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Talk of a "crisis in art history publishing" is not new, according to several of the sources interviewed. Onerecalled a symposium held ten years ago on "The Death of the Monograph," but agreed that opportunities to publish monographshave nonetheless continued to decline since then. There was also general agreement that the current crisis in art history publishingis more than just a part of the general crisis in scholarly publishing, due to the additional costs associated with publishingin this field.

The economic downturn of 2001-04 factored strongly into the decline of opportunities to publish in arthistory, according to one source. University presses, in particular, were hurt because these pressures coincided withcorresponding cutbacks in university library budgets. The policies set by deans and provosts exacerbated the problem, she continued,because at the same time that library budgets were being cut (thus driving down the market for scholarly monographs), administratorscontinued to set challenging criteria for achieving tenure, such as the publication of two books.

The humanities were disproportionately affected by these economic changes, while the sciences tended to bebetter positioned to continue to bring money into universities. This led some presses, according to this source, to begin thinkingabout university disciplines as A-list, B-list, or C-list departments insofar as the marketability of scholarly publicationswas concerned. Art history publishing, needless to say, was not considered an A-list department.

In addition, university presses may have "over-published" during the 1990s, further contributing to thecurrent sense of crisis in art history publishing by setting expectations for expansion that could not be maintained. Alsoduring the decade, books ballooned to as much as 50 percent longer than they were in the 1980s, according to one source. Another addedthat, up until about 1995, the trend in art history publishing was mostly monographic, with black and white images. The typical workin the field tended to be "text-heavy." Since 1995, though, there have been more exhibition catalogues, more trade art history booksand more color in scholarly monographs. As a result, the expectations of art history scholars have changed. They now want orexpect lavish four-color treatment for their scholarly monographs.

Art history publishers are dealing with substantial economic changes. One source said that single-authormonograph sales to libraries used to be in the 800 to 900 range. But now the press is happy to get 300, mostly to universities withstrong art history departments. To break even on a title requires sales of at least 2000 copies and price becomes an issue. Nowadays,she says, single-author monographs never meet the break-even point.

Another source said that publishers used to expect sales of about 600 to 700 copies of art-related titles tolibraries. In addition, she said, books could be priced relatively high, as a way to support an art publishing program. Sales tolibraries today, though, are down to about 100 to 150. In terms of total sales, 1200 to 1500 copies would be considered break-eventoday, whereas the press used to talk in terms of 2000 copies as the break-even point.

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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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