Probably the most important thing the academics do is publishing – articles in peer-reviewed journals, chapters in edited volumes, and monographs. The motto is “publish or perish.”
Over the last century scientific publishing has been dominated by for-profit publishers. A major exception is journals published by scientific societies, but many journals have been sold by societies to for-profit publishers. In the book-publishing business, some university presses are quite good, but others seem to take on the characteristics of the worst for-profit publishers.
The relationship between scientific publishers and scholars may have started as a symbiotic one, but in the last decade or two many for-profit publishers allowed their greed to exceed all reasonable bounds. I have written about it in my previous blogs:
Well, folks, the publishing landscape is changing very rapidly (perhaps that’s why the greedy for-profit publishers are becoming worse – do they see the writing on the wall?). When I and colleagues started our journal Cliodynamics in 2010, there was no question in my mind that we would run it as an independent publication. It was a good decision. Getting Cliodynamics off the ground has been a lot of work, but it has been worth it. I’ll write a blog soon about how it’s doing. Note that it doesn’t cost to either publish, or read articles in our journal. There are few journals like that. Even successful new-model journals, such as PLOS ONE, require cash contributions from authors to run.
Over the past two years I have been also mulling whether I should enter the world of Indy publishing and 2015 is going to be the year when I finally take the plunge. I am not severing all ties to the world of traditional academic publishing, but there are three current projects that I want to publish myself and see how it goes.
The first one is actually my very first book, Quantitative Analysis of Movement, which was published by Sinauer in 1998.
Some years ago Sinauer dropped it, and reverted the rights to me. I periodically get inquiries about it, and there seems to be some market in it. At least, nobody has published another methods book that would supersede mine. Several second-hand book stores offer a copy of Quantitative Analysis of Movement at prices ranging from $769.99 to $3,115.00. Naturally, nobody in their sane mind would plunk down this much cash for a technical book, but I take it as a sign that there is an unfulfilled demand. I will probably not sell a lot of copies, but I wonder what will happen if I offer it at a price of 20 bucks. We’ll see.
The other two projects are new books. One is a trade book on the rise of complex societies and civilizations; the other is more of a textbook on Cultural and Social Evolution.
My plan is to blog about the process of becoming an Indy author, so expect periodic updates on how this venture is proceeding. In doing this I have a selfish motive, and a prosocial one. The selfish motive is that I hope that you, readers of my blog, will pitch in with advice and feedback on various decisions that I am about to make. The prosocial motive is that some of you may also be contemplating becoming an independent author, so perhaps my experience will be of help to you. And hopefully all of you will be entertained reading about my fight against the publishing Goliaths!
The first step is to select the name of my publishing house. After some discussions within a small circle I have tentatively settled on Beresta Books. ‘Beresta’ in Russian means birch bark. Birch bark was used in early medieval Novgorod as paper is used today. It was much cheaper than parchment or vellum (made from animal skin). Most Novgorodians were literate, and they thought nothing of scribbling a note on a piece of birch bark and sending it to a friend or business partner. After reading the note, the recipient would often tear it apart and throw it away in the mud, like this one, which was much later recovered by archaeologists:
Of course most readers will have no idea of what Beresta means, and it’s not important that they do. What I need is a name that is distinctive, but still euphonious enough (that is, it sounds nice). So, native speakers of English – what do you think? What kind of reaction would you have if you saw a book published by a publishing house named Beresta Books?
The second decision I need to make is whether to incorporate. The choice is between DBA and LLC. DBA means ‘doing business as.’ I simply register Beresta Books as a name under which I, as individual, do business. It’s simple and cheap and seems to be the logical first step to take.
The alternative is to establish a Limited Liability Company (LLC). The advantage is that if Beresta Books LLC gets sued, and loses in a big way, I only lose the business itself. My personal assets are protected. But LLC is more expensive to establish and maintain. Tax reporting requirements are also more onerous. So until my new Indy publishing house starts generating real revenue, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to register it as an LLC. Thoughts?