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Authours Fund set to help young scholars

| 2013-08-29 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

Last Fall, Stanford University Press launched an innovative fund to help junior scholars get published. The Authors Fund called writers, “whether are employed at Stanford or elsewhere in the academic world – (to) donate some or all of the royalties from their books to help cover the publishing costs of books written by their junior colleagues.”Though the program has only been in operation for a few months, “about 50 authors have already assigned all their royalties to the fund.” Alan Harvey, director of the Stanford University Press, answered questions about the Author’s Fund from Chinese Social Sciences Today (CSST).

CSST: Mr. Harvey, thank you for accepting our interview. One of the recurrent difficulties junior faculty and young scholars face in trying to become established academics is finding a publisher and the budget to cover publishing costs. The Authors Fund is a brilliant solution to this problem. Can you explain how the fund works?
Alan Harvey:The Authors Fund is a way for all of our published authors to assist in the publication of the works of junior scholars. We are allowing our authors to assign all or part of their royalties to a fund that we will use to offset the costs of publishing the work of more junior members of the academic community. This program will also be beneficial for those authors making the donation. Vast internet bookstores and print-on-demand technologies have allowed books to remain in print indefinitely, meaning that books continue to sell in small quantities for many more years than was previously possible. This "long tail" of publishing generates quite modest royalties for each author, and yet requires them to file paperwork and pay taxes on this income. By assigning the royalties to the Authors Fund, they no longer need to worry about this administrative burden.
CSST: What are the difficulties in publishing junior scholars’ books?
Alan Harvey: When publishing the work of an established scholar, we have a fairly good idea of the market we will be able to reach, as well as an audience already looking for this work. But a young assistant professor is typically not as well-known, and their first book is often on a more specialized topic; thus, publishing their work involves more risk. There are many other factors involved, such as the length of the book and the number of illustrations, tables, maps, etc. The first books of junior scholars (often revised dissertations) are usually longer and include more illustrative material which, in turn, increases the cost of publication. These factors combine to make publishers limit the number of such books that they publish.
CSST: Why do not just stay in the comfort zone publishing the senior scholars' books? Why do you want to take the risk helping first-time authors?
Alan Harvey: We feel that it is an important part of our mission as a University Press to publish excellent research. The amazing technological developments of recent years have made it easier and easier for authors to get published in some manner—often through various forms of self-publishing—while at the same time traditional publishers are having a tough time maintaining their position in the marketplace. The academic community requires rigorous peer review and the reputation of an established publisher in order for a book to be considered as part of a tenure or promotion package. Every author has to have a first book, but the changes in the publishing economy are making it harder for authors to find an appropriate publisher for that first publication. I should also point out that many of our best selling titles have been first books, and that publishing an excellent author early in their career often earns us their loyalty for future book projects.
CSST: As we all know, the university presses have faced bottleneck in development within recent years. How difficult to publish books as a part of the requirement for tenure and as a business at once? Are there any ways to strike the balance?
Alan Harvey: This is definitely a tension point for most university presses. But we do our best to make each decision to publish a book independent of other business considerations. Like all scholarly publishers, we specialize in certain academic disciplines, such as literary studies, Asian studies, and Middle Eastern studies. And within each of those disciplines we have sub-disciplines that are of most interest to us. This gives us quite intimate knowledge of the topics we publish, as well as a broad network of reviewers and advisers to guide us toward the best in each field. Our publishing decisions are not based upon the tenure or promotion needs of the author—merely on the quality of the work itself. We also try to keep financial issues out of the selection process, and the Authors Fund will help to preserve that independence. Still, I think there is a great deal of overlap between what makes sense from a business perspective and what makes sense from an academic one. Well-written, well-researched books do sell well. They also perpetuate our reputation and attract other good books. Initiatives such as the Authors Fund will help us to publish those "good books" even when they might not be viable financially.
Interviewed by Zhang Zhe, a reporter from Chinese Social Sciences Today
Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No.404, Jan.14, 2013.
Edited by Feng Daimei