En route to a professorship of rhetoric and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, Clay Spinuzzi published scholarly monographs with the MIT Press 2003 and Cambridge University Press 2008. Last January, right on schedule, he brought out a third book, Topsight: A Guide to Studying, Diagnosing, and Fixing Information Flow in Organizations. His publisher this time? Himself.
Using the Amazon CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform and a couple of thousand dollars in freelance graphic design and copy-editing, Spinuzzi will make back his financial investment after 300 copies are sold. That’s because he’ll earn exceptionally high royalties: Around $7 for every digital copy, a little more for each print-on-demand paperback. If he sells just 1,500 copies, he’ll earn $10,000. If he gets to the academic equivalent of best-sellerdom—15,000 copies—he’ll easily clear more than $100,000.
Those numbers flow from Amazon’s revolutionary royalty structure. For self-published e-books priced under $2.99 or more than $9.99, Amazon pays a 35-percent royalty. But for those priced between those benchmarks, authors can clear 70 percent for themselves. The sweet spot is designed to keep prices within the range that traditional publishers expect for mass-market and many trade paperbacks—and to keep Amazon from underpricing its own traditional wares.
Later in the piece,
Of course, even in the narrower world of textbooks and other works for lay or crossover readerships, the possibility of a cash payout isn’t the only advantage to self-publishing. Spinuzzi cites swift turnaround, freedom to experiment, and greater creative control of layout, images, and content: “I got away with a lot of things that traditional publishers wouldn’t allow,” he says. “Something as small as referencing Scooby-Doo can really set the tone for a book, making it friendly and accessible, and I didn’t want to give that up.”
In the end, those advantages may have more and more influence upon young scholars, for whom the digital-humanities movement has begun to at least modestly undermine the centrality of the monograph in scholarly communication.
Today’s digital humanists increasingly share not only the apex of our analysis but all the constituent elements of our research—unedited oral history in various languages, for instance; edited, arranged, and translated clips; slides; searchable raw data; sorted data; collected primary texts; annotations of primary texts; and so on. This digital, multimodal, social, dynamic scholarship is truly unsuitable for (merely) print, as Jerome J. McGann and others at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities proved long ago with projects like the Rossetti Archive and the Sixties Project.
I am excited to be experimenting with some of the tools/technologies as I finish up my dissertation over the next few months.