Cheaper by the .pdf, but still . . .

SUNY press has announced an initiative to sell .pdf files of new books for only $20.00 for a title that costs $75.00 in hardcover. And you can browse the first two pages of every chapter absolutely free! What a daring initiative!

Sorry, but I’m undewhelmed. I totally support the mission of university presses, but it’s really hard to imagine that the industry will be transformed by giving readers the amazing opportunity to shell out twenty bucks for a computer file 258 pages long. Twenty bucks is more than the price of most trade paperbacks outside academia – and you have to print it yourself. I realize, we write for a tiny niche audience, but still – if this is the revolution, wake me up later, would you?

And you can see a whole two pages of each chapter? This is progress? The National Academies Press has pretty well proven that free full text browsing is good for sales. And they seem to sell trade paper copies immediately for a price close to the .pdf price. If I were publishing with a university press, I’d want my book affordable on its release, not a year later, and not just as a .pdf.

I realize there are significant costs involved, but this seems so wrongheaded to me. No wonder so many libraries are getting involved in publishing. Maybe our nutty fascination with access is just the counterweight to this kind of innovation the system needs.

Academic Newswire‘s e-mail announcement calls this groundbreaking. Exactly what kind of ground are we talking about?

death's head

photo courtesy of Queen Roly.

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

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