Traditionally, readers are expected to pay for the production costs of books and magazines. However, in the majority of cases others also contribute. Advertisers are a good source of revenue to the extent that many publications are fully funded by them. In academic publishing ‘open access’ is another way of saying that someone else other than the reader pays.
Many pharmaceutical companies cover the costs of publishing medical research so that doctors have no barriers in accessing results that help to sell their products! But such benefactors are in short supply when it comes to arts and humanities publishing.
If we are honest, the main beneficiary of academic publishing is the author whose ideas are ‘perpetuated’. As such, they should be the ones who contribute to the costs of making publication a success. In practice, there are already resources to support publications based around creative practice.
Unfortunately, most of these funds are wasted on self-indulgent self-publishing. Most artists’ concept of publishing is limited to production of a physical artefact without considering the wider issues of marketing and distribution. They use their limited budgets fully in producing a book based on their own aesthetic sensibilities without considering the potential readers. Most authors are also not aware of ways that the book could be produced using value-for-money formats. Any resources saved by the publisher in production could then be spent on marketing.
A professionally produced academic book benefits from the experience of the publisher in many ways. To begin with, the process of peer review eliminates vanity publishing. Secondly, the publisher acts as a proxy for potential readers, thus making the book more welcoming to the readers instead of being an obscure object of self-indulgence. Most importantly, the publisher places the book in the mainstream of potential readership through its existing contacts.
I acknowledge that many new avenues of self-publishing have emerged via the internet. However, the role of a publisher remains as critical as ever. In this respect I was pleased to read Vint Cerf’s opinion (Media Guardian, 3/12/07) that while blogs and video-sharing websites have opened up new outlets to millions of people around the world at the same time, the appetite for professionally produced content continues to grow.