No soft (cover) option 'outrages' author

Sociologist says publishers are halting low-price publications of scholarly works. Zoe Corbyn writes

June 4, 2009

A scholar has launched a scathing attack on the commercial academic publishing industry after learning inadvertently that his new book was to be released only in hardback.

Steve Fuller, a professor of sociology at the University of Warwick, accused publishers of "slowly limiting" paperback sales of scholarly books - a trend he says is preventing publication at lower prices that might attract a wider audience.

He also criticised academics for acquiescing on the issue, saying big-name publishers such as Routledge, Macmillan and Sage take it for granted that scholars would continue to publish with them because they put career advancement before volume of sales.

"You might ask why UK academics don't complain more about this," he said.

"Frankly, I think the answer is that academics publish books more to be deemed reputable than actually to be read."

Professor Fuller said he was "outraged" when he discovered via a proof of a flyer for his new book, The Sociology of Intellectual Life, due out in the autumn, that it would be published by Sage only in hardback at a price of £60.

He had understood it was to be simultaneously printed in paperback, as has been the case for previous titles in the series, at the more affordable price of £19.99.

He said he had already agreed a paperback cover, and the book was advertised by the online bookseller Amazon in both forms.

"They (Sage) said they were able to make these decisions at the last minute," he said. "If this was told to me (earlier), I would have gone to another publisher."

He said that while the decision was subject to a review after 12 to 18 months, he did not know who would buy the book at such an "exorbitant price" to justify a paperback run.

A spokeswoman for Sage said that decisions on format were taken at the point of production and that the company had apologised to Professor Fuller for not keeping him informed.

She said decisions on all titles were made case by case, based on feedback from the author and peer reviewers on a volume's likely impact.

"In the case of Professor Fuller's book, the reviewers felt that the book had a limited potential in the student market," she said.

Scholarly monographs such as Professor Fuller's tended to be published in hardback only to ensure recovery of publishing costs, she added. "As a monograph, sales of this type of publication are primarily to libraries, which are accustomed to purchasing the titles in hardback or electronically ... a monograph available at £60 is not uncommon."

The spokeswoman added that the title would be published simultaneously as an e-book, although the price of this was yet to be set.

Professor Fuller said he had asked if he could put the uncorrected proofs in an institutional repository after publication to allow wider access, but had received no response from Sage. The publisher said it did not allow its authors to do this because it would undermine its business model.

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