Library Camp discussion on publishing

Talked to people at Library Camp yesterday (In the new Library of Birmingham) about publishing and books aimed at library professionals, which I brought up after my experiences with ‘Only Connect …’!

In order to cover overheads (and hopefully make a profit), the UK publishers of books for library professionals are geared up to sell small quantities at quite serious amounts of money (about £50ish currently).

I feel this has a few serious impacts – it puts the books out of the reach of most professionals unless their libraries can buy them; means students on LIS courses can’t access them (especially distance learning students?); and means that the authors get read by relatively few people.

So, we talked about whether it was worth doing something different to address these issues!

There were a few things that came up around the reasons for people to publish with an established publisher, despite the drawbacks above. The key few were:

1) Money. It doesn’t bring in a great deal of money publishing a “library” related book, but it can bring in some! This is especially as the publishers can expect to sell a core amount of books based on prior reputation and contacts.

2) Respect. Writing a book with an established publisher brings a certain amount of Kudos alongside it, they bring a reassurance of a certain quality.

3) Self promotion. Something I definitely hadn’t thought of before, but which came up, was that some conference organisers look at lists of authors from library publishers when considering speakers. Writing a book with one of these can move an author from submitting papers to a conference, to being an “invited” speaker, or even Keynote.

So bearing those things in mind, did the group think it was worth doing anything different? A definite yes. If we could still make it attractive for people to write and edit books, then making them available through an alternative publisher at a minimal price would be great. The key thing would be making the books affordable and relevant to professionals and students to be able to buy for their own professional development. So not competing with the range of books from a traditional publisher, or competing for authors that are looking for the money, respect and self-promotion opportunities more likely by going with a traditional publisher, but finding an alternative way.

As such, any alternative would have to be small scale. Once you get to the stage of needing to employ staff, costs ramp up dramatically and it wouldn’t be possible to do these things. But aiming for books that are practical, include “warts and all” case studies, and perhaps aiming at supporting first time authors, could provide a small but steady stream of books that would meet the needs of students and current professionals. They would need to be free or very cheap as ebooks, with print on demand books again at a low a cost as possible.

Some key costs include ISBNs, design of covers and copyediting. To cover these, it might be necessary to create the first couple of books through a crowdfunding campaign, just to pump prime with the small amounts of money necessary.

Definitely some things to think about there, perhaps whether I should do something along these lines as a follow up from Only Connect…