AACC Live: Getting Published – Jim Eisenbraun

I’m at the Annual Australasian Christian Conference this week – so expect a bunch of posts reporting on theologs and their new and interesting ideas.

Today kicks off with “Getting Published” a guide to those looking to get published now, or in the future.

This morning we’ve got Jim Eisenbraun, the CEO/owner of Eisenbrauns Publishing.

“The rate and volume of publication is expanding rapidly, and that is a challenge for everybody in the academic world.”

It’s no longer possible to read everything in your field – there’s so much out there in terms of the history and the stuff being written in our time, even last month.

The challenge is now to pick what to read.

The reality for publishers is that fewer copies of any work are selling. The rate of publication is increasing while the rate of purchasing is decreasing – you don’t have to be an economist to see a problem. This explains why academic books are so expensive.

Publishing in an esoteric area you’re looking to sell about 350 copies. Publishing is an economic exercise. Electronic publishing is becoming a factor.

You can charge for content, but people are unwilling to pay for content when it’s online. There’s a changing social component in the move from printed content to content online – are we willing to pay for something that we can’t physically carry away with us. There’s something psychological at play. There’s less of a reality in our minds.

Publishers are facing this difficulty. Publishers primarily provide a service, not a product. They take a manuscript and turn it into a reader friendly format. Print will stay with us for a while – but the future is electronic. Which creates piracy concerns.

Information wants to be free. Even as a publisher Eisenbraun agrees with that philosophy. But somebody needs to be paid for their efforts. This has an effect on the way publishers view their role and their product. Dealing with this clash between commercial imperatives and the public’s view that information should be free is the modern publisher’s job.

The Google Books program is kind of an uneasy marriage between Google and libraries, and Google and Publishers. Nobody is entirely happy with where it is going, but everybody sees the value of continuing.

There’s a view that the distribution mechanism for academic works is broken – and that the institution should own the copyright to works published by their staff. Harvard make any work produced by their academics freely available – which removes some incentive from academics to publish.

The manuscript review process is being scrutinised by academics and by those seeking to be published. There’s a perception that publication in the modern age does not signify quality. In the past, when a publisher had to put significant resources into publishing there was an understanding that the final product would be worthwhile. One solution is to let the market sort it out – buyers will decide what’s worthwhile and what’s not. Eisenbraun doesn’t think this works. I think The Shack is a case study in why this doesn’t work.

Reading the future

John Stott has enjoyed a distinguished career as one of evangelical Christianity’s foremost voices. And he’s hanging up his pen. He has this to say about the future of books (not necessarily in the face of the challenge of the e-book – he may not know they exist)…

“Our favorite books become very precious to us and we even develop with them an almost living and affectionate relationship. Is it an altogether fanciful fact that we handle, stroke and even smell them as tokens of our esteem and affection? I am not referring only to an author’s feeling for what he has written, but to all readers and their library. I have made it a rule not to quote from any book unless I have first handled it. So let me urge you to keep reading, and encourage your relatives and friends to do the same. For this is a much neglected means of grace.”

I love reading. I love books. I love that each book represents at least one idea, recorded and accessible for future generations. I love that sometimes that which is recorded is almost immediately archaic and worthy of ridicule. Three of my favourite things about studying are:
1. Reading too many books for each essay.
2. Hanging out in the Library, a big room full of ideas.
3. Having an excuse to buy new books. I love the book depository, and price comparison website booko is a handy tool.

I have dreams of a lounge room with a fireplace and comfy armchair, and three and a half walls of books… or an ipad.

I like Stott’s rule of handling a book before quoting from it – but I’m almost equally enamored by google books and its quest to archive every book in the world like the grandest of libraries. It is much easier to flick through a hard copy of a book when you’re in the process of writing and wanting to skim between different sections, but it is oh so handy to be able to search for particular words and phrases in a search box.

My rule of thumb is that I want to have read the chapter I’m quoting from and at least enough of the book to get its vibe before I’ll interact with it in an essay.

I used to love albums in their tangible form, and probably photos as well, but having tossed all my CD cases in the move in exchange for a couple of large CD wallet things, I’m enjoying just using my computer and getting new stuff with iTunes. Books are, in a sense, the last bastion of tangible media for me. And I don’t think I can give them up, especially when all the existing ones will end up going cheap in second hand book stores as everybody else makes the move to the electronic age.

I read the Stott quote on Andy United – the blog of an IVP publisher – which is worthy subscribing to.