Add academic publishing, at colleges and universities, to the growth areas in self-publishing.
It’s been a gradual transition. As Inside Higher Education pointed out, academics “inhabit a parallel publishing ecosystem: a constellation of university presses and journals that publish slowly, offer few economic returns, and subject all work to painstaking peer review. Scholars and publishing experts in the U.S. and Britain say self-publishing by academics remains a rarity.”
Unlike most people, academics working in a “publish or perish” environment have a specific need to release their work. The core of academic publishing is in textbooks, monographs (detailed written studies, either long or short, of a specific subject) and books intended for an audience mainly outside academia. Textbooks and monographs, because of stringent review and approval considerations, especially have remained closely tied to traditional publishers.
Academic Publishing Pressures & Incentives
But, as education technologist Martin Weller told IHE: “You do all the work, and the returns are very low. You sign away a ridiculous amount of rights – the form includes future TV rights, merchandising, etc., but you take all the risks … if someone sues because of the book’s content it is your liability.”
There are also strong student incentives toward indie publishing, as textbook prices have risen faster in the last couple of decades than real estate or medical costs.
John Sinn, a librarian at the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, said bluntly: “Why don't the editors, who are generally faculty, and the reviewers, who are generally faculty, and the authors, who are almost always faculty or government researchers—why don't they just [publish] on their own and not deal with the publishers?”
New Opportunities in Indie Academic Publishing
Options have been springing up in recent years.
One is Writing Commons, which is aimed primarily at higher education students but attracts some instructors as well. “Our mission is to help college students improve their writing, research, and critical thinking,” its website said, but it has been used for a wide range of academic publishing.
A site with a similar concept, The Winnower, has become incorporated into the teaching programs of a number of institutions, including Louisiana State University, Virginia Tech, and Simon Fraser University. The Winnower noted, “At LSU, for one class ‘The objective of these assignments is to produce publishable work.’”
Another is Leanpub, an online eBook publishing outlet (which we profiled in October 2015), which is a crowd-publishing system aimed at a wide range of users, not just academics. It has been most popular, however, with researchers in technical and scientific fields who can regularly update their books as fast-changing fields progress. As we noted then, “Most of the books published through Leanpub so far are scientific and technical, with titles like 'Software Architecture for Developers,' 'Exploring ES6' and 'Symfony Certification'. Books such as these benefit from getting regular online updates.”
Leanpub's popularity seems to be increasing, as indicated by the release in 2016 of an iTunes app for the site.
In December , a site called Glasstree opened its doors and aimed itself directly at academics seeking to publish scholarly books. It is associated with the self-publishing company, Lulu.
Its website notes, “Professional peer review services are available via Glassleaf publishing services, executed using the same peer review network used by many commercial publishers. Glassleaf peer reviewers are academics like yourself, and are paid fairly. ... Works published through Glasstree may be assigned a DOI [a standard identification number for research].” (Glassleaf services are associated with Glasstree.)
Glasstree's model might presumably be duplicated by other print on demand companies since we've seen how quickly services spring up to capitalize on the growth of indie publishing. Academic publishing seems ripe to become its next frontier.
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