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I've been looking thoroughly about each constructions, but I haven't been successful about when to use them.

Some rules of thumb I've found:

  • This forum post and this one suggest publish in should be used when the place of publishing is a three-dimensional place and publish on should be used when it's a surface. This makes a bit of sense to me, but does not seem a very academical explanation; whereas there are some cases in which it would be hard to distinguish which kind of place it is.
  • When the place is virtual, on is used. Example: Publish on Google Play

My particular cases are the following:

  • To publish an application __ [in/on] Google Play
  • To publish an application __ [in/on] a virtual market

Is there a way to identify where to use publish in or publish on? Are they mutually exchangeable?

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possible duplicate of Am I taking a course "on" or "at" an educational website? –  FumbleFingers Dec 17 '12 at 18:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Google Play and the iTunes Store are virtual locations, so I would follow the normal usage for other such locations (i.e., the Web), and prefer on in most cases.

One exception would be if something were being published in a recognized journal that has both a physical and a virtual presence: I would refer to "an article in The New York Times" for example, whether it's being read online or in newsprint. The same goes for JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), and even the Oxford English Dictionary.

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In this case, the difference between in and on boils down to which Dimensional Metaphor the speaker (or writer) is applying.

From the Deixis Lectures:

".. the preposition on is said to ascribe to the referent of its head noun the property of being a line or a surface, and the preposition in is said to ascribe to the referent of its head noun the notion of a bounded two-dimensional or three-dimensional space."

We daily encounter and use dimensional metaphors with on and in for things that are not physical.

  • 2-Dimensional: on the page, on the table, on vacation, on top of the problem, on Sunday
  • 3-Dimensional: in trouble, in on the secret, in the novel, in the time alotted, in March

That's the difference between lawn and yard, for instance.

  • A lawn is a two-dimensional space, so a human being can be on the lawn; but understanding a report that someone is in the lawn requires some unusual assumptions.

  • A yard is a bounded two-dimensional space, and its bounding makes it three-dimensional with regard to human presence. Thus one is in the yard, and saying on the yard invites a mental search for a different meaning of yard.

Executive summary:

  1. If you think of Google Play as a container full of stuff, use in.
  2. If you think of it as a page on a screen, use on.
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That's what I got from the 2 first links I gave in the question. However, Google itself uses on to talk about to publish on Google Play. Being Google Play a service, not only a virtual market as it was Android Market in the past. Therefore, I'm starting to believe the virtual/physical dichotomoy applies better. –  Christian García Dec 18 '12 at 8:13
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It's not in contrast; at the metaphorical level, people don't think logically. After all, metaphor starts off by violating the Law of Contradiction, which is the first premise of logic. And different people use different metaphors; nothing is universal except individuality. –  John Lawler Dec 18 '12 at 16:12
    
You're certainly right about metaphors... I truly believe that's the origin of the problem when trying to place the right preposition –  Christian García Dec 18 '12 at 16:26

You are published in a magazine. but published on the web or on paper.

On is if you are referring to media, and In is if you are to the medium.

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