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.