The Public Interest

The crisis in scholarly publishing

William C. Dowling

Fall 1997

UNTIL one day last February, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what is now generally called “the crisis of the monograph”—that is, the drying up of resources for intensive studies of small but worthwhile subjects in favor of trend-driven publishing. Such publishing is favored today by some leading university presses, on subjects formerly associated with punk rock lyrics or supermarket tabloids or the Oprah Winfrey show. As an eighteenth-century scholar I had myself published several specialized literary studies, and as co-owner of Winthrop Press, a small part-time publishing operation based in Princeton, New Jersey, I had learned a good bit about the economics of book production. The one thing I hadn’t done, as it happened, was actually lay eyes on any example of the new trend-based scholarship.

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