On academic publishing today

A few years ago I was desperately seeking a book contract, Writes Rachel Toor in the Chronicle of Higher Education“Things weren’t going well on the project I’d spent years working on, and I wanted a quick fix. In a frenzy I put together a crappy proposal for an advice book for graduate students and professors on writing and publishing and sent it to an editor I didn’t know at Harvard University Press.

“Five days later, Elizabeth Knoll responded by telling me she was already publishing a how-to-write-better book for academics, Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword (it’s excellent). Then she conveyed in the kindest way something I already knew: What I had proposed wasn’t a book. I had merely submitted a bunch of prose framing a table of contents for a collection of my Chronicle columns. She suggested we brainstorm an idea for a real book.

images“We had a warm and frequently funny correspondence about scholarly publishing, academic writing, issues and problems in higher education, growing up as children of academics, college admissions, mutual friends, and many other things. I went back to my original book project but still hoped that someday I would be able to publish a book with Elizabeth. Recently I found I had lost my chance. She’d left the press to become assistant provost for faculty appointments at Harvard. So I jumped on the opportunity to ask Elizabeth to reflect about her time in publishing, and to offer some advice on book publishing to Chronicle readers.

“Elizabeth went into the family business. Her father was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska; her mother had been one of her father’s most talented students. “I got my Ph.D. in the history of science,” she said. “Basically I was—and am—always curious about what counts as knowledge in different times and places.” After working at the Journal of the American Medical Association, Elizabeth got a job as an editor at the University of California Press in 1988, then at W.H. Freeman in 1994. She moved to Harvard Press in 1997. Continue reading “On academic publishing today”

On paying for book publication

At almost any gathering of academic publishers or librarians, you’ll hear someone float the idea—sometimes phrased as a question—that the model for publishing scholarly monographs is broken.

imgres-3As InsideHigherEd reports: “Two sets of ideas aired at the Association of American University Presses’ annual meeting, held here this week, don’t say the model is damaged beyond repair. But the proposals, both from groups outside the university-press community, suggest that it needs to be retrofitted, at the least.

“One possible approach came from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the other from a task force on scholarly communications run jointly by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Research Libraries. Both raised the question of how to better subsidize the digital publication of scholarly monographs, and both included the notion that faculty authors’ home institutions might do more to help pay for those books to be published. Such support would help deal with what university-press people often call the “free-rider problem,” in which institutions without presses—most of them, in other words—leave it to those with presses to support the system that gives faculty authors publication credentials.

“The AAU/ARL task force describes its plan as a “prospectus for an institutionally funded first-book subvention” that would shift the burden of payment to authors’ home institutions. That would “address the principal causes and effects of the market failure for monographs,” the prospectus says. It envisions that colleges and universities would agree to pay for an openly available “basic digital edition” of some faculty members’ first books; scholarly publishers could offer those titles for sale in other formats too.

“The plan also envisions that universities with a high level of research activity would offer subventions for three or four books a year, with an “annual subvention exposure” of roughly $68,000 to $73,000. Small colleges would pay for one or two books a year, and offer more modest subventions.  Continue reading “On paying for book publication”

Cautious optimism among booksellers

All across the country, booksellers have a Christmas wish: that the e-book thrill is gone.

Shoppers at McNally Jackson Books last week. Sarah McNally, the owner, reported “consistent” sales growth year over year, reports the New York Times

There is reason to believe it will come true. E-book sales have flattened in

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2013, giving publishers and bookstores hope that consumers’ appetite for print books will be renewed during the most crucial sales period of the year.

“But there are plenty of reasons for holiday anxiety, too, starting with a compressed shopping season, the result of Thanksgiving falling later than it has in a decade. Booksellers also have to contend with the absence of a blockbuster title to drive sales and fill stores, the way the Steve Jobs biography did two years ago. And they must compete with steep discounts on print books from Amazon. It is a grab bag of factors, any one of which could tilt the fortunes of retailers as the holiday book-buying season enters its final days.

“This is the time when publishers release their splashiest books and count on Christmas shoppers being much more willing to part with $25 for a weighty hardcover. The leveling off of e-book sales should help. The Association of American Publishers, which collects monthly data from about 1,200 publishers, said last month that e-book sales had been flat or in decline for most of 2013. In August, e-book sales were approximately $128 million, a 3 percent decline from August 2012.

“I don’t know if it’s a saturation point with digital,” Len Vlahos, the executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, said in a recent interview. “But all the data we see suggests that we’ve hit a state of equilibrium. The trend lines have flattened out. Three years ago, it was a nascent market, but now it looks like a maturing market.” Jennifer Enderlin, the publisher of St. Martin’s Press Paperbacks and Griffin, said that she thought e-book sales were finding their level, and that it would “start affecting print books in a good way.” “Independents seem to be having a good run right now,” she said of the bookstores. “They’re having a nice renaissance.”

 More at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/16/business/booksellers-wary-about-holiday-sales.html?_r=0

In Iceland 1 in 10 will publish a book

imagesIceland is experiencing a book boom. This island nation of just over 300,000 people has more writers, more books published and more books read per head, than anywhere else in the world, reports the BBC.

“It is hard to avoid writers in Reykjavik.There is a phrase in Icelandic, “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, everyone gives birth to a book. Literally, everyone “has a book in their stomach”.

“One in ten Icelanders will publish one.

“Does it get rather competitive?” I ask the young novelist, Kristin Eirikskdottir. “Yes. Especially as I live with my mother and partner, who are also full-time writers. But we try to publish in alternate years so we do not compete too much.” Special saga tours – saga as in story, that is, not over-50s holidays – show us story-plaques on public buildings. Dating from the 13th Century, Icelandic sagas tell the stories of the country’s Norse settlers, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th Century. Sagas are written on napkins and coffee cups. Each geyser and waterfall we visit has a tale of ancient heroes and heroines attached. Our guide stands up mid-tour to recite his own poetry – our taxi driver’s father and grandfather write biographies. Public benches have barcodes so you listen to a story on your smartphone as you sit. Reykjavik is rocking with writers. Continue reading “In Iceland 1 in 10 will publish a book”

Publishing’s new love affair with bullying

Nobody likes a bully — but these days the book industry loves having them to kick around.

Publishing houses are flooding the market with titles that tackle bullying, reports today’s New York Times. imgres-5“The books are aimed at all age groups — from “Bully,” a picture book for elementary-grade students, to the “The Bully Book,” for middle school children, about an average kid who suddenly becomes everyone’s favorite victim, to “Sticks and Stones” by Emily Bazelon, a recent release for adults that includes both stories and analysis. According toWorldCat, a catalog of library collections worldwide, the number of English-language books tagged with the key word “bullying” in 2012 was 1,891, an increase of 500 in a decade. Continue reading “Publishing’s new love affair with bullying”

E-books and the death of print

For many of us, this week’s final print edition of Newsweek was no great loss. Think of it as an editorial dinosaur succumbing in an age of the blogosphere.

But those of us who still write a bit for things actually published on paper get the sense they are coming for us next. The recession has been rough on everyone, but for publishers this has been a nightmare (especially for small, independent presses).14_52_39_416_file

If it isn’t big bookstore chains squeezing diversity from the retail marketplace, it’s e-books merchants like Amazon who  (following the iTunes example) extract ever larger slices of profit margin from both writers and original publishers. Today npr.org published a quasi-apology about the new e-reader. A few opening paragraphs are reproduced below:

“What counts as a book these days, in a world of Kindles, Nooks and iPads — and eager talk about new platforms and distribution methods? Continue reading “E-books and the death of print”