Academics are being hoodwinked into writing books nobody can buy *

A few months ago, an editor from an academic publisher got in touch to ask if I was interested in writing a book for them.

I’ve ignored these requests in the past. I know of too many colleagues who have responded to such invitations, only to see their books disappear on to a university library shelf in a distant corner of the world.

If someone tried to buy said book – I mean, like a real human being – they would have to pay the equivalent of a return ticket to a sunny destination or a month’s child benefit. These books start at around £60, but they can cost double that, or even more.

This time, however, I decided to play along.

What follows is a frank description that illustrates a major element of contemporary academic book publishing. In addition to what is mentioned in the article, I have also heard that writers sometimes have to pay for proofreading and other services normally provided by a publisher.

This seems to be a relatively big business for the publishers (they are at least almost guaranteed a small profit on each project) and, as the Anonymous Academic in the Guardian points out, not a very good deal for anyone else.

So why don’t academics simply stay away from the greedy publishers? The only answer I can think of is vanity.

I can think of another. These books (and book chapters) often count significantly in various academic reward systems. Compared to getting published in a high-quality peer-reviewed journal, writing these books is simply a good career move.

* This is the title of an article originally appearing in The Guardian 2015-09-04 (which recently came to my attention via my Facebook feed).

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