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Remembered Today:

The High Price of History Books


paulgranger
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I’ve been following a Twitter ‘debate’ during the past week or so, which has shed light on why some Great War books seem to be overpriced. The high-priced offerings are mostly either PhD theses, or the latest from established academic historians, and their publication is in many ways dictated by adherence to the Research Excellence Framework. I haven’t read this, but I gather that you have to follow it, if you want to get on in Academia, either in furthering your career, or getting a good start at one.

 

Part of career progression is the requirement to publish, and the Framework seems to favour who by. You can’t just use any old publisher, you need to be published by the University Presses, although Palgrave or Routledge are acceptable. Works from other publishers are dismissed as ‘popular’ and your monograph (not book) from such publishers will score low points under the Framework.

 

The publishers set the price, not the authors, but as the aim in publishing seems to be not to reach a wide audience, but to impress your peers, your mentors, and the University elite, this is irrelevant.  Although only university libraries can afford to buy your monograph, because of the price, this is not a problem either.

 

Those of us who don’t have the desire to pay the prices are advised to use the inter-library loan system, or sign up for an MA course, which would give us access to a University library.  We are to appreciate the time and effort that goes into the publications, which is a fair point, and that we cannot expect Ferraris at Ford prices. Whether or not we like it, the pricing structure is what it is, and it is not about to change. Happily there are more than enough publications at more reasonable prices, many of them based on PhD theses, which appears to contradict the need to adhere to the REF, but perhaps these are from authors who are pleased to see their effort in print, want to see them reach a wider audience, and have no desire to get on in Academia!

 

 

Edited by paulgranger
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I wonder how 'essential' they actually are to mere mortals, having access now, as we do, to Divisional, Brigade, Battalion, etc etc war diaries, and also to excellent histories from the likes of Charles Messenger, Chris Baker, Pete Hart etc etc etc. I can live without these high-falutin histories, I think.

 

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I have been advised that there is effectively a cartel amongst the top universities to adopt high pricing. Somekind of liaison group - I am told exists . Academic books by other publishers just aint accepted as academic in the guilded halls they say.

The academic publishers re aware of their market - other unis. and established organisations e willing to by academic books at academic prices. (However it is interesting to see just how many academic books end up being sold by the specialist dealers in unsold books for sensible prices two or three years after publication.) 

One author I know pleaded with his publisher to drop the price. It is an important book which has sold in small numbers. His next book will be published by Helion.

In some ten years or so reviewing for Stand To and other military publications only  Helion  has defied the  silly academic book price policy. The company continue to produce important academic quality books at sensible prices (see the magnificent Wolverhampton University Series not a dud amongst them). Helion's books are also properly edited, referenced, indexed,  maps are generally good and picture quality high.

I  

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Do Academics have access to records, documents and information that ordinary historians (professional and amateur) do not have access to?

 

Mike

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Ironically, one of the defenders of the pricing structure is a leading light at Wolverhampton University, .and, no, Skip, I don't think Academics have access to data other's don't, they appear to mine in the same strata. 

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I'm reading From Blackout to Bungalow by Julie Davis, about the Home Front in Wiltshire from 1939 to 1955: 650 pages, including 100 of biographic references. Though there's no suggestion that it's based on an academic thesis, it could almost have been, and it's not an easy read. I'm skimming the contents for themes and locations of interest to me.

 

It's published by the Hobnob Press, a small publisher who concentrates on Wiltshire topics. The price for the paperback is an extremely reasonable £17.99.

 

Moonraker

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It's not just Military history and it's not recent policy. Nine years ago my daughter's reputable university couldn't afford to purchase certain useful recent academic books, let alone the students.

 

I used to look longingly at abstracts of academic journals that I couldn't access without an Athens login but now I don't even bother to look at the abstracts. I agree with Skipman's post two.

 

( private rant - I think universities - especially with the amount of new super accommodation they are building - might be heading for a fall)

 

Honora

 

 

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Out of interest, I was thinking about the price of books, generally, and comparing to my youth.

 

In about 1973 I had a weekend job on the petrol pumps at a garage in Cambridge, earning the Princely sum of 21p/hour. My older daughter at the same point in her life was earning over a fiver an hour.

 

I bought (IIRC) John Giles' book on the Ypres Salient Then and Now, which cost four guineas, converted to £4.20. At my pay rate, that was 20 hours' pay. A book of similar bulk now would cost, I suspect, £30 from Pen & Sword, or 6 hours' pay for my daughter.

 

(We won't start on the price of petrol comparatively). It does, however, show that books might not, in relative terms, be as expensive as they were in the Good Old Days, and also I doubt there was much 'academic' publishing of GW stuff.

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2 hours ago, Skipman said:

Do Academics have access to records, documents and information that ordinary historians (professional and amateur) do not have access to?

 

Mike

Not typically. At the National Archives, if a document is 'open' it's up for grabs by all. I suppose the owner of a private collection of documents could be choosy. But not your typical archive.

 

Bernard

 

Bernard

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3 hours ago, paulgranger said:

Those of us who don’t have the desire to pay the prices are advised to use the inter-library loan system.

 

Does anyone know how this works, please?

 

I often ask my local library (Newport, South Wales) if they can buy books or get them through the inter-library loan system. Sometimes they will, but they often seem to come from the same couple of libraries - Bridgend Council and Rhondda Council have provided books for me in the past. However, I often get the response that they won't be able to get new books through the system, as libraries won't allow them to be borrowed - and, indeed, most of the books that I have had through the system are a couple of years old.

 

So, how does the system work? Are all libraries part of it, or do they have to register voluntarily? Is there a rule that new books can't be borrowed, or is this something that the libraries in question do themselves?

 

Any advice from a Librarian (or, in fact from anyone!) will be appreciated, please. Thank you (and my apologies if this post is taking thread this too far off-topic!).

 

 

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I had better say something. I only did/do used books- though it is perfectly possible for me to have a brand new book in shrink-wraps for sale secondhand before it is even published (Spent reviews).  At base, I try to think through this problem from a start-line-which is the physical cost of printing- Why is it a mound of paper called "Yellow Advertiser" (or similar) comes through my letterbox for nowt-but a similar mound of paper called a "book" is priced to buy at £105 (which is the Taylor and Francis norm for new monographs at the moment-don't blink,it will soon be £110). Of course, value added and the size of the potential market for the print-run.  Now a few observations about that:

 

1)  Young Broomfield is right- In real terms books are no more expensive than they were 30-40 years ago- Look at the published prices of Great War books published in the 1920s (Dust Jacket Collector can oblige with "unclipped dustjackets"-the term for when the price is still there)- Then think of soldiers' rates of pay during the war-Books have always been  expensive beasties. (OK, but did young Broomfield take the unclaimed Green Shield Stamps as well ? -I ask you to take this into account M'Lud)   

 

2)  Yes, the leading academic publishers are-by chance or design- a cartel. It used to be the "Big 5"- Oxford, Cambridge, Routledge Kegan Paul, Macmillan and Longman. Oxford is and always has been the market leader-  To me it's production values are consistently high, the quality of the books is almost invariably excellent (though OUP New York and India publish some junk) To me,it sets the yardstick as to what to expect from any other publishers in terms of quality, quantity-and,of course, cost.

    Now-it seems that  Taylor and Francis are the main offenders- better known as RKP-but the giant publishing group has expanded and taken over Frank Cass (Lots of military stuff across the  decades-pricing rather marginal against quality) and Ashgate. Palgrave Macmillan went up the price scale a decade or so back. Pearson Longman seem to have retreated from the market somewhat.

 

       Now why should prices go up for the academic stuff?

 

i)  "Publish or perish" - Yes, the academic mantra that underlies REF and RAE before it. An academic must  publish with a "reputable" academic publisher to get the brownie points- and have it picked-up by "peer-reviewed" journals (Most of which are published by the publisher cartel anyway-there is much more money in journals than in books) . That is a fact of life and aint gonna change.  An academic book/article that counts for REF must have been out to the referees and readers before publication. Expensive business. Some publishers have tried to publish "academic" books without  the refereeing system- the late Captain I.R.Maxwell,MC  was a particular exponent of that-(Pergamon Press) particularly of Russian translated science,which was at times dubious. 

    So that niche of books-the first monograph/ doctorate gives us a steady supply of dull but worthy standard sized books-up to 100,000 words (The usual PhD limit). Has got more expensive-but,on the flip side, more of them are actually published. The paradox is that more is published but even more is unobtainable by Joe Public as it is just too bl**dy expensive. Ironically, GWF members have become more "grumblesome" because there is more to grumble about-there are actually more expensive books published now that a few decades ago)  Publishers compete with each other now to publish doctoral monographs-a good candidate at Oxbridge can expect to be solicited by more than one of the cartel almost before the Viva examiners  have shook hands with the new Dr.

ii)  Tinternet-   Books are a worldwide, 24 hour a day market. Before the Internet came along, publishers could enforce a cartel by area- a book might be a different price in North America or only available through a particular distributor in many other areas. Now, that form of cartel (or "discriminating monopoly") is unenforceable-  Thus, academic publishers go for a higher price as  universities are now a worldwide growth industry-  Worldwide, there are more rich universities,libraries and student base than there is in the UK- If a publisher knows they can shift 500 copies of book worldwide for £100 a pop, then why should they price it cheap in the UK home market and make a lot less-The Internet means the overseas buyer will buy in the cheapest market. If you think new academic books are expensive here, then don't try to buy them in downtown Tokyo without a new battery in your pacemaker. A worldwide market means that publishers go for where the money is-and the UK private person is not it.

 

iii) POD-  The market for the cartel publishers is shifting to POD- Print On Demand. The technology is now so good for short-run printing that is commercially viable to print 10 copies of a book as POD,rather than one initial print-run and draw down on the stock over a period of years,as has been the norm for centuries. Thus, much shorter print-runs of physical books to staisfy the library market worldwide-then a book will be "in print" forever as the publsihers can keep it on stocks and on their lists indefinitely-The old system of a physical stock of the one print-run selling out or being pulped or remaindered has gone. Booksellers like me have flourished across the years because of the inability of publishers to gauge their print runs with accuracy- Print too few and people like me supply secondhand(if they can be found)-publish too many and there are copies around and about-sold off cheap usually. That has stopped-Print-runs are precise, PODs at 10 copies an order are even more precise. It is a classic monopoly situation: The only question and answer that applies here is that I heard my neighbour in Bloomsbury who was a dealer in Leica cameras-

 

     Q (From rich American but idiot customer) "Why is that  Leica  £27,500?

      A "'Cos we've got it and you haven't"

   A worldwide market, and POD means shorter runs, higher prices are here to stay.The publishers can maintain their monopoly. I have noticed that there are fewer review and "bin-end" copies of academic books coming into my world-publishers are enforcing a tight control. I saw recently a listing of some 2000+ history titles from one of the cartel (No names,no pack-drill).which the UK sales manager was considering for remainder-I was very surprised at the very low numbers of copies held of each title-In past years, the warehousmen would have junked the last few of a bin-end (or sold it to me for enough cash for a few pints and good curry!!)  It turned out that the publisher only wanted to clear the last few hardback copies of original print-runs so that they could have a uniform listing of describing all books as "POD".

 

    People like Helion survive because of a wider audience-Great war books have enough enthusiats to buy them on GWF to gauge their pricing model at about £30-  Long may they continue to do so.

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 As https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_Excellence_Framework indicates the organisation is the very definition of a cartel  to ensure a sound book market within academia and sod the rest of us. 

Add to that the fact that many of the academic publishers simply don't bother to market their books - some have absolutely no idea about the concept of promotion,  many don't even bother because they price to ensure a profit in small obligated market.  

 

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The same is true in the field of academic journals. As an ex-scientist I'm well aware that my library would often have to pay in excess of 3, 4 or even £5,000 for a years subscription to many of them from publishers like Elsevier & Pergamon. And that's going back some years now.

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1 hour ago, Dust Jacket Collector said:

The same is true in the field of academic journals. As an ex-scientist I'm well aware that my library would often have to pay in excess of 3, 4 or even £5,000 for a years subscription to many of them from publishers like Elsevier & Pergamon. And that's going back some years now.

 

    That is a growing problem-  Academic journals make a lot more money for publishers than books. One publisher I knew well, the late Frank Cass published over 30 journals- and had a backlst of published books of over a thousand titles. The income from the oldest established of his journals (Journal of Peasnt Studies) was more than the income from the sales of all his backlist of book every year.

    For years, academic libraries slewed towards journals- if there were cuts to budgets, then there was a reluctance to drop journal subscriptions as it would break the run. Thus, my old college library, LSE, soon found that it's library spending went from 50/50-journals/books, to 60/40-which was a sever reduction in book acquisitions.

    Now, electronic publishing means that academic libraries buy the whole shooting match from the major publishers- which gives ALL (or tailor-made packages,usually split Arts and Sciences) from Oxford, or Cambridge or Taylor and Francisor Elzevier or John Wiley-The good news is that libraries have access to a huge range of material online and any new entrant library comes in at parity-as it is not lacking back issues of jounal runs. If you look at LSE library website, you can search for materials-it is very useful in listing a huge range of stuff online in these packages. I am lucky enough to have access-it is a huge increase in the available knowledge to a university. But it comes at a cost- the expense to the university- But it also freezes ordinary folk from access to knowledge.

   I am lucky-I have the British Library 25 minutes away-I have my old college library-as well as others in London. Out in the sticks,it's a problem.

Edited by Guest
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On 12/07/2017 at 09:53, David Filsell said:

GUEST your post is as ever illuminating. As https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_Excellence_Framework indicates the organisation is the very definition of a cartel  to ensure a sound book market within academia and sod the rest of us. 

Add to that the fact that many of the academic publishers simply don't bother to market their books - some have absolutely no idea about the concept of promotion,  many don't even bother because they price to ensure a profit in small obligated market.  

 

 

     David-  By chance, I have just been reading an old issue of WFA Newsletter-with a review by you of the first volume of Huw Strachan's Great War history- that shows what a larger market can do. The book is reasonably priced yet has the excellent production values of OUP- it shows that quality, quantity and a reasonable price can be done. But,of course, the book has a much greater readership base than the average monograph.

     Oxford, for example, have enough standing orders for their publications that everything they publish -providing they keep up the standards-will be into profit on the day of publication. Oxford and the others do rep. their monographs- but usually at things like conferences- the reps. won't take samples round bookshops- indeed, Oxford rep's don't even get sample copies of the physical monograph.  The market for extra sales is so small, it's not worth the effort. Casual orders for monographs follow no rhyme or reason.and can just as easily come in from someone sitting a thousand miles up the Amazon as anywhere in the UK.

    I think there will be occasions when you might have difficulty getting review copies out of publishers in the main cartel. 

 

         But let's play advocatus diaboli on this-Yes, it is all right and proper to grumble about the high price of monograph level history books- but the same fundamental changes in technology that have revolutionised how we get knowledge have also benefited us- wonderful developments like archive.org, with 12 million texts scanned in mean I have a great deal of knowledge without stepping out of my front door. Thus, for Joe Public, the parardox is that he has access to much more knowledge than before-but it is human nature to grumble about what cannot be got, rather than be thankful for what we do have.  Old Bill lives on.

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Mr V

You make some very good points. I will consider my response, but my initial reaction is a nieve one, that, while recognising the need and the importance of the profits, publishers should feel some obligation, feel charged if you like, to promote and diseminate information as widely as possible.  And the fact remains, even if you have a safe and secure market, the more you sell the more you profit and the cheaper the product. That's a basic, non intellectually biased, marketing given. To many publishers are both lazy and frankly up themselves.

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   David- Publishers "up themselves" is a centuries-old phoenomenon.  I agree with you in principle-but both for booksellers and publishers the problem is the same- Books are sociable little critters and the world of books, through printing or dealing, is a sociable one. But,alas, it doesn't pay the bills. Many, many bookshops have gone to the wall because the props. thought bookselling was about "browsing". Browsing doesn't equate to buying- and a free showroom and entertainment is not what bookshops are about.  There have been some excellent publishers who managed to combine commercial sense with a sociable business-the late Jock Murray was a good example.

    Both for booksellers and publishers, putting food on one's plate and not having a fight at the Tesco checkout of a Friday evening is the most important thing-as it is for everyone else.

    Many, many publishers have gone to the wall because they thought books was about a social whirl with authors and matters literary-It isn't-its about printing bills, proof reading, warehouse bills, VAT returns, etc.  By far the saddest  casualty in recent years is the demise of British Museum Publications and that at BL- publisher in past years of innumerable catalogues and books about books-and scholarly books about the BM/BL holdings. Now, the scholarly publishing has been junked, the manager put out to grass, the scholarly list closed down- Middlebrow books prevail and it's main moneyspinner is paperback reprints of older crime fiction-which (Call me old-fashioned and belligerent on this) has b*gger-all to do with the "mission" of BM.

     Some universities have tried setting up presses in the past decades to overcome both the stranglehold of the cartel and to promote their own specialisms, academic staff and doctorates. Keele has come and gone, UCL has come and gone. Exeter is struggling. Liverpool and Manchester flourish. Perhaps the most successful is Boydell and Brewer/The Boydell Press,based in Woodbridge-set up by 2 Cambridge academics -Derek Brewer and  Richard Barber (not Boydell) -which has picked up many scholarly clubs and societies along the way. Something like the Wolverhapmton series would always find a home there-But their books are about the same as the equivalent Oxfords.And it is co-operatively owned,rather than sell out to the majors.

    It is of course, the duty of a good reviews editor, to highlight not only good scholarship and good writing (Not necessarily the same thing)-and to point out slack work and outrageous costs-Nothing to stop the Reviews Editor suggesting to a reviewer that the exhorbitant cost might be mentioned in a review- What Great War Studies need is a reviews editor somewhere who is congenitally cussed, doesn't suffer fools gladly, is prepared to call a spade and spade and to speak out about the emperor's new clothes when needed.

     Anybody come to mind??

 

          

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I haven't met a Boydell & Brewer book yet that I didn't like - they are stunningly well produced and usually interesting (but expensive ... )

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"t is of course, the duty of a good reviews editor, to highlight not only good scholarship and good writing (Not necessarily the same thing)-and to point out slack work and outrageous costs-Nothing to stop the Reviews Editor suggesting to a reviewer that the exhorbitant cost might be mentioned in a review- What Great War Studies need is a reviews editor somewhere who is congenitally cussed, doesn't suffer fools gladly, is prepared to call a spade and spade and to speak out about the emperor's new clothes when needed.

     Anybody come to mind??"

 

Should I  :) 

 

I do my best for S T - and rarely ' into buy'  authors proclaiming new clothes. new clothes - and from time to time with reviews on  Amazon and the forum!. As editor I am writing fewer reviews personally. We have a very strong  group of reviewers on ST, including academics, former soldiers - military historians and  - an a number of folk with specialist knowledge and interests.

 

Edited by David Filsell
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1)  Young Broomfield is right- In real terms books are no more expensive than they were 30-40 years ago- Look at the published prices of Great War books published in the 1920s (Dust Jacket Collector can oblige with "unclipped dustjackets"-the term for when the price is still there)- Then think of soldiers' rates of pay during the war-Books have always been  expensive beasties. (OK, but did young Broomfield take the unclaimed Green Shield Stamps as well ? -I ask you to take this into account M'Lud)   

Belatedly providing the information requested and using an internet guide to inflation, it does indeed seem that book prices haven't changed all that much.

A few examples may suffice :-

A populist book, like Corbett-Smith's 'Marne & after' of 1917, was 3/6 which is about £13 today. Some of the classics from the 30's were a trifle dearer - War is War & The Land-Locked Lake were 7/6 & Lucy's 'Devil in the Drum' 8/6 which equate to £21-£26 today.

More academic texts could cost a fair bit more. Falkenhayn's 'General Headquarters' of 1919 was a hefty 24/- , £62 now & Headlam's 2-vol. History of the Guards Division from 1924, an even dearer 36/- would be a nice round £100 today.

Sadly, for we poor benighted collectors, it's often another order of magnitude on those prices!

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