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by Henry on June 14, 2005

Two interesting articles in the Chronicle.

Peter Monaghan on film and the difficulties of dealing with Heidegger’s legacy.

and John B. Thompson on the problems of academic publishing, considered from a sociological perspective.

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joel turnipseed 06.14.05 at 2:13 pm

Yes, publishing is doomed… especially academic publishing. I remember talking to Jason Epstein before his book came out and the anguish he had about the transformation of the business during his long decades’ in it fairly clouded his office. Of course, we didn’t talk about the demand-side, of which my favorite recent bit was the aside in Gerry Howard’s BookForum piece about Pynchon’s 60s sales–and how consideration of them should give us all pause… before we went to kill ourselves.

I know, on the academic side, there are several classics monographs that I would love to have: Angela Hobbs’ Plato and the Hero, Ruby Blondell’s Play of Character in Plato’s Dialogues, and Betty Belfiore’s Tragic Pleasures — but they’re all incredibly expensive (the last one out of print and a single used copy available on AMZN for $135). I suppose (hope!) these are the ones that Thompson would consider re-priced according to the dilemmas he documents (though, even then: at 1000 copies at $80 per, that makes 80K, which after printing, distribution, editorial costs, etcetera, doesn’t leave a lot left: 10-15K for the author, if lucky, and nearly no profit for publisher). You would have to be a very wealthy (or incredibly enthusiastic) non-academic reader to make much of a supply-side dent in sales at those costs… and I imagine even academics within a field, but outside a specialty, cringe at these prices.

And then there’s the used book market… which is a drag for everyone. I once tracked used sales of hardcover and paperback sales of my book on AMZN for a week: 26 hardcovers and 41 paperback sales (and this a couple months ago, long after any public mentions of the book had evaporated–so I’ll count it as “typical”). That’s a $60-70/week hit for me and a $140-160/week hit for my publishers… from just one outlet.

As for e-publishing… it’s aesthetic/interface problems seem insurmountable-and still only take, at best, a couple bucks a book out of the economic picture. So… no solution there, either.

It’s just sad, sad, sad… as I get ready to head for another coffee and further work on book number two, I’ll walk up the stairs chanting, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

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