Are publishers middlemen or drivers?

As I engage the issue of open access in anthropology, my position and views continue to change. I am one seriously biased academic, but this doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind often (several times a day even).

Having stalled out on the research front, I went back to some trusty sources to find inspiration. Blogs are a great place to find information, but its rare to find such extensive coverage of a topic as you do on Peter Suber’s Open Access News.

Berg is an academic publisher that has been mentioned a few times in my interviews with professors. One of my professors regularly publishes books through them, and he spoke quite highly of the review process and the ability of Berg to publicize the books.

OA News points to a recent press release by Bloomsbury, a large publisher who recently acquired Berg. The press release states:

“Berg is a market leader in its field having pioneered the concept of fashion theory which is now a course widely taught at universities throughout the world. The company is in the process of creating a major online subscription-based resource, the Berg Fashion Library, for fashion students, lecturers and the broader industry. It is scheduled to be launched in 2010.”

It is interesting to consider the possibility that publishers are a driving force in the academic world, not just a middle man skimming profit from an economically exhausted academic system. Berg claims to have *pioneered* a field. The “fields of care” anthropologists spend time working on are dependent on a lot of different forces. How helpful is it to have publishers advocating certain kinds of research? I suppose there are two poles to look at this – one being that publishers restrict, funnel, and control academic topics – and the other that publishers encourage, promote, and develop academic topics.

Bloomsbury will also be creating Bloomsbury Academic, a new “imprint” (hadn’t heard this term before), which will encourage open access publishing. They write:

“Publications will be available on the Web free of charge and will carry Creative Commons licences. Simultaneously physical books will be produced and sold around the world.

For the first time a major publishing company is opening up an entirely new imprint to be accessed easily and freely on the Internet. Supporting scholarly communications in this way our authors will be better served in the digital age.”

Can open access and capitalism get along? Maybe… just maybe.

[prior to internet publishing, publishers were essential for distribution]

[publishers can drive research fields]

[what is an imprint?]

[interrelationship between academics, disciplines, research topics, and publishers]   –>  possibly related to savageminds discussion of “fields of care”.

[I’d love to tie this into the kinds of fields Bourdieu discussed (my bourdieu readings are no longer fun at all, and I’m sort of lost. ) Thankfully Dr. Postill is hard at work liberating social fields from the archives of bad translations. I’m still too unsure of my understanding to make use of it (and I’ve read three Bourdieu books so far… + a number of essays), but i’m working on it]

[long live tags in brackets]


2 responses to this post.

  1. [Liking your bracketed notes…]
    Berg was also mentioned as a very important publisher in the field of food and culture. They do have an impressive collection.
    One thing your post alludes to is the fact that “not all publishers are born equal.” Some people even make strict distinctions between huge publishing behemoths like Thomson-Reuters and small, independent publishers (drawing a blank, now, but a representative for one of those passed by my office, recently). Same thing happens in music: the enemies are WMG, Sony-BMG, EMI, and Universal. Small independent labels are warm and fuzzy.
    Thing is, in my case, my bias is more stable than yours: though I could change my mind if I found some sense in the opposite position, I’m currently having a hard time relating to pro-publisher arguments against OA.
    In this context, the distinction between small and large publishers sounds somewhat misleading. Sure, small independent publishers differ from huge publishing multinational corporations in terms of perceived “evilness.” Like others, I’m affected by this. But there are small, independent publishers which are adopting the same strategies as publishing empires. With limited success, maybe. But using a similar logic. So I tend to look critically at all publishers: the burden of proof (of their “non-evilness”) is on them.
    Having said this, some publishers, large and small, are doing things which are appropriate in terms of increased openness for scholarship. As in the music industry, I’m sure many people working at publishing houses have grokked what’s going on. And because the music-based industry went on that path first, publishers have a lot to learn from music.

    To go back to your post… Though it sounds like an easy way out, it can be said that publishers are both middlemen and drivers, as well as other things. While you don’t use the concept of “brand” very directly, it sounds like you’re leaving room for it in this post. There’s also the «mécène» function which, IMHO, is often overstated but which remains important in some specific contexts. An anthropologist who has been working at a publishing house for a number of years had a lot of interesting things to say about diverse roles for publishers, on AnthroCast, back in last November. You could even undertake the kind of analysis which moves from the apparent “gatekeeper function” )of the publishing industry) and the “will of The People” (from authors and readers) into a holistic description of the dynamic in publishing. Or you could probably find the perfect text about this.

    BTW, among bloggers at Concordia’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, you might add Rob Parungao and Bart Simon (though I don’t have the URL for Bart’s personal blog, I’ve been told it’s on-line).


  2. Thanks again Alexandre! I’m really sorry to take so long to reply to your feedback, each time you respond you include so much to think about that I find it hard to answer right away 🙂

    I’ve also been on the move, but am settling down again. I’ll post some pics soon to give you all an idea where I’m at!

    Thank you very much for the publishing leads. I’ve been having trouble getting earnest responses from people in the publishing industry, but I’m still trying to make inroads.

    I’m also working on version 25 of the proposal, this time with proper page number references. I’ve kind of got too much going on and feel like the research needs more focus. Hopefully getting this proposal locked down one last time will solidify my direction. To deal with my confusion, I’ve gone back to reading proper journal articles and books, because regardless of where I end up they will certainly help!


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