Innovation & University Publishing

A 4-part series examining the problems of the current university publishing status quo; one part of a possible solution to that problem through short form monographs; and what it might take to implement that solution.

Part 1: Serving (at least) Two Masters

Part 2: Meet the Minigraph

Part 3: An Exercise in Strategery

Part 4: Build It and Will They Come?

Postscript: (forthcoming)

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Build It and…Will They Come?: Innovation & University Publishing, Part 4

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

An Exercise in Strategery: Innovation & Academic Publishing, Part 3

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

Meet the Minigraph: Innovation & University Publishing, Part 2

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

Serving (at least!) Two Masters: Innovation & University Publishing, Part 1

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

More Book Advice from a Nonexistent Bookstore

So, if last round was the Greatest Hits, this time’s for the album tracks and rarities—not everything here will be to everybody’s taste, some of these will be to almost nobody’s taste (well, except maybe yours, Asher), and at least a few of them should be loved by none. Continue reading

Book Advice from a Nonexistent Bookstore

Now that Newman Books is closed, DC doesn’t have a really good philosophy/theology bookshop. Okay, granted, Newman’s selection could be pretty spotty at times,* and Kramerbooks can be surprisingly good,** but that’s beside the point for those of us who want our critical Latin editions of Ockham and Scotus, 5 different translations of Augustine, more stuff on the Reformation than most stores devote to religion, or a whole section on Aquinas. We want our bookstore, complete with people who know a critical edition from a public domain Latin version. It’s something you just can’t get from Amazon—well, along with the feeling you get from not sending money to Satan’s minions—and will be sorely missed.

But. But! I’m gonna give you the next best thing: a series of lists (what is this, Buzzfeed?) of books worth reading on any number of philosophical*** topics, complete with caveats, explanations, and my own opinions, which are completely right and you should never question ever because they’re right. Some of these are syllabi for imagined courses I’ll never get to teach, but have always wanted to—a few of them I’ve been developing since reading Plato’s Republic, scarily enough—while others are just “look, don’t read bad translations like I did, try these instead.” It’s advice I’d give to hypothetical customers or students, written up in a big ol’ binder at the front of the store that you could whack me over the head with when you disagreed with something I said.

You don’t get the binder, but you do get my opinions. Sorry ’bout that. Continue reading

On Reading All of Augustine

“The man who claims to have read all of Augustine is a liar”

And, of course, Isidore of Seville is pretty close to right. I haven’t touched the Ennarations on the Psalms, nor about half the other sermons, nor a couple other minor works, but 30-odd other volumes? Not right short, I undertake! Now that I’m all but done with this super-secret press project I’ve been working on for a year and a half now (because of course there won’t be any revisions at all…), it’s time for a few observations:

Continue reading

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Reviewer

From a recently discovered draft of Prof. Jonathan Edwards’ (D.Div, Harvard) exhortation to junior profs revising their dissertations at the Collegiate School in New Haven, CT in early 1741. Some scholars are of the opinion that Prof. Edwards later revised the speech for presentation to a non-academic audience in the same state, but, given the probability of any academic being able to write a book that gained traction among the mythical “educated public,” this seems extremely doubtful.

…This that you have heard is the case for every one of you that is without tenure. That world of misery, that land of eternal visiting lectureships, is extended abroad under you. There is the visible flames of the wrath of an angry Reviewer; there is the mouth of Adjunct Hell laid open; and you have no publications to stand upon, nor good reviews to take hold of; there is nothing between you and this Hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of the Dean that holds you up. Continue reading

An Education for Academic Writers, Part I

Every writer has their imaginary audience, even if their real one is (like most of us) just friends, people linking to pictures you’re hosting, and parents who wouldn’t actually be interested in what you’re writing about if anyone else wrote it.* Mine is usually my grad school self and his colleagues—people who discuss insane things over wine and coffee after lectures, who have absolutely no clue about why people aren’t interested in what we study, and who labor under more than a few delusions about how this whole “publish or perish” thing works. Continue reading