The role of the academic publishing house
Academic publishing is a business. Like any other business, the sustainability of the enterprise depends on the ability to meet the needs of a target segment; to stay ahead of the competition, and to be nimble and adaptable to changes in the market.
Beyond its commercial aims, an academic publishing house should have a demonstrated commitment to supporting academics in their field of specialisation. A quality academic publishing house understands that it is an indispensable partner in the quest to gain further knowledge and distribute these findings to the academic community and a broader public, both locally and abroad.
The ideal publishing house need not be the best-known or largest outlet, such as a Cambridge or Oxford University Press. Every industry will have its own 800-pound gorilla, but big ships turn slowly, leaving plenty of space for niche publishers who may be more innovative and offer a more personal touch. There are other important factors to consider.
6 Things worth considering when choosing an educational publisher
1) A commitment to publishing ethics
There are shortcuts and temptations when young scholars set out to make a name for themselves. In a career where reputation and veracity matter, thinking that just “because others are doing it” may be a good enough excuse could cost one dearly. Do not become that academic who is labelled for the rest of their career by the albatross around the neck from one early-career unethical misstep. Guard against this vigilantly by choosing a publishing house that can confidently state that they have a flawless record on publishing ethics, and who sees it as one of their strengths.
2) Specialisation trumps size
Each academic family has its own explicit and implicit norms, language, trends and power structures. Once an early-career academic finds their academic family, reads its journals, presents at its conferences and secures a place in the conversation, it should become rather apparent who the preferred niche publisher in that area is.
Take the example of our case study, the academic publisher Verlag Barbara Budrich, based in Opladen, in the west of Germany between Cologne and Dusseldorf. As a small suburb in the informal chemical capital Leverkusen, Opladen has been known since 1947 as a location for social science publishers. When Barbara set out on her own in 2004 to expand the family business, she remained focused on the niches within their established network, namely Gender Studies, Education, Political Science, Public Policy, Social Work and Sociology. This highly focused approach allows this academic publishing house to help young academics in these particular fields gain career traction much quicker.
3) Quality that counts
Look for a publisher where there is no compromise on quality, in either substance or form. Is there a commitment to a respectable and authoritative peer or editorial review? Do editors develop timelines and work plans that allow for sufficient editing, review and proofreading, and do their publications reflect that quality? A critical spelling or reference error in but one small section of a publication will undermine the seriousness of all else being said.
The next step is to work with editors who inspire confidence that they know what is happening in the field. Not every publication actually “counts”. Speak to your mentors and senior colleagues about their experiences and recommendations.
4) A personal approach
You would be justified to walk away from any academic publishing house that makes you feel like you are being done favours. Their very reason for existence is based on the fruit of the intellectual labour of you and your colleagues. That is deserving of respect.
The best test to determine whether an academic publishing house is treating their authors with care is to count how often first-time publishers have returned to the same publisher for their next publication. Consider how instructions to potential new authors are coded and how the editorial and production process is described. Is it in a bombastic take-it-or-leave-it style, or do you experience it as the start of an important conversation? Are representatives of the publishing house present at conferences and are they approachable?
A successful publishing career will require you to spend a lot of time engaged with the editor. Try the airport test: ask yourself whether, if you had to get stuck in an airport with this editor due to a delayed flight, would you dread or look forward to their company?
5) Marketing and promotional strategy
All of the world is but some form of salesmanship, whether it’s leather shoes or intellectual products. You want your ideas to gain currency, both in their power of persuasion and in a material way to allow you more future freedom and time for your research.
Traditionally, your input into the publishing process may have ended after a final review of the manuscript, then waiting for your title to find its rightful place in a portfolio of competing titles vying for the attention of the publisher’s sales team.
Today, smaller niche publishers take a different approach. The aim is to develop the visibility of the author and their titles in a long-term partnership. Open access and digital placement decisions are weighed strategically; social media activity is coordinated; influential media contacts are introduced, and events and workshops planned to achieve the objectives.
Does your preferred publisher offer a dynamic marketing presence in key academic markets such as the US, UK and Canada, with their critical mass of English-language scholarship? Is there an awareness and a plan to exploit the cross-over potential into other important language markets?
6) Bonnie – Find a place with soul
Beneath our professional veneer, each of us leaves home in the morning with all of who we are. The distinction between professional and personal values is an archaic remnant of a more authoritarian era of work. What could be more indicative that a publishing house has a soul than the presence of a mascot doggie? Dogs bring out the best in people, and one should not trust publishers (or Presidents!) who do not have dogs. At Verlag Barbara Budrich, the case study here under consideration, you’ll meet Bonnie, the Public Relations Manager.
Case study: Verlag Barbara Budrich Values
Having reviewed 6 critical areas that the young scholar may consider in choosing an academic publisher, we conclude with a summary of the pillars of focus advocated by Verlach Barbara Budrich that, in many ways, capture so much of what is important.
“What we strive for is best described by five pillars of focus:
- We publish high quality research publications for the academic community,
- We publish high quality text books,
- We support young scholars,
- We support the internationalisation of our fields,
- We aim at building bridges from scholarly findings to an interested public.”
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