Why does academic publishing get so little attention? For a multimillion-pound business whose products ought to be familiar to every graduate working in publishing, it’s surprisingly obscure.
Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to be reminded of all those late nights in the library. It can hardly be because scholarly publishing seems sedate and slow-moving. After all, academic publishing had successfully negotiated its first digital transition – to ebooks and online journals – long before trade publishing had woken up to the arrival of the Kindle. And now it’s wrestling with new challenges, most notably the impact of Open Access, whose core belief that the products of state-funded research should be freely available to all threatens to overturn the business models on which scholarly publishing has relied for generations.
Academic Book Week is here to remind us of the importance of scholarly publishing. Part of the ambitious Academic Book of the Future research project, set up to explore how the industry will adapt over the next few years to new technologies, new aims, and new business models, it aims to get people thinking and talking about academic publishing. Focusing particularly on the humanities and social sciences, Academic Book Week will bring academic books to the attention of a wider audience, highlighting the contributions made by academics, publishers, librarians, and booksellers to a highly successful and important industry.
From November 9th to 16th, more than forty events will be taking place all over the country – and online too. Wide-ranging discussions on the future of the academic book will be taking place in Cambridge – a one-day conference on November 11th – in London, Manchester, Sussex, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Bristol, and in Oxford; in Nottingham and Cardiff, half-day conferences will explore how academic publishing works, and look at innovative approaches to funding.
Elsewhere, exhibitions will be displaying rarely-seen items. In Sheffield, the Western Bank Library will be exhibiting some of the more unusual and quirky pieces from its Special Collections department, while in Oxford, the Oxfam Bookshop will show a selection of exhibits from the history of the academic book, from the 16th century to the present day.
Some of the most interesting activities will be taking place online. On Twitter, academics will be competing to share the best summary of their recent or forthcoming books in under 140 characters, with the best winning £150 of books from Liverpool University Press. Meanwhile, academics in the Modern Languages field will be taking parts in a ‘writing sprint’, with seven short commissioned pieces being worked collaboratively into a book chapter over the course of five days. People can also vote for the academic book that most changed the world.
Academic Book Week promises to bring together a number of disparate and contradictory opinions on the future of scholarly publishing. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on November 11th, when academics in Dundee will be communally updating Wikipedia entries on subjects relating to contemporary, digital, and Asian art, while scholars and librarians in Sheffield debate whether Wikipedia can be trusted!
All the events are free to enter. So, if you’re interested in finding out more about a part of the industry that’s more advanced than trade, and offers new challenges, why not sign up to one and find out more?
Alastair Horne works closely with authors and audience, running weekly webinars and a blog for language teachers. He also writes and talks widely on innovation, scholarly publishing, and professional development for publishers. He tweets as @pressfuturist, blogs at pressfuturist.com, and is currently working on a musical on Trotsky and a novel set in a Paris cemetery.