In response to a recent post by Graham Harman, Stuart Elden makes some very sound remarks about the economics of making PDFs of books available too soon after publication. He also raises the important question of why print-on-demand and certain e-books are so expensive, even though in the former case the quality is often not as good as the original run and in the latter there is no physical copy of the book that needs production.
Stuart Elden has some anecdotal material about getting his new book, The Birth of Territory, accepted at the University of Chicago Press. It’s due out in 2013.
The proverbial wisdom is that the great majority of academic journal articles will only be read ‘by a handful of people’. The numbers are there to back up this folk fact. But if only one of those readers–who will, most likely, be a scholar or specialist on the hunt for ideas that they themselves can use–decides to cite that article in a piece of their own, the ideas and concepts in the original idea have the opportunity to spread. And, in fact, such citations often generate more readers for the original article because they stand as a kind of verification of the usefulness or perspicacity of its content. And once the ideas begin to spread, who knows where they’ll end up. Academics are made to feel pathetic about the statistics on journal article readership, but it takes only one reader to push your pathetic ideas into circulation. Having your idea circulating in the history of ideas is nothing to sneeze at, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and tell that wet blanket to eat its statistics.
It used to be that an author would publish something, that text would solicit questions, speculation, and the request for clarification. These days authors, and I’m thinking of Bryant and Harman here, work out the details and tensions of their books before putting them on paper. All of the mystery about the text’s meaning has been hashed out ahead of publication, so if you end up reading the text and coming away with questions, there’s a good chance the answers are on the author’s blog pre-print. We await the publication of the book to see which positions and lines of attack and defense make it into the big game. One of the benefits of making the work public ahead of time is that it generates a once unusual amount of feedback that helps hone the argument.
It’s been difficult to keep up with many of the SR/OOO arguments, for instance those made by Levi with respect to his onticology and The Democracy of Objects. I’m looking forward to the publication of this book, which has gone through what are apparently the penultimate revisions. As I’ve told Levi, I think there are a lot of points of contact between his position and my own, so it will be nice to have the whole thing laid out before me on paper. I’m still trying to figure out how to keep up with the speed of blog dialogue, and I often find myself simply skimming through my Google Reader subscriptions.