05/27/2009 (John Jay-Main Building: 59th st & 10th Ave)
09:20-11:00 Key Event I: Publication Roundtable (Rm 630)

Moderators: Elaine Miller & Emily Zakin, Co-Editors of philoSOPHIA:  A Journal of Continental Feminism

Tina Chanter (Editor, SUNY Series in Gender Theory)
Wendy Lochner (Senior Executive Editor, Columbia University Press)
Amy Scholder (Editorial Director, The Feminist Press)
Helen Tartar (Editorial Director, Fordham University Press)

Wendy Lochner

I know that all of you have your own very specific questions and interests, and I know that we will try to answer as many as we can; any of us will also be available by email or phone later on. But I wanted to step back for a moment and look at the bigger picture for university press publishing. Thanks to Q and all the organizers for inviting me.

Questions about the realities, challenges, and future directions for publishing in feminist philosophy and theory cannot be considered in isolation from those same questions in any other scholarly discipline

It is no secret that university presses are in crisis. Their missions—to advance knowledge, to create pedagogical tools, to give scholarly work public impact, and to serve as ranking institutions for purposes of tenure—can no longer be sustained by the old business model based on the individual sale of scholarly books.

One overriding reason for this is that the sustained, contemplative reading of books has been largely supplanted by Google and other web browsers in favor of customizable bits of information, supplemented by equally customized advertising and promotion. The book must take its place within this larger ecology of persuasion, information creation, and social exchange.

Different presses are affected differently by the new economy. Some have large endowments; others must rely on parent institution support at a time when these institutions themselves, whether public or private, are under economic stress. But all are confronted by the failure of the printed book sales model. Neither individuals nor libraries are sustaining it. Presses are increasingly being forced to become much more selective in their publication of monographs and edited collections. This is having a very serious effect on the ability to publish revised dissertations and other work of young scholars as well as on the work of more senior people in highly specialized fields and placing huge pressures upon the existing tenure system.

These problems cannot be resolved, as some have suggested, by electronic book publishing alone, even when fully peer-reviewed. Even though manufacturing costs are eliminated, they only represent a small fraction of the total cost; reviewing, editing, design, and marketing costs are no cheaper with ebooks and lowered sales expectations remain, forcing presses to make the same kinds of decisions about which kinds of books they can profitably publish in order to break even and stay in business.

What form could a new publishing model take? If we recognize that the value of books lies not in their self-contained, material form but rather in the knowledge economy generated by readers themselves, we can perhaps begin to imagine a press selling not material objects but access to interpretive communities. Readers, already attuned to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, might buy access to a book and the social network of its readers—or into a discipline-specific platform complete with books, resource tools, and communities. This could take the form of a subscription rather than individual purchases, allowing continued access to a range of customer-chosen materials and publics.

If presses can reinvent themselves as centers of intellectual exchange and organizers of interpretive communities within academic disciplines to which individuals, foundations, and educational and other institutions would be willing to subscribe, they would be positioned to again be able to fulfill their valuable missions.

Whatever form such a reinvention ultimately takes, it is not the work of presses alone. Educational institutions, foundations, faculty, authors, libraries, students, and activists within each discipline, as well as larger reading publics, will need to collaborate in order to create a model or range of models that can again advance scholarship, reach critical publics, create pedagogical tools, and function as a ranking mechanism for the academic profession while allowing university presses to become and remain sustainable entities. It may also be necessary for universities and presses that are renowned in a particular field or subfield to collaborate in order to best serve their publics.

I would be very interested in learning any of your thoughts about what scholarly publishing might look like in the future—feel free to be in touch.