Should academic books exist any more?

by Chris Bertram on January 28, 2018

Ingrid [wrote a post about academics writing “trade” books]( I’m not all that keen on such categorizations, but the idea seems to be that these are books that are and aim to be accessible to a wider, non-academic, public. In the past, of course, may scholarly works by academics have spoken to such wider publics, and some still do. To give some examples from off the top of my head E.P. Thompson’s *The Making of the English Working Class*, Barrington Moore’s *The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy*, Bernard Williams’s *Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy*, and John Mackie’s *Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong*, were all works of scholarship and rigour that were sold to and were read by people other than specialists with academic jobs. In my own area, political philosophy, one could argue that taking seriously one’s democratic commitments even requires that arguments are shareable with an educated public (as [I argued long ago]( … ironically behind an academic paywall).

More mysterious to me is the continued existence of *purely* “academic” books, written for specialists by specialists. Except for those written by a few megastars or academics with crossover into nearby disciplines, there are few purely academic volumes that are likely to sell enough copies to be commercially viable at the price they need to break even. So why do they continue to exist as bound paper entities (which is what I’m talking about) ? Two reasons, I guess. First, we continue to supply them and tenure and promotions committees continue to be impressed by them (so they are a professional necessity in many fields), and second the demand for them is heavily subsidized by buyers such as university libraries (presumably libraries are the only purchasers of many of the theses that publishers like Routledge recycle into books). None of this is necessary any more for intellectual exchange and argument. Exactly the same content (too rigourous or dull for the lay reader) could be supplied at the same length free of charge and online. Only prestige and subsidy is keeping purely academic books alive.

Sunday Photoblogging: Chicago, L

by Chris Bertram on January 28, 2018

On the L