For years I have been wanting to write an overview book on the capability approach and it looks like I may find some time to do that in the next 18 months (possibly quicker if I can buy myself out of some teaching). There are a few publishers interested, and one (a major commercial press of academic books) is actually quite persistent in reminding me that they are interested in this project.
But why publish with a publisher? Why not simply put the book open access on the web? I wonder whether an open access book would be (a) feasible, and (b) all things considered a good thing to do.
So what about (b) – is it all things considered a good thing to publish this online? I am very sympathetic to the general reasons for publishing open access – to create knowledge as a public good, rather than a commercial/private good. But I believe that this is not an overriding reason, and hence that each case should be judge on its own.
Here are a few relevant facts. The topic is the capability approach, which is a cross-discriplinary topic that’s widely studied in developing countries too (it provides the theoretical foundations of the Human Development Reports); so one (very important) advantage of having a book online is to make it available to all, independent of one’s financial means to buy books (of course one would still need access to the web etc, but those seem much smaller hurdles than buying from a bookpublisher). So it would be a good thing in terms of global fairness, so to say. In ecological terms, I am not sure what the best thing to do is – anyone knows? Is having individual people locally print or photocopy ecologically worse than having a book printed on book-paper?
Relevant facts about me are that I have a secure job, so I don’t need a monograph to secure tenure or gain promotion. Of course it has higher status to publish a book with a serious publisher, which implies that next time I apply for a big research grant I would better have a serious publisher on my CV than an open access book – but that’s a price I’d be willing to pay.
One advantage of signing a book-contract with a publisher, is that this is a strong form of commitment and self-binding; if one suffers a lot from procrastination or prioritizing of smaller projects (e.g. articles) over larger projects, then singing a contract may be the only way to actually secure the very existence of the book (this consideration unfortunately does apply to me, and from what I hear I am not the only one who would need this kind of self-binding).
I have no clue how to answer the (a) part of my query. I would be inclined to think that one should be able to simply create a large PDF, put it online, and that’s it (after getting an ISBN number). Or are there better ways that I do not know about?
The craziest thing to do, would be to form a collective of academics who have their own on-line open access publishing house, completely by-passing the current publishing houses. Something like ‘The Crooked Timber Press’.