What is publishing?

Publishing means making information available to the public. In the past this was done mainly through issuing printed copies of documents. Now there are many more options such as websites, print, DVD, e-publications and apps.

Apart from ensuring value for money, the challenge is to choose publication channels that support a publication’s status and provenance, as well as ensuring that the publication reaches the right audience.

Publishing industry processes and practices

Many government publications are important from a policy and historic perspective, whether or not they reflect current policy or practice. This means that certain publications, including those published through contracts managed by The National Archives, are published according to the standard processes and practices used by the book publishing industry:

  • standards for web and print publishing
  • International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs)
  • bibliographic data
  • statutory legal deposit
  • customer ordering services
  • copyright

These processes support the classification and recording of the publications’ underlying status and provenance, ensuring availability to citizens and businesses, including identification by the book trade and library community, at publication and for the long term public record.

What to do if you are considering publishing options

If you are an official involved in publishing a government document that is not being published through The National Archives’ or other government publishing contracts, you are probably already considering publication options.

Publication options impact on a document’s availability to different types of users, now and in the future.

Consider whether users will place a long term value on the document, for example for use in legal proceedings, even though the document itself may be superseded as government polices and guidelines change. If so ensure that there is a process through which interested parties can obtain a copy of the publication. In many cases an online version will be sufficient; in others, users may require a print copy, for example to use in court or because the publication is very large and the online version is impractical. How would such requests be fulfilled? Would compliance with statutory legal deposit be sufficient?

Seek assistance from your organisation’s publishing, communications, legal and/or procurement teams at an early stage. You can contact The National Archives for publishing and copyright advice at official.publishing@nationalarchives.gov.uk or on 020 8392 5218.

An example of a government publishing contract is The National Archives’ contract for legislation which you can see on the Contracts Finder website.

If your document is a ‘green’ or ‘white’ paper, it probably meets the criteria for being published as a Command Paper.

If you need further advice, please contact The National Archives at the earliest opportunity for guidance and support.