A Philosopher's Blog

The Future of Philosophy Books

Posted in Business, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 29, 2011
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Thanks no doubt to my 42 Fallacies and 30 More Fallacies, I have received a few emails asking about publishing philosophy books. This got me thinking about the future of philosophy books.

Before Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others opened up the epublishing business to everyone, a person who wanted to publish a philosophy book faced various hurdles (beyond the obvious one of writing a book). These hurdles varied with the path selected by the author: professional publishing or self publishing.

Getting a philosophy book published professionally was and is rather challenging. Philosophy books are generally not huge sellers (unless “philosophy” is taken to include self help books and various other dubious domains) and hence publishers are typically not scouring the globe for a new philosophy book. Publishers that specialize in philosophy books generally tend to cater to the academic markets and produce books for classes or for professionals in the field. As such, publishing a book in this area typically requires academic credentials (connections do not hurt). There are, of course, more popular philosophy books. However, publishers still tend to seek authors with academic credentials. There are, of course, exceptions-but they tend to be somewhat uncommon. I expect that this aspect of publishing will not significantly change, other than a shift in the medium from paper to digital (although I expect paper text books to endure for a long time).

In the past, self-publishing was generally not a great option. The author had to bear the cost of publishing the work (either directly or by getting involved with a vanity press). The author was also stuck with advertising and selling the book. While I am sure there are some amazing exceptions, what I have heard about self-publishing has been negative (the stories usually end with “and that is why I have 1,498 books in my attic”). However, self-publishing changed radically with the advent of printing on demand and ebooks. However, the most important change was the advent of Amazon’s Kindle program (and similar programs from Barnes & Noble).

Thanks to Amazon and Banes & Noble anyone can easily publish a philosophy (or any) book. This means that the field of philosophy (at least on these marketplaces) is open to anyone who can use a computer. One good thing about this is that the number of philosophy books will increase. Another good thing is that good writers with interesting ideas who might have been unable to get a deal with the major publishers will be able to get their ideas out there. A third good thing is that such books can be made available to folks who might not otherwise read a philosophy book.  A fourth good thing is that it gives the author control over his destiny, at least in terms of his books. Even though I have a professionally published book, I rather like being master of my own works, rather than being a supplicant to professional publishers.  It is, of course, natural to compare this situation with the Modern Era of philosophy: the printing press enabled new thinkers (such as Descartes and Hume) to get their ideas out there when the established academies were still often locked in Scholastic dogma.

There are, of course, some non-good things about this. One obvious problem is that self-published works are not subject to editorial review. While a professionally published philosophy book might be crap, it is at least reviewed crap. It is certain that the percentage of crappy books in the self-published field will be much higher than in the professional realm. A second concern, at least for academics, is that self-published works generally do not “count” and ebooks are looked on with suspicion by many in the traditional academy. Academic types, like me, are subject to the dreaded “publish or perish” in that we have to publish works in order to get promotions and tenure. As such, a self-published ebook typically will not help an academic advance his career (there are some exceptions). In my case, I’m already a tenured full professor, so I no longer have to worry about that (aside from looking good on my yearly evaluations). I do, however, have to worry about the bills-hence my new “career” writing ebooks. I suspect that there will be a gradual shift towards counting such books, much like some schools already give “points” for blogging.

In a nutshell, my rather obvious prediction is that there will be an upswing in the publishing of philosophy books, thanks to the blossoming epublishing. In the future, I assume that people will start referring to academics living in digital towers, rather than the traditional ivory towers.

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6 Responses

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  1. urbannight said, on May 29, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Since is has become an ala carte world of individual philosophy that has little bearing on the great philosophers of the past, I would predict an there could be an upsurge in the number of self-published eBooks on personal philosophy based on personal experience and why it is the ‘right’ view of modern times.

    I’m thinking of all the beatniks of the past, sitting in their smoky coffee houses, discussing politics and art and philosophy and other things and imaging what it would have been like if they had access to such online, self-publication of the books they always said they were writing.

    This group of individuals still exists today, they just go by a different name. If you describe the beatniks of the 50′s with the older goths (not the “I-hate-the-world- because-it-doesn’t-get-me” baby bats) of today, you get a very nearly identical picture.

    That was a weird segue.

  2. A J MacDonald Jr said, on May 30, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Good article. The POD revolution has finally occurred, and it’s radically changing the publishing industry. You are absolutely correct. My own book (a theology/philosophy book) cost me nothing to publish with Amazon, since I was able to do all the work myself. A book that otherwise would never have seen the light of day is out there, with it’s otherwise hidden philosophical ideas. I have no academic degrees, which was my publishing hurdle, and, like you, I prefer control over my work. For example, I used footnotes, as opposed to endnotes, which most publishers seem to prefer these days, but which I don’t like. Plus, it will NEVER go out of print because I own all the rights.

  3. david findley said, on June 6, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    I can only imagine a contemporary philosopher with a huge potential for prominence failing to find a publisher because A) he’s young and perhaps not even in a graduate program B) editor’s wouldn’t recognize a historically significant piece, irrespective the credentials of the author, unless they happened to read it while under the influence of some psychoactive substance

    Hopefully the unsung protege will manage to reach his audience through Amazon and Kindle

    I pray for you, Overman !

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 8, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Works of professional level philosophy are generally not best sellers. For big sales, an author should go into “pop” philosophy or pseudo-philosophy. The significance issue is certainly interesting. As is often the case with artists, the philosophers who are considered “stars” in the now so often fade into obscurity and some of the obscure philosophers of now become the significant philosophers of much later.

    • WTP said, on June 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Or you could get a real job, prove your philosophy, and then tell the world what you think. Philosophizing for money is rarely much more than sophistry. Just look around here.

  4. WTP said, on June 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    And furthermore..


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