[INDOLOGY] Brill acquires the Forsten Indology list
wujastyk at gmail.com
Wed May 15 10:47:17 UTC 2013
With the growth of good desktop document processing software and the
universality of good, free Unicode fonts, it is now entirely feasible for
an individual to produce excellent camera-ready copy of an academic book
for themselves, with modest effort over a modest period of time.
With services like Lulu <http://lulu.com> and
the transition from a PDF on your computer to a hard-bound, published book
sold online and through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., is also very easy and
cheap. I mean, less than about $100, total cost. I did a book with Lulu a
couple of years ago (my father's memoirs), and I paid $60 to cover
distribution through Amazon and all other big bookshops and online
services. Everything else was free. The book is large, 650 pages, and
costs about $50 for hardback, with free shipping in the USA (e.g.,
I also made the PDF downloadable
Lulu at $12.
What does all this mean?
What it means is that publishers are no longer necessary for performing the
traditional roles of book production and distribution. Authors can now do
this satisfactorily for themselves at marginal cost, high quality, and with
What remains? What I call "Gatekeeping" services. With today's deluge of
free online resources, what we all really do need is someone to take
responsibility for guaranteeing high intellectual quality. Trustworthiness.
Traditionally, this was also a role performed by some publishers,
especially the university presses. A book on Buddhism from Cambridge
University Press *should* be of a different calibre from a book on Buddhism
from, say, Harlequin <http://www.harlequin.com/> or Mills &
The good academic publishers acted as gatekeepers, offering an implicit
guarantee of intellectual quality.
But if you look more closely at this arrangement, the university presses
rely heavily on the free services of university staff for refereeing, book
acquisition, series curation, and sometimes even content-editing and
copy-editing. In-house copy-editing was usual, however, and often of a
Another service that a big university press provides is prestige. A young
scholar with a book published by Princeton is likely to do better at
getting a job than another with a book published with a publisher of less
prestige. This is because appointment committees are willing to take the
implied quality-guarantee of Princeton UP. But again, Princeton only
publishes books because unpaid academic referees at universities give the
thumbs-up. The process is circular.
What does all this mean?
If books can be produced and distributed by academics themselves, and
refereed and edited by them too, what is left for publishers? Not much, I
think, unless they dramatically change their business and service models.
What we see going on today, I believe, are the last convulsions of a dying
industry. Yes, they're making a lot of money, but only because of the
inertia and uncertainty of academics. What used to be called
uncertainty and doubt"). The upcoming younger generation of
scholars with different preconceptions will probably not be so smitten by
the prestige of old publishing houses, and will be more adept at
What remains is the need for gatekeeping, for the guaranteeing of quality.
If publishers really took that seriously, and divorced their editorial
selections and quality judgements from their need to remain profitable,
then they might salvage for themselves a genuine role in the future. I
cannot see a way in which genuine academic quality can be guaranteed by an
institution that simultaneously has to satisfy criteria of profitability.
As long as their are two goals - quality and profit - there will inevitably
arise cases of conflict and compromise. In short, gatekeeping is the job
of (publicly-funded) university staff, not a (commercial) publisher.
The alternative to this is that university staff take back into their own
hands all the processes of the production and distribution of knowledge.
In fact, this is the change that the major funding bodies are pressing upon
us, with the widespread requirement that publicly-funded academic research
be published Open Access. It is also the original idea of the university
Here's a hypothetical model for a future academic book series.
- Author on a research grant or university salary writes a book.
- The book is typeset using LibreOffice or TeX. The university
department provides some secretarial support to help, or some money from
the research grant pays for smart word-processing by an agency.
- The book is sent to an external commercial copy-editing company to
tidy up the details. A smart, accurate PDF results.
This is paid for by the university department, or out of the research
grant (this is already common).
- The PDF is submitted to a panel of academics somewhere who curate a
book series, judging the intellectual quality of the submissions. The book
is accepted as an important intellectual contribution..
- The PDF is uploaded to Lulu.com or Createspace, where it is turned
into a print-on-demand hardback book for sale internationally through
Amazon etc., and in bookshops.
Lulu are the printers and distributors.
The ISBN is provided by the university department, so they are the
publishers, not Lulu.
- The book is advertised through a prestige university website that
promotes the book as an intellectual contribution, contextualizes it as a
university-curated product, and made available for sale through a simple
click link to PayPal, Amazon, etc. The university's series name is printed
in the book, and splashed all over the website.
Ooops: high quality production, high quality intellectual content,
university curation, international sales, but no "traditional" publisher!
Please blow holes in what I've said. There must be an elephant in the room
that I'm not seeing.
Dr Dominik Wujastyk
Department of South Asia, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies<http://stb.univie.ac.at>
University of Vienna,
Spitalgasse 2-4, Courtyard 2, Entrance 2.1
1090 Vienna, Austria
Division of Health and Humanities,
St. John's Research Institute, <http://www.sjri.res.in/> Bangalore, India.
Project <http://www.istb.univie.ac.at/caraka/> | home
HSSA <http://hssa.sayahna.org> | PGP <http://wujastyk.net/pgp.html>
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