On University Presses and the Nature of Scholarly Publishing

From Scott Sherman in The Nation: “University Presses Under Fire How the Internet and slashed budgets have endangered one of higher education’s most important institutions.”

Another setback in the 1960s and 1970s was the rise of large publishing conglomerates such as Elselvier, Springer and Wiley, which aggressively expanded their acquisition of science journals. This is a fact of considerable importance: subscriptions to science journals are expensive (a one-year subscription to Brain Research costs $19,952), so academic libraries have had to devote considerable financial resources to retain them, and that has diminished their budgets for humanities and social science monographs. In Books in the Digital Age (2005), the Cambridge sociologist John B. Thompson explains that “in 1997 journals were thirty times more expensive than they were in 1970,” and the trend shows no signs of changing.

The article presents multiple points of view, and a number of recent efforts to change the way university presses work—including the roles of ebooks/digital scholarship and open access scholarship, but notes one age-old problem inherent in the interactions between scholars, tenure, and university presses:

A crucial question faces university presses and the universities themselves: Who will pay for the dissemination of scholarship? University presses provide a number of vital functions for the academy as a whole—starting with the fact that, by and large, young professors achieve promotion and tenure based on monographs they publish. But the funding for the entire system is lopsided. If the University of Colorado Press publishes a monograph by a young professor at Dartmouth that enables that scholar to obtain tenure, then the University of Colorado Press, with its very modest budget, is in effect subsidizing Dartmouth, which has an endowment of $3.7 billion as well as its own small press. In his New Media & Society essay, Pochoda noted that approximately 100 university presses are subsidizing “at least 1,000 other universities and colleges who are free riders on a system that they rely on but do not support.”

I note that the price of a printed scholarly monograph, say a book that began as a Ph.D. dissertation, runs between $40.00 and $90.00 dollars. This makes it unlikely that the book will be purchased widely by younger scholars at the dissertation stage, or independent scholars or engaged readers of the general public. It seems to be a reasonable middle-way to provide a digital version for half the price, even if that digital version is a non-printable .PDF file derived from the file sent to the printer.

I note, for the curious, that it is not even slightly unusual for a scholarly monograph from a university press to not only not provide the author with an advance, the author likely will not be offered royalties unless it’s one of the larger presses with wider distribution.

What’s Happening to Division Street? The Gentrification of Portland

It feels like the aspects of Portland that are so valued are facilitating the influx of people that are destroying what we all love about the city.

There’s a phenomenon where a slightly run down neighborhood in an urban area, often with lots of warehouse space, becomes a residential area for artists, musicians and queers because the slightly run-down part and the older houses and warehouse space means artists, musicians and queers can afford to rent there.

So they move in, they create businesses and artists studios and co-ops and homes. Those funky shops and artists studios attract people who like art and music and good food and kid-friendly neighborhoods and single dwelling and small shared housing.

And then the rent goes up. And then the landlords decide to demolish the turn of the century houses, the old warehouses turned into lofts and studios and small businesses for artisans, and build condos.

I’ve seen it happen to Minneapolis, Portland Maine, San Francisco. It’s happened to Pearl Street and the Rose quarter in Portland, and now, it’s happening to Division street.

Vanity Fair on Judge Denise Cote

Judge Cote is the judge in the DOJ’s case against Apple and various publishers; this is an interesting background piece.

Since introducing the Kindle in 2007—and setting e-book prices at, or more often substantially below, its own costs—Amazon has wreaked havoc, and panic, among publishers. Beyond devaluing lucrative hardcover books, such rock-bottom prices have helped destroy the “brick-and-mortar” stores where books are showcased. Nothing the publishers did—delaying the release of e-books, complaining to Amazon, upping their wholesale prices to the company, or, in the case of one house, Hachette, actually going to the Justice Department to gripe—seemed to work.

But Apple offered salvation. By opening up an iBookstore in tandem with the new iPad, Apple could “trounce” Amazon, Eddy Cue, the Apple executive who’d pioneered iTunes and other Apple content stores, wrote Jobs in late 2009. Jobs quickly signed on. But Cue had to move fast: the iPad was to make its debut on January 27, 2010, and Jobs wanted to unveil iBooks with it. And Jobs himself was dying.

To each of the Big Six publishing houses, Cue offered the same deal: rather than selling e-books wholesale and letting retailers price them, the publishers themselves would set e-book prices; Apple would only be an agent, collecting 30 percent of sales. By January 26, five of the publishers—only Random House refused—had agreed. Amazon, too, quickly fell in line. E-book prices quickly rose. Soon came the lawsuits—class actions on behalf of consumers; cases filed by various state attorneys general. And then, in April 2012—largely, Apple has charged, at Amazon’s instigation—came the Justice Department’s case. All said Apple and the publishers had conspired together in violation of federal anti-trust laws.

David Margolick. “The Judge That Apple Hates.”

Editor Jill Abramson Fired by The New York Times

Keep in mind that the NYT lost a lawsuit regarding pay inequality and female staffers.

I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”

Ken Auletta in The New YorkerWhy Jill Abramson was Fired.

Heidi Roizen on “What I Learned Negotiating With Steve Jobs”

Heidi Rozen, Standord MBA and faculty member, co-founder of classic Mac developer T/Maker, former Apple Vice President of World-Wide Developer Relations, reminisces about negotiating with Steve Jobs, and what she learned:

On the appointed day, after waiting in the lobby for 45 minutes (this, I would come to learn, was par for the course for meetings with Steve), I was called up to Steve’s cubicle. I remember to this day how completely nervous I felt. But I had my contract in hand and I knew my numbers cold.

Shortly into my pitch, Steve took the contract from me and scanned down to the key term, the royalty rate. I had pitched 15%, our standard. Steve pointed at it and said,

“15%? That is ridiculous. I want 50%.”

Sometimes when I listen to people talk about negotiating, whether it’s for a consulting gig, a salary or a publishing contract, they seem to frame the event in the context of a zero/sum game, of winning or losing.

Sometimes it’s about finding a way for both parties to win.

The Fabulous Charlie Stross on The Religious History of UNIX

Thus the scribe hath written:

But in the late 1980s, the Catholic Church succumbed to the sins of venality and simony, demanding too much money from the faithful. And so, in 1991 or thereabouts, Linus Torvalds nailed his famous source code release to the cathedral door and kicked off the Reformation. The Reformation took the shape of a new, freely copyable kernel that all the faithful could read with their own eyes. This Protestant heresy spread like wildfire among the people but was resisted with acts of vicious repression by the high priesthood of Corporate IT (arguably in connivance with the infidel invaders from the Caliphate of Microsoft). The Linux wars were brutal and unforgiving and Linux itself splintered into a myriad of fractious Protestant churches, from the Red Hat wearing Lutherans to the Ubuntu Baptists.

See Over-Extended Metaphor for the day by Charlie Stross for the rest (you don’t have to be a Unix person)

Scott Lobdell, sexism, stupidity etc.

Long story short: A few days ago, cartoonist MariNaomi wrote an op-ed about being harassed by professional comic-book writer Scott Lobdell on a panel at a convention. MariNaomi was very careful to avoid identifying information, but Lobdell apparently read the piece recognized himself—maybe because the shit he had pulled was extreme even in an industry and environment with a long, gross history of tolerance of and complicity with misogyny and harassment.

Lobdell responded by contacting Heidi MacDonald, a self-described friend of his. He sent Heidi an open apology of sorts, which Heidi ran at The Beat, and which is such a spectacular load of equivocation and dodges that my spit-takes are doing spit-takes.

Read the rest