Publishing: a possible solution

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Thu Apr 4 20:03:05 UTC 2013

Even if Robbins Burling's point about ethics were irrelevant: The 
traditional system of publishing linguistics books and journals has 
simply become dysfunctional, even for academics themselves. It's 
difficult to understand why we should pay EUR 150 for a grammar if 
other, similarly good grammars can be downloaded for free. (And 
electronic copies are increasingly regarded as the primary versions of 
books and articles, from which printed and bound copies can be easily 

The reason most scholars still find it important to go with major 
publishers/imprints is not just that tenure or promotion committees are 
lazy -- the reason is that all aspects of careers are built on peer 
recognition, and publication with a major imprint (or in a major 
journal) is the clearest sign of peer recognition. Your tenure committee 
may be very understanding, but your peers in general will be much more 
likely to read your work if it is published prominently. (I don't recall 
ever having seen the Garo grammar cited that Burling published in India 
in 2004.) And the more prominent the publisher is, the more they can 
charge for the books. As Harvard linguist Stuart Shieber has argued 
cogently at the last LSA, the market doesn't work 
-- prices don't go down for more widely read books and journals.

So dissemination and peer recognition, once closely bound up in books, 
have been decoupled: Dissemination is done much more efficiently via 
PDFs on, but peer recognition still hinges on journal and 
imprint names. Paradoxically and absurdly, many of us often read PDF 
manuscripts accessed and downloaded via Google Scholar, but we cite them 
after their "proper" publication in a recognized journal or imprint.

How to bring dissemination and peer recognition back together? One 
method is author-pays open-access, where the author (or her proxy) pays 
the publisher -- for example, De Gruyter 
<> charges about EUR 
9000 for a 300-page book. But the problem of market dysfunction still 
remains: The better and the more prestigious the open-access books, the 
higher will be the author charges. So if I pay EUR 9,000 for publishing 
my excellent manuscript, chances are that the same publisher will charge 
the next author EUR 10,000 (I've discussed this in more detail here 
The market can bring down the prices only if we could easily replace a 
publisher by another one offering the same services. But as long as the 
imprint is owned by the service-provider/publisher, they will charge 
whatever they can for their invaluable imprint, which we have to use to 
build our careers.

So we need to decouple the publishing services from the imprint. The 
imprint is what has systemic relevance for the academic system -- and 
the main work for maintaining the imprint is being done by us, authors 
and reviewers. The imprint should therefore be owned by the academics 
themselves, e.g. by scholarly associations like ALT, or by universities. 
This should guarantee that any profits made from the imprint don't go 
outside academia.

And here's a concrete implementation of this vision: Last autumn Stefan 
Müller (FU Berlin) started an open-access initiative 
<>, which I joined, and the result (to be 
unveiled soon) is the publishing imprint "*Language Science Press*". We 
don't have a major funder yet (though we have applied for funding), but 
we think that electronic linguistics books can be published quite 
cheaply if the imprint is embraced by the community of linguists. What 
we need for this to become a success is (i) volunteers who will serve as 
reviewers of manuscripts even if they are not rewarded with money, (ii) 
dedicated series editors, and (iii) authors who are willing to submit 
their manuscripts in a well-formatted way (ideally in LaTeX).

Hosting the books will be taken care of by FU Berlin, and we'll link 
them to various print-on-demand services. The idea is that all the books 
published by Language Science Press will be high-quality, peer-reviewed, 
and will eventually carry the same prestige as books published by 
traditional major publishers. And we hope that we can do all this 
without charging anyone. I am planning to start a book series "Studies 
in Diversity Linguistics" for grammars and typological books. If you 
think this is an idea worth supporting, please sign as a supporter 
(joining over 250 others 
<>), or better yet, 
volunteer as a reviewer <>.

Martin Haspelmath

P.S. Here are some links to related enterprises:
-- Open Library of Humanities:
-- Open Edition Books:
-- Edition Open Access:
-- UC Publications in Linguistics:
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