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The curious case of Edwin Mellen Press

September 22, 2010

Edwin Mellen Press has been on my radar as a dubious publisher for over a decade now, and given that libraries’ monographic budgets are ever-shrinking, I find myself amazed by the durability of Mellen.

When I worked at the University of Utah, I made a snarky comment about Mellen on a mailing list which landed in the inbox of Mellen’s publisher. We got into a testy email exchange, in the course of which he accused me of academic mobbing. Given that I came to my own conclusions about Mellen, and that one can easily look at their catalog and figure out the same conclusions, it was a curious accusation. Of course, I had publicly called them a junk publisher, so namecalling was certainly in play.

Yes, they occasionally publish a worthy title. No, they are not technically a vanity publisher, since apparently they earn enough from libraries with their egregiously high prices to avoid asking for subsidies from authors. But at the end of the day, so much of what they publish is simply second-class scholarship (and that is being kind in some cases), and in a time when libraries cannot purchase so much of the first-class scholarship, there is simply no reason to support such ventures. We in libraries are especially placed in a bind when our own faculty place books with such publishers. We buy them with gritted teeth and wish faculty would consult us on publisher choice, an area where many librarians have extensive knowledge.

On a whim, I did a quick study of my previous employers to see how many titles they purchased from Mellen from 2005-2010. The results are striking:

  • 22 titles: University of Utah
  • 582 titles: Yale University
  • 149 titles: Kansas State University

If one takes the ballpark figure of $100 per title (yes, their prices, for a largely humanities publisher, are on the high side), these title counts represent substantial expenditures. I was pleased to see the low figure at Utah, where several of us persuaded our colleagues years ago to banish Mellen from our approval plan; apparently that tradition has been continued.

Were we living in an age of rapidly rising monographic budgets, we could stomach, perhaps, spending some of our money on marginal scholarship. But we are not living in those times, and every academic library is progressively tightening the screws on approval plans, to the point where we reject some of the output from publishers with the proper bona fides. Making wise choices about our purchases will do as much to help shape the future of scholarly communication as does all of our lobbying and advocacy, yet we often neglect the former and emphasize the latter.

Such publishers often point to their titles sitting on the shelves of major libraries, such as Yale, as evidence of their worthiness. The dirty little secret of libraries is that such purchases are rarely evidence of careful consideration, but rather a sign of how much of the work of acquisitions we outsource to vendors, who supply these books on approval. Why? Well, since those suppliers take a cut of sales, it is in their interest to sell as many high-priced volumes as possible, and in that scenario, a publisher such as Mellen is a golden goose. As libraries further reduce the number of qualified subject librarians (underway nearly everywhere, even at the elites), this trend will only get worse.

Given how closely Mellen guards its reputation against all critics, perhaps I should just put on my flameproof suit now.

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  1. Andrys Onsman permalink
    October 25, 2010 07:51

    Dear Dale, I write as someone who has published two books with EMP so far. I wonder why you would dismiss (nearly) an entire set of publications with the tag of second-class? I certainly do not believe that either of my books are that – but of course you are welcome to check their quality yourself. It’s easily done via google, Amazon or EMP’s own site. Perhaps, if you are indeed concerned with quality of scholarship and are not merely carrying a grudge, you might then recommend that your library buys a copy, preferably of both. Before publication, both of my books were read and recommended by experts in the field, all of whom were happy enough to have their names associated with the texts. Further, both were read by readers from EMP, neither of who are known to me. Surely that constitutes a reasonable refereeing process? I have no particular interest in EMP apart from their willingness to allow my books to be judged by those whose opinions I consider to be worthwhile and their willingness to publish physically well made books. On the other hand, I would say that few if any publishers do not publish a number of books that I would not buy. I am not convinced that my opinion or taste makes them second rate. Finally, it is interesting that you acknowledge that EMP does have a reputation to protect – perhaps from unsubstantiated attack? Nonetheless, best wishes, Andrys Onsman.

  2. Dale permalink*
    October 25, 2010 22:36

    I am hardly alone in my criticism of EMP, Andrys. What saddens me is that you placed what you consider (and I will trust your judgment here) to be solid works of scholarship with a press with such a dubious reputation. As one person put it in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education discussion of EMP, even a broken clock is right twice a day. True enough, but the clock is still broken.

    What EMP exploits, and this is the heart of my criticism I think, is that there is, sadly, a market for even the sketchiest academic titles. This is because the vast majority of academic libraries could never afford–even in the best of financial times–enough subject experts who could assess the books on offer and buy accordingly. Library budgets are finite, of course, so dollars spent on EMP titles (and they are hardly alone on the lower end of the publishing scale) are dollars not spent on more worthwhile titles.

    A valid retort from an EMP supporter, and one I have often heard, is that libraries cannot blame publishers for bad books if they buy them blindly. True enough, and it galls me how little time most academic libraries spend on specifying with their suppliers how they rank or rate publishers. That is our problem, one that a number of librarians are aware of and are doing something about, as in my case.

    The fact is, however, that libraries have to be able to trust presses to turn out good titles, or our work becomes impossible given the sheer global output of scholarship. With Mellen, that trust is violated time and again. I did not learn to distrust Mellen by reading about them, but by inspecting the titles that were arriving in the library where I worked at the time. Some were OK, as you note, but the overwhelming majority were poorly produced yet overpriced works. I investigated who was publishing and where they stood in their fields. The fact was that most were (and are) outsiders, who lack the credentials to get in with one of the trusted publishers who, yes, occasionally put out a dud title, but these remain a small minority of their output. Also, it bears noting that EMP has few, if any, noted scholars serving as series editors. The evidence just all adds up.

    • Andrys Onsman permalink
      October 28, 2010 01:48

      Thank you for your measured response. I should probably let it rest because of the likelihood of getting into a contest of beliefs, but not being “alone in an opinion” is hardly a reason to believe that one is right in an opinion. History abounds in lone voices shouting against popular opinion and being proven right. Go Galileo! So at the risk of attracting your ire, I, being an academic, have to contest your statement that ‘the evidence just all adds up”.

      I take your point that libraries ought to be (resourced to be) more discerning in what they purchase. Perhaps they ought to have a publicly stated policy on how they decide on what they buy. I agree that libraries ought not to blindly buy everything any press (EMP as much as Cambridge) publishes. But I can’t see that the titles published by EMP in the last five years or so include an excessive proportion of bad books. I’m sure that the authors at least do not think so. On the other hand, I acknowledge that as a librarian you may be right. Or perhaps, may have been right.

      In my case, I was offered contracts on both books by large university based publishers – on the condition that I accepted their editorial “guidance”. In both cases that guidance was to make the books more commercial at the expense of the scholarship: offers which I declined. Somewhat ironically, one of those publishers has since asked me to “guide” another of their manuscripts (they cited my EMP book!) and I have reviewed a number of their publications – most were very good but some were very poor – for ranked journals.

      In the case of EMP, there is another hurdle to overcome before anyone is published by EMP – each manuscript is read by an independent reader. You suggest that EMP readers or series editors are seldom if ever experts in their field: so, of course, I “googled” until I found who read my latest book. I won’t name the chap but he seems pretty good to me: an academic with a sizeable record of publication, much of it in the field, and in ranked journals. He has put the reading of my ms on his CV. I’d be happy to acknowledge him as a scholar of note. I know now the readers of both my EMP publications and I would happily argue that they are both very good academics – although I may be influenced by the fact that they have both been generous in their comments on my manuscripts.

      It may still be possible for someone to get “friendly experts” to endorse a second-rate manuscript which EMP might then publish. And in the current “publish or perish” necessity in academia, that possibility may be exploited. I agree that libraries ought not to buy those books. However, as you say, big publishing houses also publish duds (even if a smaller number) and libraries ought to not buy them either. On the other hand, I have concerns with big publishing houses that are intent on turning a profit by unduly influencing manuscripts until they become commercially viable at the expense of their original creativity and innovation.

      Thank you for this discussion: I suspect we will agree to disagree, but if nothing else you have made me aware of the situation of academic libraries, my own included. There is much to be done but in the first instance I hope that libraries do get funded enough to enable them to be discerning gate-keepers on behalf of their users. In that way they will be able to judge a book by what is written on its pages rather than the publisher’s imprint on the cover.

      Best wishes
      Andrys Onsman

      • Dale permalink*
        October 28, 2010 16:07

        Andrys, you make many good points, and I think you highlight the difficulties in assessing the quality of an academic work, regardless of imprint. Thank you for the tone, as well, since often discussions such as this quickly degenerate into unproductive squabbling.

        As I noted in my earlier reply, libraries lack enough qualified subject expertise to make such judgments at the necessarily granular level, and the trend here is not encouraging. Subject librarianship is dismissed as a relic of a past age, and we now talk about “patron-driven” acquisition as if it were the Holy Grail. Having spent a brief but wonderful portion of my career as a focused subject librarian for an area where I have expertise, I know the benefit of reading substantive reviews and making intelligent choices about individual titles, but even that library no longer has the funds (or perhaps just lacks the will to commit the funds) for such esoteric enterprises.

        Were all scholars as thoughtful and considerate about how and what they published as you have outlined from your experience, a lot of our problems would be solved. As you noted, “publish or perish” has numerous negative impacts on academic publishing, which we all end up dealing with in our own ways.

        So, yes, I think we agree to disagree, but you have given me much food for thought, and certain gray areas are emerging that I had overlooked.

        Best regards,

  3. Andrys Onsman permalink
    October 29, 2010 03:03

    Thank you to you as well – and ditto re giving me something to consider. I’d never looked at it from the library’s point of view before. Of course, as a Frisian, it was the photo of you as a skater that gave me an inkling that the conversation would be respectful! Best wishes, Andrys

    • Dale permalink*
      October 29, 2010 16:45

      That’s funny, Andrys. Most people can’t even tell what I’m doing in that photo. I am a devotee of and two-time participant in the Alternatieve Elfstedentocht in Weissensee and a marathon skater in the Dutch/Frisian mold in general.

      • Merv Rowlinson permalink
        November 1, 2010 13:48

        Dear Dale:

        Having recently had a book published with these guys I am somewhat alarmed by the issues you have raised

        In addition to the the academic qualty issue, I am a little concerned that students in my academic field may not be able to purchase at a reasonable price. In fact it seems the work is already out of print (less than 6 months) after publishing.

        In the words of Marvin Gaye I am beginning to ask: “What’s going on”?

        Yours sincerely,

        Dr. Merv Rowlinson
        Southampton, Copenhagen & Hamburg.

  4. Dale permalink*
    November 1, 2010 15:45

    You are right to ask these questions, Merv. The list price for your book is $149.95, which prices it well beyond the means of any student. All EMP titles, for that matter, are priced as such, and I have never seen a paperback student edition of one of their titles. Sorry you had to encounter this after publishing with them.

    What would be interesting to know from EMP authors is whether or not they make any money (royalties) on their sales. If so, at least the high prices pay a dividend to the scholar. If not, which is what I suspect, one wonders what the bottom line at EMP looks like.

    I think most scholarly authors are just so happy to find a willing publisher that they do not ask these kinds of questions before publishing. As husband to a publishing scholar, I can empathize, but it does lead to all sorts of post-publication blues. My hope is that those scholars who have established themselves, and thus have greater freedom to choose when, how, and where they publish, will exercise their right to publish in sustainable and reasonable ways. If that takes hold, then perhaps we will arrive at the day where junior scholars’ work can be assessed differently, more in line with its quality and impact than whether it got put on paper and sandwiched between boards by some publisher, any publisher.

  5. Stephen Roberts permalink
    November 12, 2010 20:08

    My first book was published by EMP in 1993. I am very proud of that book. It sold 200 copies, received good reviews & has since been regularly cited in all the relevant literature. I have a new book just out from EMP. I also know that I have worked hard to make this a good piece of scholarship. Admittedly some of the books I have seen advertised by EMP would probably be better presented to the world as articles in scholarly journals, but the two books of theirs that I have bought – a biography of W.H. Ainsworth & a study of anti-Catholicism in Victorian Britain – have both been excellent. I did not receive any royalties from EMP but apparently even some prestigious scholarly publishers are no longer paying royalties on monographs. Individual scholars can buy books published by EMP at a reduced rate which is comparable to the price you would pay for scholarly books published in hardback by other publishers. And the books are extremely well produced.

    • Dale permalink*
      November 12, 2010 20:42

      Picking up on one point you made, I would dispute that these books are well made. As a librarian, I have handled many EMP titles (more than I care to admit). The reason the press first caught my eye–as I noted, I came to my own conclusions about EMP and was not swayed by the prevailing discourse–was the poor quality of the bindings: cheap cloth, and book blocks that were not square, but skewed. Inside, I discovered that they were using what appeared to be camera-ready copy submitted by authors, and were not applying professional layout and copyediting to the texts. This is what a self-published book from Lulu looks like, and a librarian can spot such books at a glance. For the prices EMP demands, I expect flawless books, which is what one nearly always receives from presses with better reputations.

      I realize I have put up a lightning rod here for every EMP author, who will feel compelled to defend their books. It would be wrong, and impossible, for me to pronounce judgment on the scholarship in detail. My core criticisms, however, are that the titles are nearly always too narrow in scope/too marginal (as you said, journal articles would make sense here), the texts are not professionally edited, the physical quality is suspect, and the prices are too high. As I noted earlier, it is in libraries’ hands not to pay these prices, and as monograph budgets get tighter and tighter, more presses are going to be hard pressed to sell books. Those that live solely by selling to libraries, as EMP surely does with their price point, will feel the pinch. There are better and more sustainable models for publishing and distributing niche scholarship, and these will inevitably come to the fore as libraries lose the ability to keep this market afloat.

  6. Stephen Roberts permalink
    November 13, 2010 12:15

    Undoubtedly you have encountered more books published by EMP than I have, Dale. I can only say that my own book from 1993 has proved to be pretty sturdy – unlike subsequent books I have brought out with other more ‘respectable’ publishers where pages have soon become detached or turned brown.

    EMP present themselves as a specialist publisher in the humanities, though some of the titles they advertise do look ultra-specialist & perhaps better suited to be being written up as articles for scholarly journals. However, I am far from sure that a study of novelist who was very popular in his day but is now almost entirely forgotten would have found a ‘mainstream’ academic publisher. So I am glad EMP were there to bring it out; it is a most interesting book.

    Several of my colleagues have told me that they have been asked by publishers to make financial contributions towards the cost of bringing out their books. With EMP all that is asked for is camera-ready copy. And they do advertise – my new book has been advertised in both the TLS & the lRB. My only real gripe with EMP is that they provide authors with only two complimentary copies of their books; it really should be more.

    This is an interesting discussion: thanks for starting it.

    • Dale permalink*
      November 19, 2010 17:24

      That they require camera-ready copy is for me something of a warning sign, since it means that they are not taking the steps of careful copyediting and proofing. This shows in the final product. Authors who are punctilious editors and excellent writers will produce books of quality, but many academic authors need the benefit of professional editing.

      For niche scholarship, I for one would be pleased if we saw more development in the realm of open access monograph publishing. It would be beneficial for the disciplines for this research to see the light of day, but the old model–put it on paper and sell it to libraries–simply is no longer sustainable. What makes open access monograph publishing so hard compared to open access journal publishing is that for the former one needs those professional editors to create readable products, while the latter’s quality can be assured by the well-known back and forth of double blind peer review and successive rounds of corrections demanded by journal editors.

  7. Esther permalink
    November 17, 2010 19:57

    Dear Dale,As a scholar who published with EMP, I can attest to their dubious reputation. My book appears in many libraries worldwide, but most of my colleagues ignored it (unfortunately). At the time, I published with them because they offered speedy publication. Other presses could not promise me a span of a few months.

    In any case, I’d like to warn other scholars about other issues:
    1. Their copyright agreement is the worst I’ve seen in the industry. They literally and practically enslave their authors to a contract that NO ONE should ever sign.
    2. They never pay royalties.

    Self-publishing an e-book, in my opinion, is better than going with EMP.

    • Dale permalink*
      November 19, 2010 17:26

      As I said in my comment above, I agree with you about self-publishing, although I would go the step further and say that scholars and librarians should create open access monograph imprints along the lines of the open access journal presses already in existence. Self-publishing a la Lulu et al. opens the flood gates a bit too wide for me, and puts too much of the onus for determining quality on the reader. For experts, that is no big deal, but for students, not a good idea.

      Good point about copyright agreements. Authors should never assign their copyright to any firm or publisher. It’s a noxious tactic by publishers, who know exactly why they are doing it.

  8. Stephen Roberts permalink
    November 20, 2010 23:36

    I’d be interested to read any thoughts you have on Peter Lang, Dale.

    • Dale permalink*
      November 22, 2010 18:55

      Thanks for asking, Stephen. That would require a bit more research into the current state of Peter Lang on my part. There was a time, about five years ago, where I was up on Peter Lang and the current state of its myriad series. Suffice to say, I am highly skeptical when I see the PL imprint on a book, but tend to take a more nuanced view of their products than with EMP. They publish just enough from highly regarded and established scholars to avoid dismissal, but the fact that they crank out dissertations by the dozens is certainly less than desirable.

      My other spontaneous thought on PL is that part of the problem with them is the German (and I believe this is more European than just German) insistence on publication as the last step in the writing of a dissertation. In the US, as you know, scholars submit their manuscripts to their graduate schools, who then submit them to UMI/ProQuest. The publication of “raw” dissertations is discouraged, not that it doesn’t happen, and most people at least undertake extensive revisions before a legit publisher will touch it. PL is one of the presses that cranks out (or did last I knew) many of these raw European disses, often in less than entirely transparent ways.

      Right now I have myriad other projects, but when I have a chance, perhaps I can collect my thoughts and write something coherent about PL.

  9. Suzanne Sink permalink
    December 3, 2010 15:30

    As someone recently offered a contract with EMP, and an otherwise unpublished (outside of journals) new scholar, I was a tad suspicious. It reminded me a bit of the poetry contests at the back of magazines. They publish you – congratulations! Now please buy the book of collected winners for 50 bucks. However, here is my question. Would it be better to have a publication from a questionable publisher for a first book or no book at all? Thanks for any thoughts!

    • Dale permalink*
      December 7, 2010 09:50

      Suzanne – you are right to be suspicious. My spontaneous reaction to your question is that it is better to have no book than a book with a publisher such as EMP. As you can see from these comments, there are scholars favorably disposed to EMP and their like, but there are many more who view such presses with disdain at best. As such, I would not want that publishing credit following me around for the rest of my career.

      As a check on this response, I tossed it at my wife, who is tenured faculty in the humanities. Her reply: no book is better. Chop it up into articles before you place it with an EMP, she says.

  10. Andy permalink
    December 31, 2010 00:46

    Dear Suzanne,

    I published my first book with EMP in early 2010 and I have to admit I regret that decision. Several leading scholars have described the book as an important contribution to my particular field of enquiry (and beyond!), and a very good review has recently appeared in a scholarly journal, but what I didn’t understand when I signed the contract with Mellen was just how negatively the press is viewed, especially in the US (vanity press! The press’s reputation isn’t so bad in Europe, it seems). I don’t think it is necessarily a fair judgement on all of their books, but Mellen really don’t help themselves. The peer-review process seems to me to be decidedly dodgy, they insist on bizarre, clumsily descriptive book titles (I managed to keep the main title of my book by agreeing to a ridiculous subtitle), and I know for sure that, contrary to their own claims, they contract writers who do not hold a Ph.D. in a relevant field (i.e. who have not enjoyed extensive research training). Mellen’s books are certainly too expensive. I put an enormous amount of effort into my book (and employed a professional copy editor) and I have confidence in the academic rigour of my work, but I now feel quite deflated by the fact that it’s out with Mellen. I think my contribution to scholarship really is reasonably important, but my feeling is that the book will be largely ignored because of the publishing house.

    My advice would be to avoid Mellen – Cambridge Scholars Publishing or Rodopi (any opinions on these two?) may be a better alternatives for a first book that is difficult to place with one of the ‘better’ presses. My proposal was turned down by a number of UPs before I went with Mellen – one commissioning editor took the time to explain to me that he thought the book was a great idea and would be an important publication, but that it wouldn’t sell enough copies for his press, so I should try OUP, which I didn’t. It can be very difficult to get a worthy project published with a decent publishing house, but do choose carefully. Mellen should be praised for publishing important specialist research that won’t sell lots of copies, but their odd way of handling things undermines that commendable feature of the press.


    • Dale permalink*
      January 3, 2011 11:12

      Thanks for your comment, Andy. Your experience as a Mellen author offers a perspective that I cannot offer as a consumer rather than a producer of their titles.

      Since you asked, I will offer my thoughts on CSP and Rodopi. The former has already earned a reputation among librarians and their vendors as a bit of a questionable publisher. A glance, for example, at their own “what authors think of us” page shows that their testimonials come from the fringe, both in terms of the type of scholarship and the institutions. One can accuse me of elitism for a comment like that, but global academia is built on elitist principles, and when money is limited, it flows to the highest rated place/person/institution.

      The latter has been around for decades, and publishes fairly unassailable scholarship for the most part. The knock on Rodopi for as long as I can remember is that their books are simply far too expensive. That is actually not necessarily true these days, but a reputation is hard to shed. In general, I confess to having an aversion to Dutch publishers, because their prices were for so long completely out of step with reality, and in many ways still are.

      The root problem here is that the number of “good” presses willing to print manuscripts in the humanities–never a large number–is steadily decreasing. Things are only going to get worse, as even well-regarded UPs struggle to survive by clinging for the most part to outdated publishing models. What we need to see is the creation of other publishing opportunities, such as scholar-driven open access monograph imprints that dispense with the complexities of issuing paper and go wholly digital. Those who want paper can simply find their nearest Espresso book machine.

      As with journals, academic book publishers claim to do so much work to create the final product, when most of it is actually performed by scholars, primarily the authors. Granted, there is more editorial/proofing work with a book than a journal, but I would argue that this is manageable, and does not require a university press selling books at $80 a pop. When you consider the overhead of a university press–marketing, all those trips to conferences, the tons and tons of glossy brochures with which they inundate the world–it should be apparent how little of their expenses actually goes to the benefit of scholarship.

  11. Sharon Tan permalink
    January 3, 2011 13:56

    I published my first book with EMP. No other publisher would take it, as it was “interdisciplinary” and so did not fit on their lists. Since then it has been well reviewed, and while EMP is not a UP, it is acceptable enough for my tenure portfolio. My main concern is its price. But these are all considerations a junior scholar has to take into account.

    • Dale permalink*
      January 3, 2011 14:01

      I completely understand, Sharon, and I hope this discussion underscores that my criticisms are directed at Mellen and the libraries who buy their titles, not at EMP authors, who are often faced with rock/hard place decisions that have significant impact on their lives. If you need a book for tenure, anything short of a felony is OK by me.

  12. David Fahey permalink
    January 4, 2011 08:21

    Dale’s criticism of Edwin Mellen Press is that their books are too expensive and that their quality includes too many books that should never have been published. Dale also suggests that the best EMP authors were too impatient or too inflexible to find an alternative publisher. Dale may be a bit too harsh. I published an edited book with Mellen many years ago and a monograph recently. (In the intervening years I have been the author or editor of books published by several university presses and commercial presses, so I have a basis for comparison.) My impression is that in recent years Mellen has responded to early criticisms. Will books that they publish count toward tenure? Authors are required to get a letter from a chair/dean to that effect before publication. Are the manuscripts of a reasonable quality? Mellen now requires an introductory essay by another scholar to assess the book’s contribution. In my recent(2010) case the introduction was written by the leading scholar in the field. Mellen sends out books for review at request only (after the author has advised journals of the availability of their publications). My impression is that most Mellen titles are niche books (like my two volumes). Mellen also is the publisher for several scholarly organizations. As a publisher of niche books, Mellen charges high prices that mean few buyers other than libraries. Some libraries buy entire series at a discount. My parting suggestion: in judging Mellen think about its best books as well as its weaker ones. Although it lacks the resources and prestige of a major university press, it certainly is NOT a vanity press. Its authors are scholars writing for other scholars.

    • Dale permalink*
      January 4, 2011 10:25

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion, David, which has been an interesting addendum to the post. I grant that my criticisms are fairly blunt, but I hope the conversation in the comments shows that I do not condemn EMP authors, but rather understand the importance of publishing for many.

      Your experience with Mellen differs from other authors who have commented here, and I imagine one could find that range of experiences with any press.

      At the end of the day, the upheavals in the scholarly book market brought on in large part by rapidly dwindling monographic budgets in academic libraries will likely rewrite the market for scholarly monographs, with publishers such as Mellen (and many others, including a large number of UPs) being pushed further to the margin. While on the one hand I would not mind if this led to higher quality across the board, in the end it is really just going to make it impossible for scholars to publish much of anything in book form, and will lead to a lot of lost scholarship until one figures out how to capture it using new business and publishing models that are sustainable. Libraries’ budgets were bad before the most recent fiscal crisis, the impact of which will really be felt in the next three to four years as libraries sign new deals and adjust their internal budget balances to reflect the new realities. In a recent discussion with our monographic vendor, I could not believe how narrowly we had to define the notion of “good press” in order to keep our approval plan under a realistic budget figure. That should be bad news enough for all of us, regardless of our personal feelings about this press or that.

  13. David Fahey permalink
    January 4, 2011 10:49

    A mixture of on demand print publication and on line publication may become mainstream for academic scholarship.

  14. Andrys Onsman permalink
    January 27, 2011 03:22

    Dale, as far as I can tell from reading these comments, most authors are reasonably happy with the quality of their books. As to royalties,my first book with them certainly earned some. My second one was awarded a prize and I expect royalties in due course – so I have no complaints. Returns and quality have been no worse or better than other books published with more mainstream publishers. Perhaps as academics we over-estimate the number of copies sold. The comment that EMP books are ignored in the USA is a concern, as it is not case either in Europe, Africa or Australia. In your opinion, is it because EMP has the taint (justified or not) of vanity publishing? The other question I would like you to comment on concerns e-publications and self-publications. What do you think from a librarian’s point of view. Best wishes, Andrys. PS – not quite cold enough for an 11 city race this year!

  15. Westbrook permalink
    February 4, 2011 05:49

    Thanks for this fascinating discussion. I recently submitted a proposal to Edwin Mellen Press. I had no idea of its reputation but assumed it was good because i’d only heard of it because my PhD viva external examiner – a very eminent scholar in his field – had published a book with it twenty years ago. I was amazed to find that the director wrote back to me within hours of the receiving the proposal offering to ‘publish it’. He also asked me to write an essay for him – for which he would pay me. This essay, in HIS area of scholarship, seemed almost completely unrelated to my proposal and possibly indicated that he had not read the proposal, simply the very brief summary in the email body, because he was misunderstanding one of my central terms. I was immediately suspicious, googled the press and found this thread and others like it. I googled him to find he’d been sacked for gross misconduct and i wrote back to him asking where he intended to publish this ‘essay.’ After over a week, I have heard nothing from him. The whole incident hardly inspired my confidence is this publisher!

    • Dale permalink*
      February 7, 2011 15:10

      Thanks for chiming in with firsthand experience of EMP. This is not how a reputable publisher behaves. Others’ experiences, as seen in these comments, have varied, which is worth bearing in mind, but I cannot imagine a university press responding to a manuscript in the fashion you describe here.

  16. lkay permalink
    February 4, 2011 13:59

    dear dale,

    you are ……… simply an idiot.

    • Dale permalink*
      February 7, 2011 15:08

      Given the breadth and tone of the discussion on this post, your comment is a bit out of line. Either engage constructively, or I will ‘simply’ delete your comment.

      • Matti Kamppinen permalink
        February 9, 2011 13:33

        Dear Dale and others. The discussion has brought out some important issues concerning the publishing policies as well as the funding of research libraries. But I find it difficult to share the criticism directed against EMP. I have done books with Croom Helm (later Routledge), Kluwer Academic, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, De Gruyter and EMP, and they all are quite similar, plus/minus few details. All required a camera-ready version, some of them required that the authors supply the reviewers, and none of them paid any or significant royalties. I think it is fair when talking about scholarly books that interest only some hundreds of readers in the world. I think the scholarly contribution to the scientific heritage can and should be assessed on the basis of reviews and reception, not on the basis of rumours. The contract on the book proposal offered by EMP is not anything peculiar. They offer to publish the book if the final product survives the screening. It is true that some of their books are of interest to few scholars only, but that I think puts EMP in favaourable light, from the viewpoint of facilitating scientific culture.

  17. Dale permalink*
    February 9, 2011 14:42

    Thanks for chiming in with your perspective, Matti. I would point out, however, that many of the comments here, including some of mine, are based on firsthand dealings with EMP, and thus are not rumor. Anecdote, yes, but not rumor.

    But at least theoretically I agree with you that reviews and reception should largely determine the impact and import of scholarship. Practically, however, I must point out that libraries do not buy based on impact and import, because they tend to buy before these have been determined. As such, trust in an imprint is an important factor, and EMP abuses that trust more often than do most publishers, including many of those you mentioned. Given that, and some of the experiences detailed in this comment thread, I remain critical of EMP.

    Honestly, this whole discussion is somewhat academic, not to use a pun, but entirely in earnest. Library budgets for books are on life support at best, and there is no hope that that trend will reverse anytime soon. In the not-too-distant future, books of the type published by academic presses will be all but relics, with only those published by a handful of major presses and bundled and sold as ebook packages remaining viable. This is already well underway, as most academic libraries add far more licensed ebooks in a year than they do physical volumes. Needless to say, these skew heavily toward very specific sets of fields, with entire disciplines left out in the cold.

    What really matters, of course, is how scholars choose to cope with that by adjusting their communication and reward practices.

  18. Jack Dixon permalink
    February 10, 2011 00:01

    Last year I submitted a proposal to Mellen and I received a very eulogistic report on its contribution to scholarship in a handwritten letter from the Editor-in-Chief, Herbert Richardson. It went the rounds and was recommended by two independent assessors.
    I soon received a signed and dated publication Agreement.
    Richardson didn’t like my title. I didn’t like his proposed title. However, I signed the Agreement, which bore only his proposed title.
    I wrote to Richardson to offer to negotiate. He replied, again in a hand-written letter, unilaterally saying he would not publish my book. In a word, he cancelled what I thought was a legally binding contract signed by two of his fellow-directors.
    I wrote again, and again offered to discuss. I was amazed when he wrote back to agree to publish after all.
    I forget what the next step was, but again out of the blue came another letter cancelling
    my contract.
    That was the last straw, so far as I was concerned. If he begged on his knees, I would not have any dealings with a man like that. I wonder how anyone with any backbone or principles can work for him.
    Your readers might like to look into the academic background of this Richardson. He was sacked by the University of Toronto some years ago. Mind you, there are a lways several sides to any controversy.

    • Matti Kamppinen permalink
      February 10, 2011 03:00

      Thanks Dale for reply. I agree that the future belongs to electronic books while printed works will be luxury products affordable only by some research libraries.

      Jack Dixon had had unconstructive experiences with EMP and it is quite heavy load for any PR. Anyway, I wish to comment on the “sacking” of Herbert Richardson from the University of Toronto. The complicated process of academic mobbing in the case of Richardson is well described and analyzed in the book “The Envy of Excellence – Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors” (2006) by sociologist Kenneth Westhues. On the basis of this empirical study, Richardson (like many other achievers in the academia) was mobbed out since he disagreed with the paradigm of the faculty, and did not keep his candle under the lid. Westhues’ study was published by EMP and/but it has been extremely well received in the research community.

      All the best, Matti Kamppinen

    • Dale permalink*
      February 10, 2011 08:24

      Thanks for relating your experience with EMP, Jack. At the very least, the comment thread to this post provides documentation of scholars’ experiences with EMP.

      I read Matti’s reply with interest. I knew of Richardson’s experience at the U of T in outline, but today I went in search of the reception of Westhues’s book. As it turns out, I could only find one scholarly review (by Watson in Academic Questions). On balance, it is a favorable review, but Watson does spend a significant portion of the review outlining what he considers major issues in approach. What strikes me as odd is using one’s own press to publish such a title defending one’s position.

      • Matti Kamppinen permalink
        February 10, 2011 13:52

        Dale, there is a comprehensive review of that book in the Canadian Journal of Education (vol 27, No 4, 2004), for example. And at Westhues’ homepage there is a list of comments by various scholars and references to other reviews in journals.

        The use of one’s own publishing house is quite natural, I think. (Paul Kurtz, professor of philosophy and the founder of Prometheus Press has published all his books at the Prometheus Press. They are solid, good works on the theme that Prometheus Press profiles in).

        In the end, I think it is fair to look at the books published by EMP. For each average study there are several good and excellent books. It’s all in the dosage, as they say in toxicology.

        All the best, Matti Kamppinen

  19. David Fahey permalink
    February 10, 2011 06:50

    In less than ten years this discussion may be irrelevant. Electronic publication, supplemented by printing on demand, may displace print publication in advance of sales. I suspect too that self-publication may replaced the recent innovation called peer review.

    • Dale permalink*
      February 10, 2011 08:29

      Correct, David. I said much the same thing a few steps up on this comment thread. I might point out, however, that we might disagree as to why it will be irrelevant. Sadly, electronic publication does not equate to less expense. As such, the distribution of electronic works will be as uneven as it has been for print works.

      Self-publication would amelioriate that, but at this point it remains to be seen what self-publication will mean in terms of quality control. We already suffer as humans from a well-documented information glut; opening the scholary flood gates, as it were, by encouraging all scholars to self-publish will have both positive and negative effects. The gateway function provided by publishers likely gives both librarians (for reasons of cost) and scholars (for reasons of control) headaches, but however one feels about it, it is an effective mechanism against a glut of semi-digested information.

  20. Jack Dixon permalink
    February 11, 2011 15:55

    Last year I submitted a ms for appraisal and it was accepted enthusiastically as a “substantial contribution to scholarship” by the Editor in Chief, Professor Herbert Richardson. In due course I received an Agreement form, which I signed and returned. A month later I received my copy duly signed and dated by The Publisher of the company.
    Now Richardson did not like my proposed title, and I did not like his substitute. Nevertheless the Agreement, which I signed, named only his title. I wrote to suggest a third
    title. Shortly after I received a hand-written letter from Richardson telling me he was not going to publish my book. He chose to override the signature of the Publisher, and renege on our contract.
    I wrote to another Director to ask what was going on, and shortly after I received another letter from Richardson agreeing to publish after all, provided I accepted his choice of title. I accepted. I then noticed that in the final steps before publication in their pamphlet of advice to authors was the item “Submit three alternative titles to the Editorial Committee.”
    I wrote to ask if this was for real. Before I could receive an answer from the editorial director assigned to guide me through the typesetting and formatting process, I got yet another abrupt letter from Richardson, who had intercepted my e-mail, cancelling our contract yet again.
    I wrote a fairly inflammatory letter to Richardson, and needless to say, I will have no further dealings with that company–all the more since the other directors who submit to that sort of fascism on Richardson’s part must be lacking in a modicum of backbone and principle.
    You might be interested to know further that Richardson once taught theology or religious studies at a Catholic college in the University of Toronto and was fired. The reasons or pretexts were several, but one listed on a website I read was that he tried to convert his students to scientology!! He still calls himself Professor, though he hasn’t been a professor for a good many years.

    • Dale permalink*
      February 11, 2011 16:06

      OK, this comment thread is taking a turn for the counterproductive. I think it’s time that I closed the comments on this post. I encourage everyone to read more recent posts, including one on Peter Lang.

Comments are closed.