The death of the scholarly monograph ?

Over on my other blog I detailed my admittedly sketchy go publishing a book with Amazon Kindle publishing. At the end of the post I also included a link to an article from the Australian on the near death experience currently being undergone by scholarly monographs in Australia. (A subscription may be required to read the article in question)

Today brings a similar article in the THES:

Times Higher Education – Farewell, obscure objects of desire.

in which it’s argued that the costs of production will kill off the scholarly monograph. I don’t actually buy this scenario, principally because of the changes in technology.

The monograph is fundamentally a product of nineteenth century scholarship. Just as scholarly journals produced by learned societies were. Gentlemen were scholars and gentlemen could afford the publications and journals.

Life is of course a little different now. Gentlemen may still be scholars and scholars may still be gentlemen and gentlewomen, but the costs of subscriptions are no longer affordable for both individuals and institutions.

In the case of monographs the costs of production play a role. To print, store, and warehouse a book that will sell 300 copies costs almost as much as one that will sell 30,000 copies . Moving to e-publication – as ANU’s e-press has done – allows the electronic copies to be downloadable (either for a modest fee to defray infrastructure costs and setup costs or for no cost) or printed on demand saving the costs of storage and warehousing.

Academic publication is an excellent testbed for the changes in publication wrought by technology. The publications have in the main authors happy to slave for hours to format text and proof read for no reward than the glory of seeing their name in print, and no expensive advertising budget is required – most of the people likely to be interested in the topic either all know each other or know someone who knows the author – I’m reminded of Irving Finkel’s remark that all the Assyriologists competent in cuneiform could probably squeeze into a phone box.

So I don’ t see the scholarly monograph going away any time soon – I see it living on in electronic form, peer reviewed and suitably endorsed. It’s university libraries and presses that need to change to reflect the changes in technology


About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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