is publicly accessible), and peer-reviewed by your colleagues.

Short Essay #1 Due Oct 1 – 15%
Short Essay #2 Due Oct 22 – 15%
Short Essay #3 Due Nov 13 – 15%
Short Essay #4 Due Dec 3 – 15%
Seminar presentation: – 20%
Peer review participation – 10%
Class (and online) participation –  10%

Class One: Introductions

Introductions; the role of print in society; the role of literature in society; the role of MPubbers in publishing; and Zotero; the calling of the roll.

– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own;
– Homer: Iliad & Odyssey;

Class Two: What do we mean when we say ‘publishing’?

Publishing, publication, and publics; considering books & periodicals; capital & industrial economies. Seminar by Jaiden & Moorea.

– Stadler: What Is Publication?;
– Warner, “Publics and Counterpublics”;
– Brown & Duguid, “The Social Life of Documents”;
– Bhaskar, The Content Machine.

Class Three: The Book Trade

How a book becomes a book; structure of the book trade; corporate consolidation; risk management; the “Long Tail;” Cultural and other kinds of capital. Seminar by Sophie.

– Lorimer, Ultra Libris, Introduction & Chapter 1;
– Anderson, “The Long Tail”;
– Nash, “What Is the Business of Literature?”;
– Squires, Marketing Literature;
– Barthes, “From Work to Text”;
– Schiffrin, Words & Money.

Class Four: Modernity and Colonial Dynamics

Publishing as part of European modernity; educational and colonial projects; Canada’s colonial heritage and national aspirations; colonization, decolonization, Indigenization; the diversity problem. Seminar by Avvai.

– Lorimer, Chapter 2,3?;
– Younging, The Elements of Indigenous Style;
– Akiwenzie-Damm, “We Think Differently;
– Reder & Sheild,”I Write this for All of You“;
– Menon,”Dismantling the Master’s House“;
– Akbar,”Diversity in publishing – still hideously middle-class and white?“;
– Baker,”First Diversity Baseline Survey Illustrates How Much Publishing Lacks Diversity”

Thanksgiving, Oct 8

Class Five: Structure of the Canadian Industry Today

Canadian & foreign-controlled firms; subsidies and regulatory structures; the centrality of Indigo; Booknet Canada’s role; some international stats. Seminar by Charlotte & Yang.

– Lorimer (chapter 4, 5);
– Smith, “Soup Cans and Love Slaves”;
– Wischenbart, “The Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2015”;
– Akiwenzie-Damm, “We Think Differently;
– BNC Research,”The Canadian Book Market 2016“;
– Theriault, “First, Do No Harm;”
– Bold, “An Accidental Profession”;
– Mason, “‘Capital Intraconversion’ and Canadian Literary Prize Culture”

Class Six: Transformation of Retail

Big-box stores in the 90s; the rise of Amazon; Internet retail levels up; the Kindle and the ebook; “data is the new oil.” Seminar by Lora & Jaz.

– Clark and Young, “Amazon”;
– Maxwell, “Amazon and the Engagement Economy”;
– Rowberry, “Ebookness.”

Origins and theorietical underpinnings of copyright; evolution of laws; Internet as a huge problem for copyright; WIPO and international copyright; Fair Dealing disputes. Seminar by Amber & Alex.

– Hesse, “The Rise of Intellectual Property”;
– Boyle, The Public Domain;
– Somers, “Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria”;
– ACP, “Statutory Review of the Copyright Act”

Class Eight: Waves of disruption in Scholarly Publishing

Journals and monographs; the Serials Pricing Crisis; Open Access movement; “Big deals” and corporate consolidation; beyond Open Access? Seminar by Patricia.

– Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence;
– Larivière et al. “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era”;
– Maron, “The Costs of Publishing Monographs”;
– Schonfeld, “Reflections on ‘Elsevier Acquires Bepress.’”;
– Neylon, “PolEcon of OA Publishing I: What is it publishers do anyway?”;
– Hinchliffe, “Advancing an Integrated Vertical Stack of Publication Services?”;
– Willinsky, Chapter 7 in The Intellectual Properties of Learning

Remembrance Day, Nov 12

Class Nine: The new Indies: Disruption or Distraction?

The ebook and the rise of self-publishing; Amazon’s role; Authorearnings and the ‘dark side’ of the market; the problems of abundance. Seminar by Melody & Shasha.

– Shatzkin, “A Changing Book Business”;
– Wischenbart, “Global Ebook 2017 Report”;;
– Anderson, “What Canada’s Shelfie Data Suggests About Ebook Subscriptions”;
– Jeong, “How a cabal of romance writers cashed in on Amazon Kindle Unlimited”
– Bridle, “Starbooks and the Death of the Work”;
– Harkonen, “Who is the Average Ebook Reader?”

Class Ten: Periodical publishing today

Traditional models for magazines and periodicals; decline of advertising revenues; audience dynamics and strategies. Seminar by Steph & Echo.

– Madrigal, “A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor”;
– Fischer, “Axios Media Trends”;
– Narang, “Notes From The Underground”;
– Hardes, “The Events Model”;
– Hilderman, “Life after Print”;
– Lazauskas, “The New Model: How Net-a-Porter Keeps the Fashion Industry on Its Heels;”
– Willens, “How Siobhan O’Connor is trying to grow Medium’s subscription business”

Last Class: Tidying up

What’s left, what’s emergent, looking back, looking forward.