Mel Gregg has a great post up about the difficulties of publishing as an Australian academic interested in Australian politics. It’s piqued my interest in academic publishing, particularly as the publishing and newspaper business is changing at the moment.
I’ve long been a fan of open-access academic journals such as M/C and initiatives such as ePrints and arXiv, and even more so now that my university enrollment has lapsed, taking my database login with it.
I’m fascinated by the economics of academic publishing, because it seems to work in a remarkably different way to most other forms of publishing. It’s quite rare to make any money out of academic publishing, unless your work gets assigned as a course text.
Anecdotally I’ve heard of a few senior scholars making money from reprints in course readers and popular textbooks, but certainly not enough to warrant much more than a few nights on the town. (And we’ve all had that one lecturer who insists the students buy the latest update to his textbook each year – sometimes warranted, sometimes not.)
Paper publication is also quite strange. Some journals charge exorbitant fees for access via databases. There’s also the odd phenomenon of universities paying journals for publication. I’m not condemning closed access journals – they have to figure out a way to pay their workers in an environment of cut budgets, lowered endowments and hedge fund blowout.
What interests me is where the value lies in publishing a book in your field. There’s little to no monetary gain outside of university promotion – so I’m guessing the value lies in reputation? Is publishing a book much better than publishing papers?
I’m also curious as to how much value is placed on different academic imprints and why, and what an Australian academic e-book publishing house might look like. The ebook and POD market is getting more respect each year, and the Kindle is being promoted as a possible option for textbook distribution. I’m wondering if a canny publisher with an eye to serving Australian academia and politics, rigorous quality standards and an army of peer reviewers, and a simple, low cost distribution process might be something to look at creating.