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Executive Summary (PDF)

Faculty Conference on Scholarly Publishing - UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley > The Library > Faculty Conference on Scholarly Publishing > Handouts > The Monograph

The Monograph

Scholarly monographs have long been viewed as the "gold standard" for scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. Over the last several years, however, we are hearing significant worries about the long-term viability of the monograph from scholars, publishers, and libraries alike.

  • Young scholars feel they must have one, or maybe even two monographs in their portfolio to qualify for tenure.

  • University presses report ever-increasing difficulty in finding markets for the scholarly monograph, at the same time that sources of revenue other than sales (e.g., subsidies from campuses, endowments and grants) have shrunk or disappeared altogether.

  • Library budgets have not kept pace with inflation; libraries are struggling to purchase both electronic and print resources in all fields while the volume of monographic material keeps rising.

In a nutshell: "Tenure committees usually judge the merits of young scholars by how deeply and knowledgeably they expand on previous research, but they must publish their work in presses that are increasingly making decisions on the basis of breadth and crossover appeal rather than scholarly depth."
(From The Future of Scholarly Publishing, MLA Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Scholarly Publishing.)

Demand for outlet is up

Who's selling? Who's buying? Prices and Budgets.

Inflation occurs with monographs as it does with journals, and as with journals, non-profit publishers tend to set better prices than for-profit publishers.

Percentage increases 1986-2000 for ARL Libraries
consumer price index 68%
monograph unit cost 82%
monograph expenditures 66%
monographs purchased 0%
Percentage increases 1989-2000
consumer price index 39%
average suggested retail price of a scholarly book, university presses 14%
average suggested retail price of a scholarly book, commercial scholarly presses 23%

University Presses
Although a subset of monographs purchased by Libraries come from university presses, their missions and that of the academy are closely linked. The view from the university press underlines the challenges faced by all who wish to publish a monograph:

  • "1 book in every 10 new books published in the United States is published by a university press."
    (From Some University Press Facts.)

  • "The American Association of University Presses reports that overall sales in the industry decreased by 1.5% in 2003, on top of a .3% reduction in 2002 and a 2.6% drop in 2001."
    (From The University Press Publishers: Sidestepping Fate. Niko Pfund. From We're Not Dead Yet!, November 15, 2004. Library Journal.)

  • "While print-runs of 1,000 to 1,500 copies were standard ten years ago [1987], [university] presses are now confronting sales of 400-500 copies."
    (From University Presses: Balancing Academic and Market Values. Mary Case. ARL: A Bimonthly Newsletter of Research Library Issues and Actions.)

  • "… about 75% of the domestic sales revenue for university press books is coming from individuals buying through a bookstore, online retailer, or direct from the publishers, and about 25% from institutional purchasers, most of them libraries."

  • "… whereas we could once count on selling about 800 copies to libraries worldwide, we are now lucky if we can sell 200. And scholars are no longer buying as many books for their personal libraries, either … if print runs get much smaller, the question arises, Why publish at all? And if prices go much higher, scholars … may simply refuse to buy …"
    (From Researching Specialized Audiences: The Publisher's Conundrum. Joanna Hitchcock, Director, University of Texas Press.)

Are monographs our best choice?

Advances in pre-print and post-print technologies, together with the rising interest by scholars in access to materials online, offer new opportunities and raise questions the academy has begun to address:

  • "We asked faculty members to rank some of the advantages of and incentives to use of electronic publishing. Most frequently cited were: (1) wider dissemination; (2) lower publishing delay; and (3) allows multimedia and hyperlinked components."
    (From The Book as the Gold Standard for Tenure and Promotion in the Humanistic Disciplines: Findings and Analysis. Leigh Estabrook.)

  • "The survey of faculty also asked 'As you think about the nature of your current research and the best ways to publish it, is a book length manuscript the best way in which to present your work?' Fewer than half … stated 'Yes a book length manuscript is needed to develop fully the logic of my argument and ideas.' An additional 35.4 percent stated they would 'prefer to publish as a book; but it would be possible to break down the work into a series of articles."
    (From The Book as the Gold Standard for Tenure and Promotion in the Humanistic Disciplines: Findings and Analysis. Leigh Estabrook.)

  • "I predict that the genre of scholarship that will replace the book will be the thematic research collection … I think they may be more viable, because they have something that most scholarly books do not, namely an audience. It's hard to sell five hundred copies of most humanities monographs; few sell in the thousands. And yet, these Web-based projects, on relatively esoteric subjects, receive thousands of visitors each day, serve up gigabytes of their content to avid users each week, and reach readers of all ages, inside and outside academia, and around the world."
    (From The Crisis in Scholarly Publishing in the Humanities. John M. Unsworth. ARL Bimonthly Report 228, June 2003.)

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