The Impact of Academic Books

How does one demonstrate the impact of a book that does not sell enough copies to generate a royalty cheque?Clearly there are considerations worthy of note beyond sales when assessing the academic model of a successful book. This whole exercise today made me shift my opinion of academic work. Whilst I did not entirely subscribe to the notion of the eccentric professor churning out monographs on subjects that are neither understood or of interest to anyone other than him or her and those who are likeminded, there is no doubt that in order to demonstrate that academic texts mean something to the wider world one has to prove that there is benefit from social, legal or cultural perspectives. This requires an academic commissioning editor to be tapped into a diverse array of cultural channels. For example, the recent Hillsborough verdict and exoneration of the Liverpool fans in respect to the ninety-six  deaths at the football match in 1989 might inspire the publication of works on police corruption, or the sneering class warfare waged by successive Tory governments on football fans.

I discovered that even though academia is not exactly susceptible to fads such as adult colouring books, it still has market fluctuations that render a significant impact on what a publisher might do in order to sell books. Impact is therefore important, because aside from the big academic sellers, textbooks, generating the lion’s share of the money there is still a place for books of great cultural and societal significance. The current climate politically is susceptible to case studies on populist politics for example. Or, one might see an opportunity to allegorise the rise of Twentieth Century Catholic fascism in Europe with the insipid authoritarianism currently growing in left wing circles. These are all markets ripe for an academic publisher to address and infiltrate, but which would never have emerged had there been a purely financial analysis of the trends likely to sell that year. One must develop the ability to ride a wave, so to speak, and be responsive to what is taking place culturally. One might, for example, rightly poo poo the idea of producing yet another book on the social and political impact of Goebbels in the Third Reich, but one might not be so quick to dismiss a book proposing a new view of the NAZIs as a corporation and a business, which is undoubtedly the case. So it seems to me that the importance of being aware of what is taking place in the world is profoundly significant in producing impactful works of academic merit and significance.


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