Why do so many academics publish in unreadable outlets?
I don’t mean the prose style is unreadable (though it might be), but I’m thinking of the outlets they chose to publish in.
Obviously, I recognise that the ‘gold standard’ for many academics is the refereed journal article, and the majority of these journals, especially the ones that are ‘highly ranked’, are subscription-only. If you are working towards getting a job, tenure, promotion, research assessment and so on, you may need to publish in those kinds of outlets. Fine, this is a compromise between accessibility and recognised outlet.
I’m thinking of two other kinds of outputs.
First, authored and edited books. Why do so many academics continue to publish books which are hardback only, very expensive, often with poor production values, and so on? And, given the current trend for very short books (Briefs, Shorts, Forerunners, Swifts, Pivots, etc.) why do authors often go with the trade presses where the price for these little books would be prohibitive for a full-length study?
In terms of my own authored books, all but one appeared in paperback immediately, and the exception had that agreed (verbally), only for the publisher to change their mind when the book was in production. No amount of work or persuasion have made them change their mind. Lesson learned – I now insist on this being in the contract before I sign. And in a sense, more fool them: all my other books have sold many times as many copies, about the same as this one in hardback and many more in paperback.
For edited books, I know that placing these is extremely difficult. I’ve generally found edited books much harder to persuade publishers to do. So, sometimes a compromise is needed here – hardback first, then paperback in a year’s time or similar. But again, get it in the contract. The one complete exception to this is when I was commissioned to lead the editing of a reprint collection for Sage from the Environment and Planning journals. That was very expensive, and destined for library sales only – all the content bar editors’ introductions was available to journal subscribers already, and I got my own introduction made open access.
Second, smaller pieces that count little for promotion, tenure, etc. and would never be submitted in a research assessment – book reviews, interventions, responses, commentaries, etc. Why do so many of these end up in inaccessible outlets? What is the point? These days I try to only write short pieces like this if it’s got a chance of being open access or otherwise easily available. It’s why I rarely do book reviews for conventional journals, unless they appear on an open-access companion site, and prefer to write for Berfrois or similar.
I don’t tend to write that many book chapters for other people’s books these days, but when I do, it would make a big difference if the book was going to be reasonably cheap or even open access (I’ve written a few recently for collections with Punctum books, for example). I know that opinions on book chapters differ, but I’ve yet to find an academic manager who thinks they should be equal weighted with a refereed journal article. So if you’re going to write them then it must be principally to be read – an entirely good reason, of course! So, try to make them available and accessible…
And, beyond that… why don’t more academics use institutional repositories, or their own websites to upload pdfs? Almost all my articles and other short pieces are available on this site, and even links to some books.
I can imagine that some responses will be – I have no choice! My department/university/chair expects this… Publishers are all the same… But you do have choices, and not all publishers are the same. Yes, for journal articles you probably need to be aware of where is deemed a good place to publish, but for anything else…