In July I wrote about monograph publishing in rather lugubrious tones. More up-beat, and obviously thoroughly researched, Richard Fisher’s two-part study of monograph publishing appears at The Scholarly Kitchen; Part 1 is here, and Part 2, here.
Perhaps surprisingly for all the pessimists among us he sees, along with a sharp increase in total numbers, relatively little change in the methodology of monograph publishing over the past 30 years. “This extended posting has deliberately stressed some of the continuities in monographic publication modes, as a counter to the perhaps excessive emphasis on ‘disruption’ prevalent in much such commentary. At its most fundamental, the core author proposition around monograph publication remains, for a large number of established researchers in the humanities, broadly defined, remarkably unchanged: I write a book or chunks of a book on Economic and Social Change in the West of England, 1680-1750 (the title of my own, strangely uncompleted doctoral project), I approach a press I know to have published in that general area before, the relevant editor takes a pair of broadly supportive external reports to which I respond, after various bits of internal scrutiny the whole is put before the press publication committee who agree to offer a contract, and away we go. That experience remains, I would suggest, considerably more common than some of the more excitable current commentary would suggest.”
He points to short-run digital printing as one of the technological developments which have helped to save the monograph by enabling fewer and fewer copies to be printed economically. Another factor in the survival of the system is simply the fact that as far as the academic community, at least in the humanities and social sciences, is concerned the system as it is still works. It may not be perfect, but it’s not broken enough for anyone to feel the need to invent an alternative. I guess lots of things can survive on this sort of imperfect basis. When we discuss theories, we tend to cleave to my perfect outcome, or your perfect outcome. The actuality tends to be neither, but rather this adequate outcome. Long may the adequacy continue!