Libraries, Academic Presses, and Ebooks

When I read How to Get a Job in Publishing last week, the chapter on academic publishing included a memorable line:

“…librarians assume that they are financially supporting the academic reward system…”

It seemed to address the issue that university libraries spend a large portion of their budget buying the books written by faculty. It’s more complicated than that, so I might need to revisit that chapter.

I was reminded of this today when Lisa Hyde from Irish Academic Press (and the imprint Merrion Books) came in to speak to us for Publishers on Publishing. She was very interested in our academic book buying habits, and whether we get books in our field on the Kindle.

The last academic book I tried to buy on my Kindle was Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards. I was disappointed when I couldn’t find a Kindle version, and because it was more or less an impulse buy, I didn’t end up making a purchase.

When I’m trying to broaden my horizons by reading something I normally wouldn’t, I don’t necessarily want the expensive hardback that most academic presses produce. I would rather have a trade paperback or, better yet, an ebook. Neither one was available, so I moved on.

Ms. Hyde explained that high rates of returned stock from booksellers are the biggest fear in academic publishing. It seems cruel that the major source of frustration could be easily cured by the advent of ebooks.

Ms. Hyde said academic publishers have to look out for their authors, and it’s likely that everyone is holding their breath until the Apple/DOJ case is decided. A big portion of this is also that academic publishers “have the library market to consider,” and not all libraries have adopted ebook lending.

On a final note: Ms. Hyde spoke a lot about her work with Merrion Books, the new imprint of Irish Academic Press that leans more toward a trade market. One particular title she spoke of was Glenveagh Mystery, coming from Merrion Books in time for the Christmas season.

Ms. Hyde said she has worked in almost all areas of publishing except for fiction, partly because she doesn’t want to ruin fiction for herself. However, every time she brought up the difference between regular academic titles and what she is trying to do with Merrion Books, she used phrases like “she’s told a fabulous story.” I found it interesting that a narrative structure seems to be the unifying feature of all these works that transcend the “academic” label and appeal to a wider audience.