Okay, this may be way off base for what others would like to do and may seem eye-avertingly naive and silly, but what the heck. I would love to have a conversation about what is essential when it comes to publishing scholarly monographs. If you found yourself on a desert island and started a scholarly press, what would you want to have with you? Which functions are absolutely key? Which are important but have become cumbersome for one reason or another? Which are things we’d be better off without? And while we’re at it, let’s assume we’re starting a press that is going to be small and lean and yet will have sufficient funding to do the desert island basics well.
For background, I’m a librarian at a small institution with a small library and I’m coming at it from the common reader’s perspective: I would like to make it possible for more people to be able to read interesting books by scholars, particularly in the humanities. In an era when huge chunks of my budget are eaten by (at least this month) SAGE and American Chemical Society bundled journals, offers I literally can’t refuse but which will suddenly cost me an extra $35,000 or so this year (and guess what we won’t be buying as a result?), I want to envision a sustainable future for texts that provide a contextualized and sustained examination of a topic that isn’t trendy enough for trade publishers and yet isn’t so arcane that the readership is self-limiting and small. It would be sweet if I could have committed that $35,000 to something I believe in before it’s too late. I know, that’s not a lot of money, but libraries do have the funds they could invest in a Desert Island Press if they decided to do it, and with enough libraries involved it could get some traction. And we could possibly design a sustainable publishing concept that is not necessarily scalable – as in “let’s do more of it” – but could be replicated by others who could pull together and create something similar. Right now libraries are becoming the wallet people use to buy on demand, and that’s not sustainable. It’s not even a library.
If this is too off-topic, maybe some folks who are arriving early would be willing to chat over dinner or something.
photo courtesy of tyle_r