What Will COVID-19 Mean for Scholarly Book Publishing?


I am working on a book for a university press right now.  I didn’t really think about how COVID-19 would effect my work on this project until I read Rachel Toor’s recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Here is a taste:

Anyone who claims to know the future of book publishing — or the future of anything right now — is bound to sound foolish. Yet scholars at all stages of the academic career have questions about what the Covid-19 crisis will mean for the book world. So I reached out to some folks at academic presses to get their sense of the intellectual and financial fallout.

And it wasn’t entirely grim. In fact, the publishers I spoke with seemed cautious yet optimistic. They were moving forward with their planned fall 2020 lists, especially for scholarly books. Most said they expected to maintain their scholarly output but wouldn’t be expanding any time soon.

“We intend to continue publishing our scholarly lists at the same levels as before this crisis,” said Tony Sanfilippo, director of the Ohio State University Press. “For us, what is changing is we were growing our scholarly lists before this happened. That will end. We were also acquiring journals. That will also be harder to do as they often have large upfront investments.”

Yet editors are still working with manuscripts and authors, even if they’re doing it at home in their pajamas surrounded by stir-crazy kids and keyboard-loving cats. “We will not be in this state forever, and all systems are normal as far as acquisitions are concerned — just maybe a little slower,” said Ilene Kalish, executive editor for social sciences at New York University Press. “I am proposing books, I am signing books, and we are planning for future seasons.”

That’s the case at Oxford University Press, too, said Susan Ferber, an executive editor. In her own work, she has noticed that her “reading on screen is slower, and I’m more tired from it, but this is because I prefer paper.” Likewise, she added: “We’re seeing a lot of distracted faculty who are juggling online-teaching responsibilities, mentoring students, homeschooling their kids, taking care of relatives, and dealing with illness.” Yet she’s also getting “a deluge of projects because so many faculty are home and not conferencing and using that time to get projects finished and off their desks.”

Read the rest here.