The Endangered Monograph
Confluence of Changes
"The scholarly book is in peril."
The University of California Academic Council's Special Committee on Scholarly Communication, The Case of Scholarly Book Publishing (PDF)
The scholarly monograph serves a purpose for and is published and supported by a variety of interdependent systems: scholars as authors, tenure and promotion infrastructures, libraries, university presses, and other scholarly publishers.
Significant changes, both market- and technologically driven, have occurred for each of these partners, with unsatisfying results. "A growing chorus of observers has concluded that the current system of scholarly and scientific publishing is unsustainable." (The Future of Scholarly Communication in the Humanities: Adaptation or Transformation? SPARC report, PDF)
- Tenure and promotion: In 2005 the MLA did a survey (PDF) of 1,339 departments in 734 four-year US universities and colleges. The subset of responses from doctorate-granting institutions reveal a continued requirement for published monographs as a prerequisite for tenure and promotion, even while the publishing environment for the monograph is more and more fraught with economic difficulties.
88.8% responded that publication of a monograph is "very important" or "important" to earning tenure (62% and 26% respectively).
49.8% say that progress toward the publication of a second monographs is "very important" or "important" — and half of these say that emphasis on this requirement has increased over the past decade.
- Libraries: Libraries are struggling to balance a number of economic variables, including
upward spiraling inflation in journal and electronic resource costs that have not been matched with concomitant increases in base funding. Libraries have balanced their books through a variety of cost-cutting measures But absent a change in journal pricing practices, libraries have defaulted to an unhappy budgeting principle, "use what's left over after paying for journals to purchase monographs" — a smaller percent than libraries, publishers, and scholars would like.
prices for monographs themselves are exceeding cost of living increases, and as with journals, new funding is not forthcoming to cover these costs. Several publishers are routinely publishing books in the $100-$150 each range including Brill, CRC, De Gruyter, Edwin Mellen, Elgar, Elsevier, Kluwer, Palgrave, Macmillan, Routledge, Springer, and Wiley. As single-volume prices increase, the number of monographs libraries can borrow decreases.
- University Presses: University presses report that their host institutions have changed assumptions over time, with the increasing expectation that they be self-supporting. "On average, University-based members receive about 10% of their revenue as subsidies from their parent institution, 85% from sales, and 5% from other sources." (AAUP Statement on Open Access, PDF)
Consider these pressures:
Scholarly monographs have limited appeal for the general public. Presses have responded by making scholarly monographs a smaller and smaller percentage of their lists.
"We frequently hear publishers describe a downward trend of monograph sales to libraries, from as many as 600-1000 clothbound copies for the initial printing to around 250 today." (MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion report, PDF)
Library purchases now account for 15-20% of university press sales (PDF). Presses have responded by cutting the print runs in response to the diminishing market.
Costs for acquiring illustrations and permissions to publish have increased dramatically. For example, Cambridge University Press, a top publisher in the field of art, decided in 2005 to cut their list by more than half. "A typical art-history book sets a publisher back anywhere from $7,500 for a title with 30 illustrations to $75,000 for one with 150 images." (Chronicle of Higher Education: August 4, 2006)
Costs aren't just limited to the publisher — authors pay as well, as much, in the field of art for example, as $15,000 to illustrate a book that may only have a print run of 400-500 copies.