Publishers and Distributors
|This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.|
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Publishers
- 3 How to Purchase Printed Sources
Any discussion of printed sources must include information about those to whom we are indebted for these sources. Without publishers and distributors there would be no such sources, and genealogical research would be much more difficult. In addition to providing the sources, publishers and distributors are a solution to the question discussed above: Where can that book be found?
According to the 1996-97 edition of Publishers, Distributors, and Wholesalers of the United States, approximately eighty-six thousand companies are actively involved in publishing and distributing books in the United States. The number of them that are heavily involved in genealogical publishing is hard to determine, for the publisher of the above directory (Bowker) does not provide such specifics. However, a sister publication, the 1997 edition of Literary Market Place, the bible of booksellers, lists only forty-nine publishers under "Genealogy." In January 1983, the APG Newsletter included a list of approximately 180 genealogical publishers. (It was reprinted in the first edition of The Source.) The majority of these were what the publishing industry calls small presses, and many of them were small companies that produced only a very few titles. Although many of them will not have survived through the intervening years, it is safe to assume that many more will have appeared. The best current list of publishers that have a significant focus on the genealogy market is the seventy-one companies in the third edition (1995) of Elizabeth Bentley’s The Genealogist’s Address Book. However, this list, as well as the list in appendix C, does not include most societies, libraries, and other groups whose primary focus is not in publishing.
Even some of these publishers do not rely solely on the genealogical market, which has proved to be small. Some have connections to a university or a historical society; some are community presses that are used by genealogists and others publishing on a small scale. In fact, there are only around twenty-five publishers that have any prominence in genealogical circles. Unfortunately, even many of them do not meet the standards set by publishers in other fields:
- Most genealogical publishing companies . . . appear to operate with little capital, and rather than seek subsidies to publish quality works, have decided on small press runs of hundreds of titles of indifferent quality for quick sale. Ideally, genealogists, librarians, archivists, and local historians should check such publications against the original records before purchasing or recommending such books and should demand greater reliability from the transcribers and a sound review process by the publishers (Horle 1992, 291).
Genealogical publishers tend to focus their efforts on one or two types of publications, such as reprints, family histories, reference books, and others. Knowing which publishers specialize in what kinds of books helps determine where to turn when seeking a specific book. Some of these different types of publications, and some publishers associated with them, are mentioned below.
Genealogy has grown tremendously in popularity over the last two decades. Many sources that were published a generation or two ago are still useful but were published in limited quantities and soon became unavailable. As more and more libraries have developed collections, and as the number of practicing genealogists (amateur and professional) has grown, the need for reprints of older works has become apparent. Many publishers focus on this important aspect of printed sources. Among them are the Genealogical Publishing Company, Heritage Books, The Reprint Company, Southwest Pennsylvania Genealogical Services, and University Microfilms International (UMI).
While most family histories today are kitchen table productions, some authors have sought publishers to help them put their histories into print. Usually they turn to vanity or subsidy presses (publishers that require the author to pay all of the costs and generally take care of the distribution). However, a few publishers, among them Higginson Books, Gateway Press, Family History Publishers, and Penobscot Press, have chosen to pursue the family history market.
Instructional Reference Books
The growing popularity of genealogy has also led to the increased publication of books that treat research methodology. These range from the standard how-to books to books that describe specific record types or repositories. Since 1984, Ancestry has become the leader in the field with this type of publication. Other publishers of instructional material include The Everton Publishers and Genealogical Publishing Company.
The largest category of books being published in genealogy in recent years is composed of those which are source oriented. Source books provide information from actual records, such as names, dates, and relationships. The very existence of this book, Printed Sources, attests to the growth of source books and their importance in genealogy. Indexes to sources are included in this category. Many publishers are active in publishing source books, including Closson Press, Family Line Publications, Genealogical Publishing Company, Heritage Books, Kinship, Southern Historical Press, and TLC Genealogy.
There has been increased interest in county histories since 1960. In addition, many county histories from the nineteenth century have been reprinted. Some publishers focus their efforts on such publications, although local presses get the lion’s share of such business. Among genealogical publishers, the following are active in this area: Anundsen Publishing Company, Curtis Media Corporation, Taylor Publishing Company, and Whipoorwill.
Library Reference Books
Many of the major references genealogists use are not produced specifically for genealogists; these include major directories and indexes. Many important reference books are produced for general library use by some of the United States’ most prominent reference publishers. Some of these major publishers include Gale Research Company, G. K. Hall, Libraries Unlimited, ABC Clio Information Services, Scarecrow Press, Greenwood, Oryx Press, and Scholarly Resources.
How to Purchase Printed Sources
While most researchers simply find the books they want at libraries and research centers, others want to buy certain books for permanent home use. Unfortunately, neighborhood bookstores generally carry very few genealogical books, and they cannot easily order most such books because they are not published by trade publishers (the source of most bookstore books) or are out of print. However, there are many sources to turn to before asking a local bookstore to order a book.
Most printed sources that might be of interest are no longer in print the books printed have been sold and no supplier has copies for sale. Out-of-print books are hard to find, and most books more than five to ten years old are out of print. (This is especially true of genealogical sources. An 1895 county history is certain to be out of print). Many books are reprinted at some point, including some county histories, but most family histories remain out of print. The best sources for such books are antiquarian dealers (discussed below) and micro-reprinters, such as UMI.
The first step in locating any genealogical book is to find a genealogical book dealer or distributor sometimes known as a vendor. The number of genealogical vendors is even more difficult to determine than the number of publishers. Many are very small and are not reported in the book trade literature. The forty-first edition of American Book Trade Directory (New York: Bowker, 199596) lists only ten genealogy dealers. This situation seems due to the fact that most genealogical distributors handle genealogy only as a side item and thus are listed under other topics. Of course, every publisher is a dealer, but many carry only their own books. However, there are thousands of persons and societies that deal with genealogical books. The 1985 edition of Genealogical and Local History Books in Print listed more than 3,600 vendors, most of which were self-publishers.
In fact, Genealogical and Local History Books in Print is the source to consult first. It attempts to list all books and microforms available for purchase that pertain to genealogy (except National Archives publications). However, because vendors must pay to list their book(s), some choose not to be included. The fourth edition, issued in 1985, lists more than thirty thousand genealogical sources for sale. This book lists items by topic, locality, and surname and gives a complete description of the book and its price. Each vendor is assigned a number, and each book description includes the vendor number. A list of vendors (ordered only by number, not by name or state) is in the front of the book. It is not possible to look up a specific vendor unless a book it sells is known; the vendor number can then be obtained from the book listing. Supplements issued in 1990 and 1992 each list approximately three thousand additional titles.
In 1995, the Genealogical Publishing Company acquired the rights to Genealogical and Local History Books in Print. In 1996 and 1997 it issued the four volumes of the fifth edition. The family history volume alone lists more than 4,600 titles. Earlier editions of this work are also important to researchers, for only around half of the listings in any edition are repeated in the next edition. The first edition was published in 1975, followed by others in 1977, 1981, and 1985.
A study of the vendors listed in this book and some of those on the records of the Family History Library suggests that there are roughly six different types of genealogical distributors. It is important to understand each kind, for seldom will the researcher find every book of interest through any one dealer.
As mentioned above, virtually all publishers are distributors. Most sell only their own books, but some large ones, notably Ancestry, also sell a fairly large number of books by other publishers, including major genealogical publishers and small self-publishers. The publishers are usually the best sources for the major new publications that are noted so frequently in the periodical literature. Publishers that specialize in reprints can be good sources to inquire about the availability of older books that have the potential to be reprinted.
These include more than the twenty or so bookstores listed in the trade literature. Practically every major population center has one or two bookstores that include genealogy as a specialty. Such bookstores may not advertise the fact in the yellow pages, but a search can begin there. The more sure way to learn about these stores is to talk to local genealogists, participate in genealogical societies, and attend local genealogical conferences and seminars. After purchasing a book or two, or even just expressing an interest, a customer will generally be added to the stores’ mailing lists and will be regularly updated on available titles. Some stores have even begun including their catalogs on their own Internet sites.
Antiquarian book dealers are the best sources for out-of-print books because they specialize in finding such books generally those of a historical nature. Antiquarian book dealers are not simply sellers of used books that recycle best sellers from the past decade or two; rather, they are professional book hounds who buy old collections from estates, private individuals, libraries, and other sources. They produce catalogs every few months listing the titles available and generally maintain a want list for clients who are seeking specific books. There is no charge to be placed on an antiquarian dealer’s list, but the law of supply and demand takes effect. If a dealer finds the desired title, it may not be cheap. Their prices reflect higher-than-normal overhead costs and the maintenance of a specialized, uncommon inventory. Most antiquarian dealers will look for a specific title upon request, but certain ones, such as Tuttle Antiquarian Books, specialize in genealogical books.
Genealogists can usually find books of interest through historical, patriotic (hereditary), and genealogical societies. Societies are noteworthy as book dealers because they often publish books. Generally they sell only the books that they publish, but some act as distributors for other titles related to their interests as a means of raising money. Often books published by a society remain available for many years because they are of limited interest outside the society and most of the demand is met through pre-publication orders. Because societies almost always print more copies than were ordered, there may still be copies of a bicentennial town history, for example, in a closet at the local historical society. Always inquire of local societies for any books published by them or related to their interests. Addresses change frequently, but many directories are available at public libraries. Seek societies in the Encyclopedia of Associations, Directory of Historical Societies and Agencies, and Meyer’s Directory of Genealogical Societies.
Most genealogical vendors are individuals. Many authors, discouraged by the relatively low royalties offered by genealogical publishing companies, decide to publish and market their books themselves. While it is difficult to weigh the value of an aggressive publisher/distributor, many authors produce books that no publisher can use; their quality may not be good enough or the audience may be too limited. In such cases, the author is often forced to publish the book himself if he wants to see his efforts in print.
Individuals sometimes publish under their own names, or they may publish under another name, such as Old West Publishing Company. Generally it is easier to locate a publisher who uses her own name; even if she moves, telephone directories can be used to find her. If it is suspected that a publisher’s name is no more than an individual’s business name, check the directories of publishers at a library and the yellow pages in the city where the book was published. If the publisher’s name does not appear in those sources, it is likely the business name of a sole proprietor. In such cases, assume the author to be the publisher and look for her in telephone books and other sources. Because many such authors are avid genealogists, more recent addresses for them might be found in the numerous research exchange lists available today, such as Everton Publishers’ Root Cellar (published in Everton’s Genealogical Helper) or the Family History Library’s Ancestral File. Also, contact national and local genealogical societies which the author may belong to.
Advances in microform technology have been of great benefit to researchers in the last few years. Today many sources are available on microfilm or microfiche that were inaccessible just five or ten years ago. Generically called microform, this type of reprinting allows low cost, on-demand reprints to be purchased by an institution or individual. While many institutions that microfilm their records (like the Family History Library) do not make their microform available for sale, some commercial companies are doing just that.
One of the major micro-publishers of printed genealogical sources is UMI in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ranging from works that have recently gone out of print to books of many years past, the titles listed in UMI’s catalogs are selections from approximately 200,000 out-of-print rare books stored as masters. Titles of family histories and genealogies are listed alphabetically by family name; state, local, and military records are listed alphabetically by states. UMI can reprint and deliver books within thirty days with soft- or hardcover bindings. For those in need of out-of-print reference books, UMI is a good source. Many sources are listed in the UMI Guide to Family and Local Histories, 3 vols. (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI, 1990, 1993, 1995). UMI also administers the Genealogy and Local History Program, formerly run by Microfilming Corporation of America. It is similar to the above service except that the books offered are on microfiche only; no paper copies are available. Acquiring micro-published copies is an especially useful way for libraries to increase their collections of genealogies and family histories.