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Re: Future of the "subscription model?"

If Rick spent that much time analyzing markets of books published 
by university presses, then he should realize that the range in 
sales goes from about 200 copies up to over a million.

Let me give you some examples at the higher end of the scale, 
books that were considered quite specialized and even esoteric 
when originally published. The translation of the I Ching in the 
Bollingen Series was not expected to sell well, as a rather 
esoteric work of ancient China, but when Haight Asbury got wind 
of it in the 1960s, Princeton U.P. began shipping truckloads of 
it out west. I'm sure the total sales have exceeded one million 
by this time.  I submitted Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the 
Mirror of nature for an NEH subsidy, which it was awarded, for a 
then modest first printing of 1,500 copies in 1979.  It went on 
to become a phenomenal success across multiple disciplines and 
launched Rorty's career as a public intellectual. Total sales are 
well in excess of 100,000. Even a revised dissertation like Peter 
Evans's Dependent Development (1979) about Brazil became a 
popular classroom staple and has sold around 30,000 copies. And 
then there is Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit," which started its 
life as an article in a professional philosophy journal, but then 
was put out in a new series by Princeton as a very short 
book--and went on to sell so well that it was at or near the top 
of the NY Times best seller list for weeks on end. Its sales are 
in the range of a half million copies.  So, seemingly quite 
specialized works can sell very well indeed. That's the fun of 
publishing: one never knows which books are going to have this 
unexpected success.

Sandy Thatcher

At 8:16 PM -0400 10/31/11, Rick Anderson wrote:

>>The staff editors and the members of the faculty editorial 
>>boards, however, do NOT function as "experts" in this process, 
>>but rather have a broader point of view, where issues of 
>>relevance and importance to the wider community of scholars 
>>(outside the narrow speciality of the book) and beyond to 
>>readers outside academe very much come into play.
>Understood. But these presses don't typically sell very many 
>copies of the scholarly books they publish. Does this suggest 
>that the staff editors and faculty editorial boards who are 
>analyzing the marketplace don't know what they're doing? Or does 
>it suggest that they're consciously publishing high-quality 
>books for which they know there is low demand, in the 
>time-honored spirit of Thomas J. Wilson ("a university press 
>exists to publish as many good scholarly books as possible short 
>of bankruptcy")? I'm open to a third possibility, but I'm not 
>sure what it might be.
>>Rick may not know this, but presses do turn a lot of books down 
>>on market grounds, because they do not think they are relevant 
>>or important enough to interest a wider audience.
>Sandy may not know this, but I've worked in the book business. I 
>spent four years of my career elbow-deep in the products of UPs 
>and scholarly trade presses, analyzing their content, helping 
>academic libraries figure out which ones were best suited to 
>their collection parameters, and seeing how many of which ones 
>sold to what kinds of institutions. And I do know that presses 
>(even scholarly ones) turn down manuscripts on a regular basis 
>in light of market realities. But the books that get rejected 
>aren't at issue here; the problem we're discussing has to do 
>with the ones that get accepted and published. A book isn't more 
>useful to scholars just because ten other manuscripts were 
>rejected as less marketable.
>>P.S. If librarians are worried about publishing based just on 
>>quality alone, then why are they so excited about PLoS ONE, 
>>which narrows the criteria even further, to just methodological 
>>soundness, not even assessing articles on the basis of 
>>substantive contribution?
>I think there's a bit more ambivalence about PLoS ONE in the 
>library world than Sandy suggests, in part for the reason he 
>cites. But I can think of two reasons why at least some 
>librarians would be excited about it. The first is that they see 
>it as a force helping to move the publishing world in the 
>direction of open access. The second is that PLoS ONE articles 
>are available for free. Librarians tend to worry less about the 
>relevance and importance of articles that can be made available 
>to patrons at no cost and with a minimal investment of staff 
>Rick Anderson
>Assoc. Dean for Scholarly Resources & Collections
>J. Willard Marriott Library
>University of Utah