Considering how active, and acrimonious, the debate on scholarly publishing and scholarly open access has become, it’s valuable to get some data points into the mix. Like one, courtesy of Doug’s Archaeology, about the 11-volume Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology from Springer, which costs €5.617,50 ($7380) in its print-plus-ereference edition.

Doug’s Archaeology comes from Doug Rocks Macqueen, a graduate student in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, and focuses “mainly on the Profession of Archaeology e.g. pay, working conditions, career prospect, etc. Though I do on occasion through in some other topics and some bits on Open Access.” And in his spare time, he seems to be doing some pretty useful research into the economics of publishing too. For instance, “most mass media books lose money. It is hard to get stats on this and it would vary from publisher to publisher, but roughly 1 out 20 books makes money (some claim it is 1 out 100). It is a long tail model. Essentially, about 17-18 books will lose money (very little but still not really make money). 1-2 will break even/make a little, but one will pay for all the rest. That one is the Harry Potters of the world but also the Of Mice and Mens too.”

And when it comes to scholarly publishing, “edited books being a bunch of different authors contribute a chapter each, usually they come out of a conference or session in a conference. They are very narrow in their subject and focus. Authors almost never get paid upfront or at all. Contributing to an edited volume means you get paid nothing. Usually, putting together an edited volume pays nothing. Though sometimes you might get a small percentage of the profits (5%, 10% or 15%) or a stipend.” And, he continues, in scholarly publishing, “the average print run is now around 200-300 books … it is very unlikely that more than a few hundred of these books will ever be printed, let alone sold. This has of course changed in the last few decades. In the 1970s print runs use to be into the several thousands but because journals have squeezed library budgets they can no longer afford to buy these books.”

Note: journals are the ones putting pressure on scholarly library budgets, Doug claims. And for budding academic authors, self-publishing is not necessarily a great solution because “you won’t have access to the libraries.” His final recommendation is: “consider Open Access. If you are DIY publishing it makes very little sense to charge $9.99 for a book so you can make $2 an hour for your work. If you got a single CRM contract or academic grant because you wrote a book someone read (because it was open access) it will pay 100X the little beer money you would get from 100 people buying your book. Just a thought.”

As to who is actually going to pay Springer for that 11-volume set, all bets are off. But you do wonder whether any of the articles in there would be worth the cover price when much of the same information is likely accessible for free over the internet anyway. And just how many public grants went to support the research that Springer has aggregated and is now charging up to $7380 for? Now that would be an interesting calculation to make …