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Art history is different.

The "crisis" in scholarly publishing that affects all scholarly disciplines has hit art and architecturalhistory especially hard. The reasons for this are clear: texts in this field require illustrations, and illustrations create coststhat don't exist for books in other scholarly fields. Although it may be overstating the case somewhat, one scholar put it this way:"I'm envious of my colleagues in other fields, such as English, where they can churn out books, while I'm searching for funds tocover illustration costs." Another scholar said, "You have to be a good financial manager in addition to being a scholar. The amountof energy is doubled in this field: production costs for images, along with permission rights." Meanwhile, the tenure clock isticking.

Scholarly publishing is changing.

Sales of scholarly books have dropped substantially. A press that used to be able to sell 2,000 copies ofa book in art history may now have to be satisfied with selling 700. Libraries that may have purchased 700 to 900 copies of an arthistory book fifteen years ago may purchase 150 to 300 today. If it is a borderline decision to "crank up the [publishing]machine" (in the words of University of California Press director, Lynne Withey)to publish a typical scholarly monograph in the humanities that may sell 1000 copies, how much harder is it to justify cranking up themachine to publish an image-laden work of art history scholarship that may sell only 700?

Museum stores used to be important outlets for art history publications. Now, scholarly publications are fightinga generally losing battle against trinkets and souvenirs for floor space in museum stores. MOMA "killed its book section," accordingto one editor. Another says that, with the exception of the Metropolitan Museum, she "does not consider museum stores to bevenues for serious readers anymore."

There appears to be a greater emphasis at university presses on trying to reach wider audiences withscholarly books. There is a growing perception that more cross-disciplinary titles are being published and that marketingconsiderations play a greater role today in determining how a press's art history list is defined and how individual titles arecategorized in terms of subject matter.

There is also a perception among scholars that it is more difficult today to turn a dissertation into a book.While we don't have enough data to test this claim, one editor did say that wholesale distributors (through which the largestpercentage of university press titles are distributed) now tend to cull books that have a "revised dissertation" smell about them asthey evaluate titles for potential distribution.

Specialization versus breadth of appeal.

This dilemma is succinctly spelled out by a scholar who says, "I'm not clear on what type of book I should betrying to publish as my first book. On the one hand, I have to show that I am a specialist in my field which means my topic has to berelatively narrow. On the other hand, if I submit this [manuscript] to a publisher, it will be rejected for being too narrow orspecialized." From the publishers' perspective, many "scholars in art history seem to be writing only for tenure committees and notat all for wider readership."

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, The state of scholarly publishing in the history of art and architecture. OpenStax CNX. Sep 22, 2006 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10377/1.2
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