I’ve just turned down an invitation to write for another one of those massive, multi-volume encyclopedias – this time a multi-disciplinary one. I’ve done a few pieces for such things, and I don’t really regret having done so. But I’ve done enough, and this time they wanted 5,000 words for a fee of $100. It would have been less offensive if they had not offered a fee really… Naturally for such a thing there is no chance of a complimentary copy – the cost to the libraries that buy it will be enormous.
$100 is about £64. I’d pay tax on that, but let’s forget that for a moment. The British minimum wage is £6.08 per hour. So if that was my bench-mark, I’d need to write the 5,000 words – including research, gathering up-to-date references, any reading, editing, and later dealing with revisions, queries, proofs, etc. – in 10.5 hours. That’s one and a half standard working days. Could I write this in that time? Unlikely, but even if I could it wouldn’t be very good, would be likely derivative and potentially ill-informed and under-referenced. I doubt I would enjoy doing it, and I’m not sure readers would benefit. For much academic publishing we generally make the argument that we are being paid a salary by our institution and that writing and reviewing is part of that role. Do I have that time spare within a standard working week? No, and if I did, then there are better things to do with it. It would be of just about zero-weight on the cv – not that this is a major consideration if other things apply – but I’m struggling to see what merit this has on any level. I’ve said ‘no’ – though rather more politely than in this post.