Ted Gioia has a good issue of his newsletter on academic publishing’s “death instinct”:
In this case, the wounds are truly self-inflicted. Scholarly works and textbooks don’t need to be a shrinking business. Many other parts of the book business are flourishing right now. In fact, some niches in publishing are growing rapidly (for example my platform Substack).
But those successful publishers worry about readers. That’s why they’re growing.
I absolutely refuse to accept the economic argument for the crisis in academic books. I believe, as a matter of principle, that there’s an audience for smart, scholarly books. There always has been in the past, and there’s no legitimate reason that should have changed.
Anyone who has ever published with an academic press will find much familiar here. I would add only one footnote to Gioia’s discussion.
Not only are university presses in the business to sell books only to university libraries, they don’t even really sell books. As near as I can tell from my experience using university libraries and publishing with a university press, major publishers like Oxford University Press and Harvard University Press bundle the books they publish into e-book platforms, selling access to the content en masse rather than to individual e-books. Furthermore, they may not even sell the e-books. Instead, the deal is something like this: the book might be made available in a university catalog, but the library doesn’t actually pay until a certain number of users access it. In other words, presses don’t bother trying to sell to readers, but they also aren’t trying to sell specific books even to libraries. They are just content aggregators.