One of the things editors can teach academics is that the latter should pay more attention. Especially to the world of publishing. An erstwhile academic, I learned to go about research and publication in the traditional way: come up with an idea that nobody else has noticed or thought of, and write about it. It is “publishing for the sake of knowledge.” (Yes, that is Gorgias Press’s slogan, and yes, it is one of my hooks—marketing, anyone?) The idea behind this is that knowledge is worth knowing for its own sake. Researchers of all kinds notice details of immense variety and there’s always room for more books. Or at least there used to be. The world of publishing on which academics rely, however, is rapidly transforming. Money changes everything.
The world has too many problems (many of them generated by our own species) to pay too much attention to academics. Universities, now following “business models” crank out more doctorates than there are jobs for employing said wannabe profs, and those who get jobs pay scant attention to knock-on changes in the publishing world. Just the other day I was reading about “pay per use” schemes for academic writing that, unsurprisingly, came up with the fact that most academic books and articles lose money. If someone has to pay to read your research, will they do it? Especially if that research is on a topic that has no obvious connection with the mess we’re busy making of this world? Probably not. Publishing for the sake of knowledge is fast becoming a dusty artifact in the museum of quaint ideas.
For those still in the academic sector that means that research projects now have to be selected with an economic element in mind. “Would anyone pay for this?” has to be one of the questions asked early on. The question has to be answered honestly, which requires getting out from beyond the blinders of being part of the privileged class of those who are paid to think original thoughts. Academia has followed the money. A capitalistic system makes this inevitable. How can you do business with an institution that doesn’t play by your accounting rules? And academic publishers, which have difficulty turning a profit due to low sales volume, are bound to play along. This situation will change how we seek knowledge. More’s the pity since some of the things most interesting about the world are those that nobody would think to pay to view.