The times they are a-changin’

Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed today on academic monographs as luxury items: expensive items that justify their high cost by appeal to prestige and reputation. The takeaway quote for me (admittedly because I’ve already said the same, though from a scholarly – as opposed to publishing – perspective):

So here’s a thesis. If there truly is a crisis in scholarly publishing, it has arisen from this fundamental first cause: the end of the era in which institutions sponsoring presses saw the publishing of scholarship as something near to the heart of their core mission, and deserving to be supported on those terms. Result: What was never intended to be a system left to the vicissitudes of the market has become exactly that. Scholarly books have become high-priced, prestige-driven luxury goods not by accident, but by forgetfulness.

I’m sure there are various complications – particularly that some popular subjects are marketable in softcover – but the article and the comments are an interesting read.

The article also cites a report which estimates that the average academic book now carries a price tag of $90, up 50% from a decade ago (i.e 2002-2012). My Vauban under Siege monograph costs twice as much, so I guess that means it’s twice a good as the average monograph! Ah, the life of luxury…

Truth be told, though, my book probably doesn’t cost that much for most readers. As it so happens, I just received a royalty payment, which adds yet another wrinkle to the mix. I was curious about the number of copies my book has sold (I won’t give the number on the statement, but it’s several times lower than the number I’d been told a few years back), so I went to check on WorldCat to see how many copies were in libraries. To my shock the book was reported in 753 libraries! Now I know I haven’t sold anywhere near that many copies, so I explored further and quickly realized that most of those “copies” are purely digital, i.e. a university or group of state university branches pool their pennies together and subscribe to publishers’ e-collections, which give them access to all of the monographs within the publisher’s catalog (or maybe by series, who knows). Something to keep in mind if you’re concerned about the circulation of your future book, or even thinking about terms in a future book contract.




10 responses to “The times they are a-changin’”

  1. Ben S Trotter says :

    So I guess that makes Rule and Trotter, A World of Paper: Louis XIV, Colbert de Torcy, and the Rise of the Information State (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2014) a real steal at over 800 pages and a list of $49.95 (available at Amazon for $38.34 with Prime).1″
    I suppose I should shelve plans for buying a villa in Tuscany from my royalties.
    With such high prices as the norm, no wonder so few academics and their students can afford to purchase books.

  2. Averrones says :

    To the outsider with no access to libraries this trend is doubly disturbing… Sometimes pricing is very curious: Parrott’s excellent original research ‘Business of War’ is $29 in paperback and $13 for Kindle while in the same series ‘t Hart’s ‘Dutch Wars of Independence’ despite being a third- or even fourth-hand account costs $48 paperback and $37.64 for Kindle.

    I feel like a vanishing species: a reader with interest to monographs rather than popular history, but living outside academic world and driven away by luxury publishers.

    • jostwald says :

      Indeed – in some fields journals are much more important and very expensive, but early modern European military history tends to appear in (expensive) edited collections rather than have its own journals.
      Academic EMEMHians are themselves on the endangered species list…
      Thanks for the mention of ‘t Hart.

      • Averrones says :

        ’t Hart is a hack job, with groundless accusations of renowned academics like J. Tracy…

      • jostwald says :

        I await your blog review!

      • Averrones says :

        I left a rather emotional short overview at Amazon and goodreads (immidiately after finishing it, probably should have taken time to cool down) –

        But I wouldn’t want to go into details. Better spend time promoting better books, like Parrott’s – recently made a review for Strife journal

      • jostwald says :

        The pitfalls of writing EMEMH from a national perspective are many-fold, particularly when dealing with only one side of a war. Is there adequate archival research? If an author is only focusing on one side of a war, do they practice due diligence in getting the perspective “from the other side of the hill”? To what extent are the two sides’ historiographies of the war totally different, vs. arguing about the same thing? From an English-speaker’s perspective, neither the Dutch nor the Spanish perspective get much coverage beyond decontextualized mention of tactical formations like countermarches and tercios. So now, from a military perspective, we have Geoffrey Parker, R.A. Stradling, Paul Allen and González de Léon for the Spanish, and in the Dutch corner we have Olaf van Nimwegen and ‘t Hart (and Kees Schulten if you include the French translation Indépendence des Provinces Unies). You could probably include Jonathan Israel for the second half of the war, though he takes more of an economic bent obviously. Pretty slim pickins overall, so I’m happy to see more Dutch perspectives of their wars in print, especially if they try to meld the supply and demand halves of the equation.

        Admittedly I haven’t looked at ‘t Hart’s book yet, though I am familiar with a few of her earlier articles – I was assuming the value of her work would be in her area of specialization, finances, and the way she extends the Dutch wars for independence past Westphalia. If her work is weaker on the military side of the equation, that wouldn’t be that surprising – most military historians are really weak on the financial side. It’d be interesting to compare her take with Olaf’s…

      • Averrones says :

        For finances of Holland we also have James Tracy’s books on pre-Revol and Revotling Holland. And for the military part we have a wonderful collection of articles in ‘Exercise of Arms’.

        I’d like to see more serious academic works which are original, not copy-paste from here and there that we already know. Thanks to Hart that she also copied from some Dutch archivists, that was the only ‘new’ part of the book for English reader.

        We have to remember, though, that Parker wrote not in a vacuum. Pre-Parker English coverage of the Revolt for the most part was deliberately pro-Dutch and pro-Protestant. Hart’s book is a vivid reminder of that time.

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