The university thinks we’ve got a good thing going, and is going to let us go ahead with this new project? Now it’s time for the hard part.
Finding authors willing to produce new and innovative books is going to be tricky, as I mentioned before. Given the enormous role that the traditional monograph plays in HSS tenure and promotion decisions, it’s unlikely that junior or mid-career faculty are going to want to risk their future employment prospects on an unproven medium. If they aren’t sure that publishing minigraphs counts in some significant way to their next step on the career ladder, they’re not going to make an effort that could jeopardize their future. Continue reading
So this is going to be an exercise in speculative strategic planning, of trying to guess what people want, at what times, under what conditions, and how we, as publishers, can satisfy these demands.
Now, this might be a bit rough—I wouldn’t recommend starting any businesses off of this or anything—and is very much me thinking out loud, more trying to think through a few issues and obstacles rather than create something I could pitch to investors or the provost.
I’m also going to take the point of view of someone primarily trying to find a viable way of publishing minigraphs in both print and electronic formats. While there are other interesting, and perhaps viable, formats for distributing academic content—ereader and tablet/mobile device applications, for instance—minigraphs have a pedigree and a sort of familiarity to our core audience that more novel media might not. If even trying to publish short books on a significant scale, rather than mostly long books on a slightly smaller scale, is a radical idea, one likely to encounter resistance and without an established place in the academy, then who knows what trying to find acceptance for these more radical formats might involve. This is a bit of a “if this works, we can try something a bit more adventurous next” exercise, a potentially workable first solution to a very real problem. Continue reading
That nobody much likes reading academic books isn’t exactly a shock. Study after study after really good summary has shown that about 40% of books acquired by academic libraries will never be checked out within ten years. Most people only need to read a chapter or two, and, as someone who regularly tries to read academic books as if they were books, a chapter or two is about as much of an academic book as you actually want to read. Even those that involve people getting married at crossbowpoint or seduced and abandoned by double-dealing barons can turn into poorly written and dreary forced marches.
Monographs are long. They’re expensive. They’re on on obscure topics. They’re badly written. They take forever to publish. They take in too many topics, as opposed to the one you need. They force you to spend 300 pages on something that would be better served by 100. They’re like my blog posts, but somehow worse.
I’m not the only one who has noticed this, of course. I’m not even the only one who would really like there to be a solution. A possible answer (or, more likely, part of the answer), and one that really excites me, is the short-form monograph, or “minigraph.” Continue reading
Sometimes, the blogfodder arrives all at once—and if you’re lucky, it arrives during the Press’s slow summer season. Wouldn’t you know it, but I’ve been very lucky indeed.
University presses everywhere, I’ve been told, are in crisis. Revenues are declining, nobody is reading our books, libraries are spending more of their shrinking budgets on science/technology/engineering/medical (STEM) journals than humanities/social science (HSS) books, print is dead, the tenure track is dead, and the university’s catering services didn’t provide enough coffee to your last editorial committee meeting. And the fact of the matter is, almost all of those are true (except for the last one—we order extra!), or, in the case of the death of print, are at least “common knowledge.”
Not everyone buys this crisis—or, at the very least, buys that it necessarily means the death of the university press. Continue reading