by Nomsa Chirisa

Publishing is an exciting journey, one which starts from the idea stage right through distribution and ends with the publication in the hands of the reader. However, oftentimes, there is a mix-up of what book publishing is, mistaking for printing or social media posting which then overshadows the relevance of the publisher.

I have been confronted on many occasions with the questions, “is publishing printing?” and “is publishing the same as social media posting?” As a writer, you should understand the publishing field such that if you are to come across these questions, you are knowledgeable enough to demarcate publishing from the rest.

Publishing is not printing. Publishing is also not social media posting. However, all these three functions are applicable in the publishing business but the lines which differentiate them are thin, and should not be confused. Let’s begin by defining each.

What is Publishing?

Let’s take a recap on this one. Book publishing is the process of getting an author’s manuscript into the hands of a reader, by materialising it – giving it form and coherence as a book.

What is social media posting?

This is the sharing of short-form content on social media platforms. As a social media user, you may create the content yourself or source it from the internet, other social media platforms or from friends.

What is printing?

Printing is fixing content from the publisher or designer onto tangible material, such as paper, by means of printing machines. This is referred to as ‘press’ and it is a process embedded in the whole publishing process.

 PublishingPrintingSocial media posting
DefinitionMaterialising manuscripts into books and distributing themFixing content on paper using printing machinesSharing short form content (posts) on social media
Traditional publishers, independent publishers, self-publishers  Printing presses, parastatals, university presses, independent printersFacebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc
SkillsSpecialisedTechnicalLittle to none
FunctionsCreation, assessment, evaluation, editing, proofreading, design, marketing, distributionPrinting, warehousingContent creation, sharing/posting
PurposeServing readers and their needs, cultivating book culture, promoting literature and literacy, creating content and preparing it, distribution, bridging writers and readersCater for the print audience, produce a desired tangible form of publication, storing books on behalf of publisherSocialising, engaging, persuading, updates, connecting with audience, generating feedback, advertising
FormsBooks, magazines, journals, newspapersBooks, flyers, banners, photography, magazines, newspapersPictures, short text, videos, audio
Length2500 words and moreIndefinite1000 words and less
Publishing, Social Media Posting and Printing compared

How can these functions be complemented?

Book publishers are tasked with the preparation of the manuscript – writing, assessing, evaluating, editing, proofreading, design, and marketing. But for the print market, the book has to be manufactured, hence the printer is tasked with the manufacturing of the book – fixing it into tangible format. In this essence, publishing is the pre-press function while printing is the press function. So, a publisher is not a printer; and a printer is not a publisher. However, big publishers may house the printing function under their business for a variety of reasons.

After publishing and printing your book, it will be marketed so that it reaches its market and readers. You will find that social media is the new trend for reaching your audience although traditional marketing channels are still relevant and effective. Hence, social media is tasked with the marketing, e-distribution and engaging with the audience of your book; not publishing or printing it.

Let’s help simplify this mystery.

The publishing chain

Is the publisher still relevant when social media allows everyone to post what they want?

Despite the new trends in technology, the publisher’s role remains relevant for the following reasons:

  1. they possess specialised skills and expertise which social media posting does not require;
  2. the kind of products they produce go through vigorous processes and have specific standards, an aspect which is overlooked by social media;
  3. the markets they serve cannot be served by social media, eg. the school market.
  4. There are guidelines and expectations in book publishing while social media advocates for freedom and free will.


One thing to note is that each of these functions cannot be substituted for the other. They are stand-alone processes which, when complemented, create a great book and ultimately drive sales. Remember, just the right doses of these packages have an amazing impact on the quality of your book – they can make or break it. So, choose your publisher prudently who will also help coordinate a printer for you. Then you can make all the noise on social media and sell your book.





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