Thursday, September 11, 2008

Still Totally Ridiculous...

I recently received the David Brown Book Company's Byzantium and Late Antiquity list via regular mail; the one that is valid through October 31st, 2008. On the inside of the last page, J. Bardill's Brickstamps of Constantinople is offered for $199.98. That's much better than the original list price of $750.00 still given at, and again less than the independent reseller prices also listed there. At the time of writing, these ranged from $692.12 to $297.99.

Even with these reductions, it does nonetheless seem clear that expensive, print-only distribution was a bad way of bringing this information to the world. I say this without meaning to take anything away from the author's scholarly accomplishment.


Ed Snible said...

I wonder how the bean counters at Oxford University Press choose retail prices? $750 did not discourage the 58 libraries that WorldCat reports. Would more libraries have chosen to acquire at a lower price point?

I am a fan of the business model where scholarly works are offered in an expensive 'library binding' hardcover and a paperback simultaneously at 1/3 the cost. Remaindering the hardcover through David Brown at 1/3 the price seems more efficient but may discourage early sales. The Oxford University Press site says the press has an obligation to provide the University with a financial return; 30% of profits. I hadn't realized that until researching this blog comment! I would have expected OUP to be a non-profit and operate at a loss but for charitable contributions. I'm surprised it can function as a profit-center.

The goal of scholarly publishing is to get the information into the hands of scholars who need it. I find it frustrating when books I want to consult are only in a few libraries. The New York Public Library research division chose not to acquire Brickstamps of Constantinople. WorldCat reports that NYU bought a copy. Unfortunately the general public can't just walk into NYU's Bobst library. If I wanted to see the book I must go to NYPL, have a librarian verify that NYU has the book but NYPL does not, then request a special Bobst admission pass to see the one book. It's a pain.

Do you think there is a business model for cheaper academic books?

John Muccigrosso said...

ed said:

"Do you think there is a business model for cheaper academic books?"

Two things:

1. The authors aren't making any money, right? So what's their incentive? Professional rewards (tenure, promotion, respect) and internal motivation (this is what they like to do).

2. Is this the kind of thing that should be in book form in the first place? Probably not.

We need a new model of information distribution.

Sebastian Heath said...

Ed, interesting that OUP speaks of making a profit. It's US manifestation is a registered non-profit. Go to and search for "oxford university press". That entity has received NEH funding for some of its activities.

I do think there's a model for less expensive distribution of scholarly information. Printed books are probably not part of any such scheme. E.g., how much does RPC supplement 2 ( ) cost?

It's tempting to track down the process that set the original retail price of Brickstamps. It really does look like something went seriously wrong there.