Academic Self-publishing

In a previous post, I wrote about self-publishing, which has taken off among fiction writers.  I cited four main reasons why these authors are choosing to self-publish:  speed (self-published ebooks can be available to readers and potential readers faster than traditionally published books can), control (of titles, covers, length), options, and profit.  What about scholarly publishing?  Are academic authors also turning to self-publishing?

The four factors above are relevant in scholarly self-publishing, too.  Marc Bousquet addressed all of them in his Chronicle profile of Clay Spinuzzi.  After publishing two scholarly works with traditional academic publishers, Spinuzzi chose to distribute his third book, Topsight, through Amazon CreateSpace.  The book is available for Kindle at $9.99, of which Spinuzzi makes about $7.  No academic print publisher offers royalties anywhere near 70%.  Spinuzzi also valued electronic self-publishing for the “swift turnaround, freedom to experiment, and greater creative control” it gave him. In this regard, he sounds very much like AlTonya Washington and Barry Eisler, the novelists profiled in my earlier post.

Inger Mewburn is another academic who has self-published, with similar results.  While remaining a fan of self-publishing, she also notes some of the potential disadvantages of self-publishing for academic authors.  Self-publishing doesn’t “count” in academe; indeed, Bousquet notes that the prestige that comes from getting a book published by a reputable press is frequently the only payment the author receives.  Second, there is no peer review in self-publishing; there may not even be any professional editing, unless the author chooses to pay for a freelancer.  Third, academic books are less accessible to general readers because of the prior knowledge required to understand them and the specialized language used.  These factors may limit readership.

For novelists aspiring to appeal to mass audiences, the advantages of awareness and larger royalties make self-publishing appealing.  For it to become as appealing to academic authors, the profit problem would have to be solved, offering prestige instead of cash as the coin of the college/university realm.  I don’t see much change happening in this area, and I have no better crystal ball than anyone else, but I’m not counting scholarly self-publishing out just yet.  It wouldn’t be the first disruptive development in scholarly communication, and it’s a development worth keeping an eye on.