The ironies of academic publishing: The system is stupid and it’s time for a new manifesto 2012-07-30


“... In the same year that L. Stephen Jacyna and I published The Neurological Patient in History with Rochester Studies in Medical History, my father self-published his novella The Far End of the Park. Both of our books have nice covers. Both of our books are beautifully typeset. Yet his book costs a fraction of ours and is already available for electronic readers. Ours is expensive and not yet available electronically. Now in the instance of The Neurological Patient in History, a number of points can be attributed to the higher cost. The press poured a great deal of energy into the volume. Edited volumes are notoriously tricky to make cohere together, and we benefited enormously from all of their work. So these observations are not sour grapes. Nevertheless when my father’s book is compared to our book, the difference between the two is impossible to spot. And that is a third irony. Of course there would be real perils if academics began self-publishing without some systems of peer-review in place. Yet in the case of converting dissertations to books, one could hardly argue that a system of peer-review has not been in place. Either the viva process works – or it doesn’t. And if scholars feel it doesn’t work, then that raises many different issues that have less to do with publishing and more to do with graduate education... Many complain that academic studies have no evident value. The recent fervor at the Chronicle of Higher Education is just one example among many of the conservative cliches (discussion here) that routinely denigrate good academic work on the basis that supposedly no one cares about it. The experience post-graduate school actually seemingly validates those conservative gripes; shopping a book prospectus can be a totally humiliating experience... What better way to answer the critics than to point to the existence of an audience for academic work. The determinants standing in the way are gatekeepers in publishing and the exigencies of the professional publishing world – which frankly have nothing to do with scholarship. Naomi Schaefer Riley – may her name live in infamy forever- was quoted in The Huffington Post as saying:  ‘I read some academic publications … but there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery. In fact, I’d venture to say that fewer than 20 people in the whole world will read it.’ That just shows how incredibly stupid Riley is and how backwards current trends are in contemporary academic publishing. Factually I am quite certain that I know at least one hundred people who would buy a book on black midwifery (see the AAHM group Facebook page). I suspect that globally there is an audience approaching approximately ten thousand customers for a book on that topic (there are 5000 midwives in the USA alone), provided it were priced correctly, marketed via social networking, and readily available for download... Riley is clearly no medical historian; people are voracious readers. It is just that most readers can’t afford (or won’t pay for) a $75 dollar book. But they are interested, and the world of academic publishing is actually preventing them from accessing those books. So here’s the picture: young academics – often broke and being exploited as adjuncts – have been told that their dissertation qualified them for a PhD. Their work is being disseminated in articles and by ProQuest. Others are already making use of their ideas, and idiots like Riley make fun of their lack of success (which has nothing to do with the merits of their scholarship). Meanwhile, academic publishers (and their reviewers) are telling young academics that their work is simply too niche and too scholarly. Moreover, if the young academic succeeds in publishing, then their ideas will be locked up forever in a monograph that not only pays them next to nothing for their labor but also makes their ideas far too expensive for most members of the academic community across the globe to purchase...”



08/16/2012, 06:08

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Date tagged:

07/30/2012, 17:34

Date published:

07/30/2012, 19:13