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I found New York Times (November 25) article titled “Helpful definition of modern author” intriguing. It provides humorous definitions of book-related terminologies such as authors, publishers, publicists, readers, books, bookstores, Amazon.com, etc. For example:

You, Author: Act as Book’s Publicist, responsible for promotion. Your Publicist: Acts as your Mom. Tells you that you’re special and talented but makes you do everything for yourself. Your Mom: Acts as Book’s Audience, buying most of the copies. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/25/helpful-definitions-for-modern-authors/

However, I was drawn to the usage of the word, “curate “in the following sentence:

"Your Publisher creates book’s mold ahead of time, in so far as it curates the existing market into which book must fit. (Additional duty: being dumbfounded by that market.)”

I’ve seldom seen the case of ‘curate’ being used as a verb in such a context to mean assess or evaluate. As I checked dictionaries online;

  • Cambridge English Dictionary defines ‘curate’ only as a noun to mean ‘a priest of the lowest rank, especially in the Church of England, whose job is to help the vicar, with no mention on verb usage.

  • Oxford Dictionary [Lexico?] defines it as ‘a member of the clergy engaged as assistant to a vicar, rector, or parish priest.’ No mention on verb usage.

  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as noun: a clergyman (or assistant clergyman) in charge of a parish, and ‘to act as CURATOR of a museum’ as a transitive verb.

Is it common to use ‘curate’ as a verb like “curate the market the book fits in,”?

Can I say just casually “You must carefully curate the offer whether you can fit the job before applying for it,” or “I seriously curated her whether she fits to my life-long partner,” without raising your eyebrows?

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    I've never seen curate in that context, although I have heard it used as a verb before in two contexts. One is the action of selecting and caring for a collection in a museum, and the other is the action of reviewing, summarizing, and sorting articles of interest for a group of research scientists. It strikes me as completely wrong, since curate implies a high level of control of the thing curated, and how would anyone have control over the market like that?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Nov 27, 2013 at 2:26
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    One and two interesting links concerning the use of the verb curate for you to consider.
    – long
    Nov 27, 2013 at 11:13
  • @KitFox I don't find a big issue with the term. In a niche publishing market, I would not be at all surprised to learn of the existence of near-monopolies which end up controlling wide-scale distribution to specialized bookshops, so authors hoping to publish in the genre have to go through them. In such a situation the publisher has a large control of what books are available, and a lot of leverage on the tastes of the interested public, simply by defining the offer.
    – E.P.
    Nov 28, 2013 at 17:31
  • @long. Many thanks. I found the link to Q&A in gramaphobia – “Shall we curate a garage sale?” you suggested is really interesting and comprehensive. The intro of the asker’s question – “I’m sick of hearing the verb “curate” used loosely” is in tune with the motive I was urged to post this question. Nov 28, 2013 at 23:06
  • If you can market a curate, I suppose it's only fair that you can also curate a market.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 9, 2021 at 4:57

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My reading of this is that the publisher, through the books it has previously chosen to publish, has shaped the market. If a publisher is acting as 'curator' (by choosing which manuscripts it deems worth publishing), it is indirectly curating the book market.

To answer the headline question directly: no, it's not common usage.

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That is a rather odd use of the word "curate" in the verb form, as their particular usage may change what they intended the sentence to mean. I doubt that they meant to imply that the publisher has great power over the market and actively controls it, rather than merely participates and contributes to it.

Also, the definitions that you found for "curate" are probably a result of poor website design on behalf of those dictionary makers. The first definition should be for the verb form rather than for the noun; and in fact Oxford Languages says that the noun version of "curate" is archaic, but they still list it first. The better definition is for the verb form: "select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition)." Those dictionary webpages now do list that additional form of the word and the definitions on the entry for the word, though it is lower down.

Regarding if you should use "curate" in the way they did, I would suggest against it. Curate is most commonly used when talking about a manager, supervisor, overseer or maintainer of a collection or some form of historic or artistic entity - often a museum. Though you could say "you must curate the offer letter that we will send to the applicant we selected" - to imply that they should take great care when writing the letter. A poet is the curator of the words they put in their poem. This stretches the definition, but it is respectful to the formal definition, and is used to emphasize the care that the person puts into the work.

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  • I like the idea of a poet being a curator of words. Feb 9, 2021 at 18:24
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I see this question was asked in 2013. It looks like the NY Times author may have absorbed a contemporary jargon-y use of "curate" from prevailing trends in retail. This page includes the comment:

Curated shopping means that you are creating unique selections of products for your customers based on their interests and their previous behavior as shoppers. This is a trend that has become highly popular starting around 2013 and which is more important than ever due to the current nature of retail. While the term is very often applied to ecommerce, it can in fact apply to any kind of commerce.

There are other examples of "curated" meaning designing the product mix presented to consumers.

When I read the phrase "Your Publisher creates book’s mold ahead of time, in so far as it curates the existing market into which book must fit. " I understood this to reflect specific decisions of the publisher. They choose which imprint in their stable will appear on the book's spine. Within that imprint, they choose a genre. Is the book general literature or fantasy? General literature or young adult? These decisions determine if the book will appear in airport newsstands; or in a specific section of a brick-and-mortar store, and the kind of casual reader who might buy it on speculation.

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