Every time I announce a new archaeology book is published, individuals both in and outside academic archaeology express outraged at the price. Very few academic books are anywhere near cheap and so sometimes this outrage is misguided and cliched. Sometimes, however, it is fully justified, reflecting a problematic, if not broken, publication system. This post wishes to reflect on this complex issue by taking a personal view from over the last two decades.
Anyone visiting this blog can find details of my publications here. As you will note, only a fraction of them appear in books: journal articles constitute a different issue that I won’t address these here. For books – my monograph and edited books – I have chosen publishers for a variety of factors other than cover-price. I confess, with the benefit of hindsight, I haven’t always done this wisely or successfully to ensure the best quality of product and price.
Let’s turn now to the books I have edited or written and the prices they are currently sold at.
My Publication Prices
My 1998 first co-edited collection (with Richard Bradley) was a special issue of a journal: World Archaeology, but subsequently it could be bought as a stand-alone print volume: The Past in the Past. This now retails at £25, which amounts to 14p per page.
My first edited book appeared in 2003 with Kluwer/Plenum, now Springer: Archaeologies of Remembrance: Death and Memory in Past Societies. At time of release it cost an unholy £80/85, but it now sells as an e-book for £98, a softback at £123 and a hardback at £179.50. At 310 pages, and poorly reproduced by the publisher with zero support or copy-editing, this is astronomical. Ignoring the hardback price and the e-book price, and using the softback price as the most likely sought physical version, this amounts to 40p per page.
I then published a monograph with CUP in 2006: Death and Memory in Early Medieval Britain. The original hardback price I cannot recall but I suspect it cost around 20p per page when first released. However, it is now available for £20.99 in paperback. While hardly cheap, this is very reasonable for archaeology books at 8p per page.
My next editing experience was a book I co-edited (although the publisher insist it is a ‘journal’) in 2007: Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History volume 14. This seems no longer to be in print, but vol. 13 retails now at £45, and vol. 15 at £50, so I’d like to be permitted to use the more expensive of these for comparative purposes rather than the Amazon price for the physical book of via second-hand retailers of just over £65. So if we take £50 as the imaginary retail price, at 350 pages it comes in at 14p per page. Note: this volume was part-subsidised by two commercial archaeology companies in exchange for publishing their reports in the collection: if this is taken into account I estimate a cost per page should more realistically be considered as around 25p per page.
I then co-edited a book with Duncan Sayer in 2009: Mortuary Practices and Social Identities in the Middle Ages, that now retails hardback at £75 and a paperback became available in 2013, thus moving from around 25p per page down to a more reasonable 8p per page.
Next, in 2015, I co-edited a book for Boydell with Meggen Gondek and Joanne Kirton: Early Medieval Stone Monuments: Materiality, Biography, Landscape. It retails at £60, which comes in at 22p per page
In 2016, I co-edited with Mel Giles for OUP: Archaeologists and the Dead. Retailing at £85 it amounts to 18p per page.
My latest book, co-edited again but this time with Anna Wessman and Jessica Cerezo-Roman, is out in April and retails once more at £85. Cremation and the Archaeology of Death amounts to 23p per page.
Review of Publication Prices
Academic archaeology books are costly to produce as well as to buy: they have short print runs aimed at niche audiences. Unless they are subsidised or grant-assisted, the buyer (libraries or individuals) pays a hefty sum. I admit I’m not comparing like-with-like: different publishers involving different qualities and character of production, different audiences, different levels of grant support etc. You are welcome to come to your own conclusions about the costs involved, but I would like to make 3 points;
- Unless you can employ effective short-cuts without jeopardising the quality and rigorous process of academic publishing, or have a grant to reduce the cost, when considering academic publishers for archaeology titles, you should anticipate the unsubsidise cover-price to be around 20-25p-per-page hardback. One can of course question the merits of this pricing, and it is very expensive in itself. Still, that’s the current situation as I understand it;
- Kluwer/Plenum (now Springer) stand out as exceptionally costly in my experience for nothing special in terms of marketing or quality. Others like Brepols and Brill fall into this stable. I have vowed never to publish in such venues ever again and I regret choosing them as a publisher for my first stand-alone edited book. At 40p per page, this still stings 14 years since publication when it remains available for purchase in print copy, but at nearly 2-3 times the price of my other edited books, and at 5 times the price-per-page of my paperback books!;
- It adds insult to injury to learn that one of my chapters from the Archaeologies of Remembrance book has just been reproduced in an even more expensive venue. Retailing at £900, with 1,930 pages (4 volumes), this means that my chapter appears now at a cost of 47p per page! The editors of this volume are not to blame; just like I’m not responsible for the pricing of the books I’ve been involved in publishing. I have every respect for them and their endeavours. Colleagues tell me I should feel honoured to have my chapter selected for publication in such a prestigious venue. However, at this price, I’m finding it difficult to consider this an honour and I’m struggling to imagine what new readerships will be attracted to the chapter given this cover price.