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ATG Article of the Week: ‘Chasm’ Between Academic and Trade Publishing

by | Dec 30, 2020 | 0 comments

Chasm’ Between Academic and Trade Publishing is an article in Publishing Perspectives authored by Richard Charkin. In his post Mr. Charkin argues “that “the last 20 years have seen an ever-growing chasm between academic and trade publishing on the technology front.” According to Mr Charkin, “it is inconceivable for a major STM publisher not to have a vast cadre of technology experts at the very top of the organization,” while “apart from a posse of “digital directors,” trade publishers are followers of technology, not true participants.”

I spent a very enjoyable and thought-provoking few hours at the Frankfurt Academic Conference. At that link, everyone now can watch the sessions of the conference.

Before extolling its virtues, I have one criticism. The subtitle is A New Era for Academic Publishing in Europe and USA. Academic publishing is nothing if not global. Limiting any discussion to Europe and USA is meaningless and arguably offensive to the brilliant scholars and academic publishers in Canada, Africa, Brazil, China, Japan, Russia not to mention Australia and so on.

That rant out of the way, it was a superb conference. I’ve had to attend (too) many Zoom conferences over the last few months, and none has matched this one. All the sessions were good, the speakers eminent but forthright, the message questioning and insightful, and the answers open and helpful. Congratulations to Frankfurt for organizing this.

Looking back over my 48 fulfilling years in the publishing industry, I estimate that I’ve spent 40 percent of my time and effort on trade books, 40 percent on academic books, and 20 percent on education.

My first job—science editor at George G. Harrap—involved all three, but for a while I focused largely on academic, as a life sciences publishing manager at Pergamon (now Elsevier) and then medical editor at Oxford University Press.

There’s so much to admire about academic publishing, and that admiration has stayed with me throughout my career.

When I left Oxford University Press to join Paul Hamlyn’s Octopus Publishing Group—which would later become Reed International Books—I received a letter from a distinguished literary agent congratulating me on at last finding a job in “real” publishing. It was nice of him to write but puzzling. What was “real” publishing?

I had an inkling from one of the first editorial meetings at Heinemann. A terrific editor made a pitch for a book she wanted us to take on. “I would die to publish this book,” she said. I thought this was taking commitment and passion a little too far, but it reminded me of a previous conversation I’d had with a Philadelphia-based medical editor who told me he’d kill to publish a particular book. It struck me as a defining difference between academic and trade editors: Assassination or suicide, neither is particularly uplifting, but I know which one I’d prefer in my business…”

In order to continue reading Mr. Charkin’s post in Publishing Perspectives , please click here.


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