This document formulates a business rationale for Bedminister Press, Inc. It was distributed  in 1961 by Bedminster Press in an effort to solicite manuscripts for publication.

 

To Publish Books by Scholars

For Scholars

by Hans L. Zetterberg

 

I.

The United States now spends more money on scientific research than any other country in the world. Yet the number of scientific books published in America is small by international standards. If we total all books in the natural and social sciences — pure and applied — including geography and history, we find that in 1958 there were 5,930 books published in the U.S.A. compared to 47,600 in the Soviet Union. The U.S. figure is barely above that of France which reported 5,550 scientific titles and only about twice that of Sweden, although Sweden has less than one-twentieth of the population of America. These figures include three kinds of books: textbooks, books by scholars for students; handbooks, books by scholars for practitioners; and monographs (including treatises), books by scholars for other scholars. There is no dearth of new textbook titles in the United States. However, the U.S. is behind in handbooks and monographs. Taking only the physical and biological science fields, the USSR put 30,740 titles of applied science in print compared to 1,770 published here, and the USSR has 3,570 pure science books issued compared to our 1,000. What I think is particularly worth stressing is that, by and large, the American publishing industry has not found it feasible to publish scientific monographs anywhere near to the extent that is customary abroad.

This situation would not be worth much attention if the scientific periodicals provided a substitute outlet for American research efforts. There is indeed much vigor in the field of scientific journals. Old journals grow in pages each year and new journals appear virtually by the day. Libraries, concerned with keeping their periodical divisions up to date, find that their budget for subscriptions is under constant pressure. However, much the same happens abroad, and there is no reason to believe that the United States is doing more in the field of scientific journals than do other countries. In sociology, for example, there are about as many journals in Europe as in the United States, although there are at least six times as many professional sociologists in America.

The waiting time for a manuscript to get into print in the better known journals is often close to a year. The editors, in attempting to accommodate as many authors as possible, impose severe restrictions on the length of a manuscript. In the old days, a length of around 50 pages — that is, a short monograph — could sometimes be found in scientific journals. Now, most articles run a handful of pages; their compact language, void of details and illuminating asides, often makes them dull even to the specialists.

This unfavorable publication situation is getting worse, rather than better. The total number of living holders of Ph.D. degrees has roughly doubled in each of the last three decades. The funds for research have also increased at spectacular rates. Recently released figures for basic research — the kind most clearly geared to a scientific audience and hence most relevant here — indicate that basic research funds in the United States rose from about $430 million in 1953 to more than $830 million in 1958. But the number of scientific books published has increased more modestly, if at all. According to monthly statistics from large and medium sized publishers in Publishers Weekly, 2,835 books were issued in physical, biological, social and applied science in 1938, and 2,967 titles in 1958. Figures for the last decade indicate an upward trend, but the growth is primarily an increase in textbooks to meet the growing high school and college market. The chance that an American scientist will publish a monograph is now smaller than ever. The irony is that this happens at a time when the American scientist is better trained than ever, has more research facilities than ever, and enjoys a great deal of public esteem.

The failure of American publishers to issue scientific monographs is well matched by the failure of book stores to make monographs available to prospective customers. The plight of the 2,000 American bookstores — incidently, there are more bookstores in England than in the entire United States — is easy to appreciate: they cannot possible keep in stock the entire output of the publishing industry. In this situation, stores have chosen to spread themselves thin and stock a little of everything. Nowhere in America have I found large stores specializing in books by scholars for scholars, such as Blackwell’s in Oxford and its counterparts in many European university towns. American university bookstores stock textbooks and paperbacks, not monographs. Of course, any bookseller is happy to order a monograph for a customer. (The ingenious annual catalogue called Books in Print makes any bookstore a broker for mail orders.) However, the opportunity to see and to scan through a book is not there. This may, in effect, mean that the customer will never know the existence of the book, or if he knows of it, he may not overcome the resistance of buying it sight unseen.

II.

The leaders of the nation and the public are apt to think that science will grow as soon as money is available to pay for laboratories and salaries of researchers. While this is true, it is an inefficient truth and not the whole truth. We have failed to understand that idle, non-public research findings stand in the same relation to growth of knowledge as idle, not invested dollars stand in relation to growth of prosperity; they contribute nothing to further growth. Science is a cumulative enterprise in that every new finding is based not only on a piece of new research, but on past findings as well. The fact that many findings are slow in reaching print and that some never do, invariably retards not just the spread of knowledge, but more important, the growth of knowledge. For one thing, if a scientist is unaware of the results achieved by his colleagues, a piece of his intellectual puzzle is missing, and he fails to make the right combination of ideas that would reveal new vistas of knowledge. For this reason, among others, we have learned to deplore secrecy in science and be suspicious of anything that smacks of suppression of findings. However, the present bottleneck in the publishing of scientific titles acts, in effect, as an arbitrary censor, or at best, as a temporary blackout of scientific results. In allowing the publication situation to deteriorate in this fashion, American science has allowed a slow down or partial strangulation of the communication of scientific discoveries which I judge to be more serious in its consequences on scientific growth than any censorship or restriction of audience for research findings imposed by the military or by business, against which intellectuals usually display such indignation.

The publication of research reports has many other meanings to science and the scientists, some obvious enough. To advance knowledge is the goal of the scientific pursuit (just as making money is the goal of a business pursuit), and a claim to have advanced knowledge is made in every genuinely scientific publication. The public recognition of this claim comes when other scientists make references or footnotes to the publication. The worth of a scientist qua scientist is measured essentially by his publications and the use that others make of his writings. Just as a businessman would strive for a good net worth and delights in an excellent credit rating, so a scientist strives for a long bibliography and delights in the references that others give to his work in their publications. To publish research results and findings is thus an integral part of his pattern of rewards. (Note that the writing of textbooks or handbooks does not help much here; they do not claim to contain new knowledge, nor is it considered normal or necessary in other scientific publications to make acknowledgements to textbooks and handbooks.)

Publications thus allocate esteem, honor, and respect among the scientists-authors in quite unique ways. They also have an essential economic significance to them, although this is usually indirect, since royalties are small, because of the small editions of specialized works. However, to have publications credited to one’s name — particularly those frequently cited by others — is likely to mean promotions and salary increases. Industry, government and universities, all use publications as one of the key indicators of a scientist’s worth. For better or worse, two or more monographs (or the equivalent in articles) by a young academician, if judged favorably by colleagues, are likely to give the teacher the peculiar academic trust fund known as "tenure." Thus, publications affect not only a scientist’s esteem, but his economic position. His involvement in the process of publication becomes intense and very different from usual scientific aloofness. The fact that the amount of research is not matched by a commensurate amount of publication outlets thus takes on added significance. It interferes with scientific ambition and upsets the operation of the scientific reward pattern.

III.

The scientific community has made several more or less successful adjustments to the lack of outlets for monographs. For example, a large number of American university scientists have been cajoled into the writing of textbooks for undergraduates, although they were only moderately interested in such a task. After all, the reasoning goes, a textbook is a chance for some of one’s own ideas to get into print. Rather ludicrous attempts have been made by textbook authors to fit their own research or theories into their texts; for example, one of the largest studies we have of engagement and marriage is published in a watered down version in a textbook for a typical sophomore course in college. This satisfies neither the fellow scientist, the teacher, or the students who all want texts to represent a balanced presentation of material that has already gained some measure of acceptance by the informed opinion in the field. In general, textbook publishers tend to be wary of attempts by their authors to include specialized, novel, or potentially controversial material in their products, since such material merely reduces the sales. However, given the current limited opportunities for an academician to have anything published, many have signed text book contracts. Too late do they discover that the editors are apt to delete or play down their unique and special points. Too late do they find out that the authorship of a textbook does not help much in obtaining research grants or better jobs. Too late do they realize that text writing takes essential time away from research projects and scholarly contributions. The traveling book men who promote texts and scout for authors are careful not to reveal such dreary facts.

Other forms of adjustment have also been made to make the lack of opportunities to publish monographs more tolerable. If the nature of a research report makes it feasible, the report can be divided into several articles instead of being published as one book. These articles can then be published as a series in a journal or, more commonly, spread among several journals. This practice is very common in the physical and biological sciences and is increasing in the social sciences. It is in effect a form of subsidized publication, since the journals are often subsidized by learned societies, professional associations, or universities.

Over fifteen per cent of scholarly monographs at present receive subsidized publication through the non-profit organizations known as university presses. Some others are subsidized by museums. Several foundations also like to give support toward the publication of the projects they have sponsored, and some, like the Twentieth Century Fund, do their own publishing of commissioned studies, an excellent practice that makes it easy for outsiders to judge the success of the foundation. On the whole, however, the instances are rare and far between in which foundations routinely include a subsidy for publication as part of a research grant.

The mimeograph machine often becomes the substitute for a printing press, and the author and his research office become a semblance of a distribution agent for duplicated reports. There is at present an enormous amount of mimeographed learning floating around American universities and research institutes. While much of it does not deserve publication, some of it clearly does. Some of the best scientific reports in my library are mimeographed copies which I picked up over ten years ago when participating in a tour of American institutes for social research sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. Many of the reports I discovered during this trip were later — usually several years later — printed, but some are still unpublished. I count myself lucky owning these reports; they cannot be obtained through any bookstore, and libraries do not have them. There is not even a catalogue in the United States that indicates that these reports exist.

Sometimes a research report that, ideally, would be of monograph length is published instead as a short article which merely highlights major findings. A footnote in the beginning of such an article indicates that more detailed accounts of aspects of the project have been deposited with the American Documentation Institute in Washington, D.C., and that a microfilm or photocopies of this deposit can be obtained at a specified price. In the case of doctoral theses, the entire manuscript is filmed. To keep up some legal fiction of "publication" most graduate schools currently have arrangements with University Microfilm, Inc., in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to microfilm the typescript and print a page-long abstract of the dissertation. The author may arrange to send a film copy to the Library of Congress and secure copyright to his work. The company makes and sells microfilm copies on request but is not dependent on such sales, since the author pays for the original typing and micro-filming.

Subsidy, mimeographing with private distribution, and microfilming are makeshift solutions to the need to publish scientific monographs in America. The scope of the problem is such that increased philanthropic subsidies of journals and university presses cannot be expected to give the entire answer. No one-shot donation can meet the need here; the problem is too constant to appeal to venture-minded philanthropies and foundations, and the problem is likely to increase, rather than decrease, over the foreseeable future, thus offering to the donors no satisfaction of having "solved" it. The microfilming, requiring special machinery for reading, is clearly inefficient as a means of scientific communication; also a microfilm copy costs many times the amount of an ordinary scientific book.

IV.

A few publishing houses have gone against the mainstream in the industry and have published primarily books by scholars for scholars. This has not always been altogether incompatible with economic survival. Most of them have specialized on a few scientific areas. The nature and extent of their success is impossible for an outsider to gauge. The stable income to certain publishing concerns conceivably comes from reprints of classical works and reprints of important articles as "readers" in selected areas. Others presumably assure themselves of an adequate minimum sale for each book by bypassing middlemen and selling the lion’s share of their editions through affiliated book clubs. Many do not provide appreciable editorial help to their authors (the appalling quality of English in some recent American science is partly due to this fact); and many cut corners in editing, typography, and binding. Perhaps these houses, as a rule, have enjoyed appreciation more than income from the fields they serve. Unfortunately, some of these houses run the risk of losing their identity even if they are successful. The owner-publisher is strongly tempted to sell out to a big textbook house. Not only may he receive a secure position as an executive of the big house, but his estate tax problem becomes immensely simpler.

Entrepreneurship should, nevertheless, be encouraged. The capital requirements for starting a small publishing enterprise which concentrates on one scientific specialty are modest. The finance services now being organized under the recent act of legislation covering small business investment companies might do well to take a look at opportunities in scientific publishing. However, the main responsibility of exploring new solutions must fall on big handbook and textbook houses. These corporations have not only a funded knowledge about publishing, but at present they also have venture money, generated by profits from sales of textbooks to the surging number of children and adolescents of school age.

Promotion costs for scientific books are nominal and sales can be estimated with an accuracy unknown in other areas of publishing. The crux is that the present audience of specialists in almost any field is too small a market to meet current production costs. Further efforts to cut costs must therefore be explored. One can follow the European model of using uncut paperbacks for scientific books; one can lend or rent a Vari-typer or other cold composition equipment to the scientist, so that his secretary can compose the book in his office; et cetera.

In the end, however, the only reasonable solution is to charge a price for a scientific monograph that pays normal production costs. There is nothing sacred about the price of a book. A 200-page novel selling 8,000 copies may begin to make money if priced at the usual $3.50. A 200-page monograph selling 800 copies may break even if sold for $10.50. We must have the courage to charge and to pay high prices for scientific books if we are to have them at all in any abundance of titles.

This may not have to be as terrible as it sounds. Scientists and teachers can deduct depreciation for their professional libraries on their tax returns. (If tax laws were changed to allow them to calculate depreciation on a one-year basis — essentially like the deduction for medical expenses — instead of the present depreciation of five to twenty years, a further measure of consolation would be achieved.) More important, a concerted drive must be made to give libraries additional funds for the purchase of monographs. Libraries can at present be counted on to buy at least 500 copies of any scholarly book and thus provide a floor for the monograph market. In my opinion, it is much more attractive and feasible to subsidize scientific libraries than to subsidize publishers directly for their efforts in the scholarly fields.

Finally, for the truly minimal editions that now are handled via microfilm, new technologies should be tried. Xerography, for example, is a promising process. If originals or microfilm are placed in one part of a xerographic machine for copying or printing, a desired number of adequately clean copies emerge in another hopper. Such a machine could conceivably reproduce collated printed sheets from originals set by any of the methods of cold-process composition, including a typewriter. Here is an inexpensive way of publishing any research for very small audiences. It is also a more efficient and dignified way of making Ph.D. theses available to interested parties than is the now prevailing sale of microfilm copies.

Thus simple remedies which would correct an unhappy and restraining situation are within reach. Let us now do something about it, so that a rich and civilized society like America can enjoy a multitude of books by scholars for scholars.

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APPENDIX

The two tables that follow give a statistical picture of the output of scientific books in the United States, compared with the past and with some other countries. Note that the comparison with the past includes only new titles while the international comparison includes new editions of old titles as well.

These tables appear as Nos. 59 and 60 in A Sociological Almanac for the United States, The Bedminster Press, New York, 1961.

 

Number of new scientific books
published in the United States,
by selected type, for selected years, 1928-1958

 

1928

1938

1948

1958

Science (physical and natural)

340

423

412

781

Technical 1)

246

319

344

443

Medicine 2)

240

293

235

393

Sociology, economics

502

758

388

494

History

394

776

432

750

Geography 3)

345

317

164

271

          Total

2067

2886

1975

3069

1) From 1943 includes "military"
2)
From 1933 includes "hygiene"
3)
From 1933 includes "travel"
Source:
Publisher's Weekly, R.R. Bowker, Co., New York;
generally the third issue in January of the year following the data shown.

 

Scientific books (including re-editions)
published in selected countries
1)

 

USA 2)

USSR

France

Sweden

Pure science

1,000

3,567

827

576

Applied science

1,774

30,738

2,157

1,067

Social science

1,217

11,479

1,149

446

Geography and history

1,937

1,815

1,416

660

Philology

149

1,839

*)

347

Philosophy

447

466

512

57

        Total

6,524

49,904

6,061

3,153

*) Not shown in source
1) "The data show by subjects the number of books published, each title being counted as one unit; they are understood, unless otherwise stated, to cover all non-periodical publications, including pamphlets, first editions of originals and (new) translations, re-editions and the more important reports." (Source, p. 570.)
2) "Books only, excluding pamphlets which are defined as works of less than 65 pages. The statistics are restricted to the production of the book trade (namely, the industry engaged in the publishing of books for sale to the general public) and omit large segments of the book production (publications of the federal, state and local governments, universities, churches, and other organizations, most reports and proceedings, dissertations, laboratory manuals, workbooks) ." (Source, p. 570.)
Source:
     United Nations, Statistical Yearbook 1959, New York, 1959, Table 181, pp. 570ff.

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Additional copies of this pamphlet can be obtained by writing to
The Bedminister Press, Box 33, Lenox Hill Station, New York 21, N. Y.
The price is sixty-five cents a copy, or twenty-five cents a copy in orders of ten or more.

The author, HANS L. ZETTERBERG, is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia University.

 

1961 The Bedminster Press Box 33, New York 21, N. Y.

Reprinted by permission

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