<Photo by MonsierLui http://www.flickr.com/photos/monsieurlui/316350341/>
I got an invite from Frank Rennie the other week to contribute a chapter to a book he is thinking of putting together around the subject of the mismatch (or distance) between academic thinking and the potential of new tools. Frank is a big fan of the self-publish sites and has suggested we eschew an academic publisher, and just publish ourselves via Lulu or Blurb.
This got me thinking as to why more academics don't do this, and still chase the book contract. It certainly isn't for the money, so it must be for the prestige. This can be broken down into personal and external I think. There is the personal prestige one feels in having a book accepted by a publisher and going through the actual process. One feels like a proper author. There are some practical advantages also – real deadlines to keep you motivated, professional copyediting and some promotion. But these practical advantages are often over-played, for example, as an author you have to suggest most of the avenues for publicity.
The external prestige is probably the greatest factor. This is strongly reinforced in the UK by the REF, which wouldn't really consider a self-published book, but also by promotion committees and just general esteem amongst colleagues. Self-publishing is seen as rather sordid and the last recourse for the demented author who couldn't get published anywhere else. It tended to smack of desperation somewhat. But that clearly isn't the case anymore (if it ever was), with the news that author Barry Eisler turned down a $500K contract to self-publish. Going it alone is seen as a sensible option.
Academic authors are not in the same position as Eisler, but they never were anyway. The return on most academic books won't buy you a yacht cap, let alone a yacht. But increasingly academics are developing what we might nauseatingly refer to as personal brand. That is they carry sufficient credibility and connections within their own networks to make self-publishing as viable as traditional publishing in terms of generating interest. Add to that they can be in charge of rights and make their books open access. So the question then is what is the aim of academic publishing? Is it to be as widely read as possible or to generate items for your CV?
So why did I go with a publisher? Well, they are doing open access so maybe, you can have a bit of both. And I don't think I've quite shaken that prestige thing.