CRISIS IN SCHOLARLY PUBLISHING
Brian Weatherson, Invisible Adjunct, Brad DeLong, and Chun the Unavoidable (whom I had thus far managed to avoid) all think there is a crisis in the academy: Books are required for tenure in many fields at a time when scholarly presses are being forced to publish only books that people will buy. Brad thinks a partial solution is to allow publication of eBooks, while Brian thinks that following the trend in Philosophy, where articles alone suffice, is the most logical solution. IA and Chun are less sure there is a crisis, since many programs will indeed tenure without a book.
The “crisis,” it seems to me, is that there are far too many lower-tier schools trying to pretend that they’re research institutions. It makes sense for the Berkeleys and Chicagos to require books (in some fields, anyway); it doesn’t at the “teaching” schools. And I think Brian is also right: in many fields, books are less important than articles. That was always my perception in political science.
That said, there are alternatives. I’ve been working for the past 13 months or so as an acquisitions editor for a commercial press, mainly looking for books in the international relations-comparative politics-security studies genres. While commercial houses aren’t going to publish the type of academic monographs that only appeal to 200 readers, some of us will take a flier on a book we think will sell at least 2000. And, frankly, if there aren’t 2000 potential buyers for a book–that includes libraries, after all–a book isn’t worth publishing. You might as well go to a vanity press if the contribution to “the literature” is that slight.