Academic Book Week (#AcBookWeek) is a week-long celebration of the diversity, variety and influence of academic books throughout history run by the Booksellers Association, returning for a fourth year from 4-9 March 2019. This week, we are recognizing the important role of academic books, including how they engage critical audiences such as the media and policy-makers, as well as reflecting on their evolution and what the future might hold for this research format.
We asked Tamsine O’Riordan, Editorial Director, Social Science books for Palgrave Macmillan (as part of Springer Nature), to give us her thoughts on the value and future of the academic book and the responsibilities of academic book publishers.
I should start by saying I don’t think all research has to be or can be made accessible to a wider audience, or not the widest audiences; research can progress knowledge without having to deliver “key learnings” or “executive summaries” or become a bestselling paperback, and publishing plays an important part in research discourse. However, I do believe research has an absolutely essential part to play in policy, for business, a variety of professionals and practitioners and in the social sciences particularly in informing public opinion and challenging “post-truth” – it cannot stay locked-up and only read by other researchers.
The choices publishers make in how they run their businesses and work with research communities are massively influential in how far research can travel, and that’s a responsibility to take very seriously. For academic books, pricing is often cited as the major driver for how widely a book is read and used, but it just isn’t that simple. Throughout the whole process, from which content is chosen for the book during the initial proposal and review process, choice of writing tone and style, how long the piece is, to how the book is presented (there is much received “wisdom” on publishing models and production values that signifies to a potential reader if a book is “for them”) and then the many and complex routes to market that books take, all play a part in finding that wider audience – and it’s definitely a partnership between author and their publisher.
I think this is about speed and tempo – in the formation of the ideas, and in the consumption of the ideas. Consumers of knowledge have access to so many vehicles of information, but the book survives because not all ideas form or can be consumed at the same speed and the “long-read” needs to be delivered in a format that delivers the information at the right tempo. That’s not to say that books shouldn’t learn from other information and content types and adjust to market needs and trends.
Working in this industry for nearly 20 years I’ve seen a lot of change, but most of that in the last three or so years, and I’m not expecting this to stop or slow. I’ve seen some exciting research on the neuroscience of reading that could produce innovations, but what we understand as “a book” is fascinatingly resistant to change so I think the interesting developments will be in business models and access rather than a fundamental change to the construct. There’s not a simple answer to this question, but trying to find it certainly keeps me coming back to work every day!
Learn more about Springer Nature’s commitment to championing original and authoritative research within the Social Sciences through our Social Science Matters campaign.
Tamsine is the Editorial Director, Social Science books, for Palgrave Macmillan as part of Springer Nature. She has been with Palgrave Macmillan since 2012 and before that spent the last 18 years building successful teams and programmes for a variety of social science scholarly, trade and professional publishers, including Earthscan and Zed Books.