City Spotlight: Publishing in Chicago
Disparate. Collegial. Decentralized. Collaborative.
If Chicago publishing professionals agree on one thing about the city's publishing scene, it's that it is not easy to characterize. About to celebrate 175 years as a major publishing hub (Chicago's first publisher, Robert Fergus, set up shop in 1839), today the city is ranked second in the printing and publishing industry, behind New York.
Some of the area's earliest publishers still survive, among them Rand McNally (est. 1856). Many houses are long gone, for example Reilly and Britton, which published L. Frank Baum's beloved Oz books. Some, like Scott, Foresman & Co. have been absorbed by other publishers. In fact, if Chicago publishing professionals lament one change that has taken place over the past decade or so, it is consolidation, to which a number of local publishers have fallen victim.
Doug Seibold, president of Agate Publishing, one of Chicagoland's top independent publishers, notes that, despite its prodigious output and many houses,"Chicago's trade publishing scene is surprisingly small for a city of this size and cultural prominence. Compared to smaller cities like Boston or San Francisco, which have diverse and well-established publishing communities of long standing, Chicago's publishing industry is disproportionately modest."
Substance over Style
"Chicago was never about glamorous trade publishing," says Ela Aktay, executive editor at National Geographic Learning/Cengage Learning in Evanston, just north of Chicago. "We're just about that steady, bread-and-butter kind of publishing."
Publishers abound in and around the Windy City: academic, association, education, evangelical, independent, medical, specialty and university presses. Today, Chicago is home to more than 125 book publishers.
Despite these numbers, though, Chicago is often underappreciated for its publishing prowess. In an effort to promote the local publishing industry, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs in 2010 launched a pair of online entities—ChicagoPublishes.com and ChicagoArtistsResource.org/literary—but the former effort was put on hiatus in 2012. Other organizations, such as Chicago Literary Alliance, Chicago Women in Publishing and Midwest Publishing Association (formerly Chicago Book Clinic), also work to promote the city's publishing industry in various ways with varying degrees of success.