On academic publishing

Above is a post on Lydia Liu, Rebecca Karl and Dorothy Ko. The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2013. Another thing this book makes me think of is the inadequacy of our current publishing model. This is a very good book to have your students read if you are teaching a high-level course on Chinese feminism. A number of these readings would be good for any sort of Modern China class or a lot of classes on women’s history or feminist theory. Unfortunately, there is no way to assign just Liang Qichao’s On Women’s Education or just He-Yin Zhen’s On the Question of Woman’s Labor and not have your students spend too much money and have the press get some cash out of the whole thing. Roll-your-own textbooks and course readers have been part of the landscape for a while, but at present they are cumbersome, paper-bound, and expensive. Wouldn’t it be great if individual translations/articles/chapters were available as something like Kindle singles for 99 cents (or 50 cents, let’s not be greedy) and instructors could put together a list and students could download a bunch of readings with one click and $20? Given that most of the content is created by scholars and given to presses for free this would seem like a profitable arrangement for both producers and consumers of knowledge. Obviously this is not going to happen any time soon, but I suspect that just as the model of music being sold as ‘albums’ by a publisher is being replaced by the model of individual songs being sold by some sort of clearinghouse, the same thing will happen with scholarship. The tyranny of the binding has not always existed, and it will not last forever. Texts used to be much more amorphous, and I guess they will be again. Will Columbia University Press be the academic I-tunes?



1 Comment

  1. Excellent idea. As a graduate student helping students in undergraduate history courses, I too saw this as a major problem. Your vision is an excellent suggestion, I hope the future has something like this offer students.

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