Should the stigma attached to self-publishing be jettisoned?
“Publish or Perish,” an old saw of the academic world, refers to the unremitting pressure to publish in scholarly journals to advance an academic career. These articles are rarely read outside the field and function best as modern day “republic of letters” – the scholarly correspondence that spread throughout Europe following the adoption of Gutenberg’s press.
In addition, many academics publish books through university presses – SUNY or Oxford, for example. First-run copies of these books often cost near or even over $100. In consequence they are sold only to libraries, if they’re lucky. It is difficult to get beyond a first-run with such limited potential. So while an individual academic might flourish as he or she builds a CV – a broad social justification for academia withers as it loses contact with the educated public through overpriced production.
Perhaps the merit of publishing in the limited venue of a university press (with their high overhead) needs to be re-evaluated in light of new possibilities of self-publishing at competitive prices – such as CreateSpace, a subsidiary of amazon.com. The book can be made quite visible and appear on burgeoning new platforms, such as e-readers. Furthermore, I would roughly estimate the royalty rate as 4 to 5 times higher than those commonly offered by the academic press.
I will admit that there are benefits that come with academic presses, such as a stringent refereeing process. But the scholarly imprimatur carries drawbacks as well – it can stifle original and creative thought. Self-publishing might be an avenue worth exploring for academics who want their ideas to gain visibility.