This article analyses and contextualises a variety of relationships between the cultural industries and cultural policy. A principal aim is to examine policies which are explicitly formulated as cultural (or creative) industries policies. It seeks to address questions such as: what lies behind such policies? How do they relate to other kinds of cultural policy, including those more oriented towards media, communications, arts and heritage? The first section asks how the cultural industries became such an important idea in cultural policy, when those industries had been largely invisible in traditional (arts and heritage-based) policy for many decades. What changed and what drove the major changes? In the second section, we look at a number of problems and conceptual tensions which arise from the new importance of the cultural industries in contemporary public policy, including problems concerning definition and scope, and the accurate mapping of the sector, but also tensions surrounding the insertion of commercial and industrial culture into cultural policy regimes characterised by legacies of romanticism and idealism. We also look at problems surrounding the academic division of labour in this area of study. In the final section, we conclude by summarising some of the main contemporary challenges facing cultural policy and cultural policy studies with regard to the cultural industries. The piece also serves to introduce the contributions to a special issue of International Journal of Cultural Policy on 'The Cultural Industries and Cultural Policy'.