U-M law professor opts for open access

October 23, 2012

When Don Herzog (photo left) was near to finishing what would be his fifth book, he considered all of the available publication options — and then made a decision he calls “obvious and easy” for a tenured professor like himself: he would make his book, Household Politics: Conflict in Early Modern England, available for free to anyone who wanted to read it.

Now the prepublication manuscript of Household Politics (in which Herzog promises to “… conjure up a social world full of ornery, funny, sickening, and lethal controversies about gender, patriarchy, misogyny, public and private, and more…”) is available in Deep Blue, readable online, and downloadable in Kindle, PDF, and EPUB formats, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike license.

Herzog’s decision—one he admits might be less obvious and easy for an assistant professor seeking to impress a tenure committee—was driven by a realization that traditional publication with a scholarly press might not be the best way to disseminate the work’s ideas and scholarship. Herzog, who is Edson R Sunderland Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, observed that a colleague’s book, recently published in hardback by a university press, had a retail price of $99, with no paperback edition on the horizon.

“At that point,” he says, “you might as well put the work in a padlocked trunk and slap a label on it that says ‘published’; because only in a technical sense has that work been made available to the public.”

Until fairly recently, the printing, distribution, and marketing of bound books was the best, if not the only way to disseminate scholarly work like Household Politics. But sales figures and royalties have generally been secondary to the scholarly writer’s goal of getting the work into the hands of readers who would comprehend, interrogate, and cite it, so that its ideas could find a permanent place in the scholarly conversation.

Today, there is a wider range of distribution options. To realize his open access goal, Herzog made contact with the U-M Library’s MPublishing division—which strives to create publishing modes that will make open access the academy norm—for help in crafting a suitable publishing solution.

In the midst of this process an editor from Yale University Press contacted Herzog, and expressed interest in publishing the book. He explained his open access publishing plan, and to his surprise Yale eventually agreed to proceed. Its hardcover edition of Household Politics will be published in 2013, and this final version of the work will also be made available in Deep Blue.

What effect will the book’s free, online availability have on sales? That remains to be seen, but for Herzog the risks in the dual open access/traditional publication arrangement are minimal, since it had been his first intention, and remains his first priority, that the book be as widely and freely available as possible. And Yale University Press’s plans to print, market, and sell the book can only advance that goal, since the book in electronic form will remain permanently available in Deep Blue.

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Last modified: 10/24/2012