The University Record, October 14, 1998

Series examines uncertain future of scholarly books

From the Institute for the Humanities

“Book Trouble: Tales of Terror about the Future of the Scholarly Book,” a series of talks sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities that extends through mid-November, will examine the uncertain future of the scholarly book.

According to Institute Director Tom Trautmann, the scholarly book has long filled an important publishing niche, producing specialized books that illuminate narrow but important areas of knowledge. Now, however, its survival is threatened by ever-increasing pressures, including the economics of the industry, electronic publishing and copyright law.

“Twenty years ago, the academic press would run 2,000 copies of most titles. Now a much smaller run, as little as 600, is more typical.” He adds that university libraries used to place large, standing orders for many academic titles, but that is no longer the case. Authors and publishers can no longer count on traditional arrangements for selling the scholarly book.

The talks, which begin Oct. 20, are at noon Tuesdays in the Institute for the Humanities Common Room, 1524 Rackham Building.

Colin L. Day, director, University of Michigan Press, leads off the series with a look at the economics of academic publishing in “The Bleak Present and Uncertain Future of the Academic Monograph.” He will describe an industry in which increased costs and depressed revenues have pushed scholarly books to the economic margin. One result, Day says, is that many houses, including non-profit publishers, have been forced to withdraw from fields of important scholarly endeavor and cultural importance.

On Oct. 27, Wendy P. Lougee and John Price-Wilkin, University Library, will describe new forms of publishing as they explain---and demonstrate via laptop---how “The Electronic Book” is likely to alter scholarly publishing. Lougee says that the digital book is “more than glass paper, giving authors the means to reconceive the form and substance of the scholarly resource.” Technologies will not only allow for new multimedia works, she says, but also will expand our existing notions of imprint, edition and relations between works.

On Nov. 3, William Gosling, interim director, University Library, will discuss the challenges inherent in “Sustaining the Great Research Library”---how to sustain a collection at a time of escalating prices and competing demands for financial resources. Against these pressures, the volume of printed materials published globally increases each year. He says that the U-M library system acquires some 120,000 paper-based volumes annually, and it must balance these acquisitions against their electronic counterparts to sustain the library’s fine collection.

On Nov. 10, Karl Pohrt and Keith Taylor of Shaman Drum Bookshop will give the independent bookseller’s view of marketing academic and scholarly books in a presentation on “Selling Academic Books.” With a combined half-century of experience selling books in Ann Arbor, they will describe changes in the book business that have taken place in recent years, and they will discuss how the demands of the academic audience differ from those of the commercial book-buying public.

The series concludes on Nov. 17 with a talk on “What Scholars Need to Know about Copyright.” Attorney Susan M. Kornfield describes copyright as “the twin sister of the First Amendment, conceived by the framers of the Constitution as a vehicle for communication and education.” Several factors make it nearly impossible to reach an accurate understanding of copyright, she says, including confusion inherent in the law, as well as misconceptions within the educational community and publishing industry. Kornfield will discuss the rights of scholars in the works they author, the rights of scholars to use the workproduct of other authors, and strategies for drawing up publishing contracts.

For more information, call 936-3518.

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