Loss leader? Loss, just loss

Huzzah for Philip Hensher. In yesterday’s Graun it was noted that he’d refused to write the introduction to an introduction to Berlin literature for free, on the spurious grounds that writing was what he did for a living. The book’s author, Andrew Webber, apparently called him ‘priggish and ungracious’ for his stance, with the publisher, CUP, stating the following:

We do, of course, pay our authors and other contributors royalties and other fees at a level that can be supported by the book in question. When we publish academic books, the audience for each book is naturally often relatively small. Most of our authors are practising academics whose main job is teaching and research, and who write for us primarily to promote the circulation of academic ideas. That is the purpose of the press, too: we exist to advance knowledge, learning and research, not as a commercial organisation.

Bless ’em, and what self-serving nonsense. Academics write books because it’s their job. No publications; no promotion. And if you think academics do it for free, think again. Their contracts give them the same holiday time as most people get, which leaves the conundrum of those long summer breaks. Research. To publish books and articles. And study leave? Research. To publish books and articles. I think you’ll find they’re being paid. The prof, no doubt, wanted Hensher to write the introduction because he thought it would increase visibility and therefore sales. So. Pure intellectual altruism, eh?

Yes, this push to publication does lead to a number of, frankly, pointless and dull academic works being born – not to mention an amount of really unreadable ones. I’ve read volumes containing essays written by ‘name’ academics that I’d be ashamed to send to a friend as speculative first drafts. They are published because ‘x’ has a word. This is especially prevalent in the lead-up to the REF, the great grading of universities. If your work’s not REF-able, you’re not employable.

But this is by-the-by. The real problem is that now, to get published, it seems you have to write for nowt. I’ve provided pieces for well-respected publications, both for print copy and online, for which I haven’t received so much as a bean. I would estimate around 20,000 words over the past three years. Now, some wag on an online thread told me it was because I couldn’t write. Bless him. He couldn’t even spell, but these pieces were ones which people read and commented upon, and the publications in question didn’t publish one and then go quiet, so they can’t have been that bad. Anyway, if it’s good enough to publish, it’s good enough to get paid for.

The theory is the paid work follows. In practice the budget’s not there but can we have another 700 words by thursday … everyone loved your last piece.

So way to go, Philip. And prof. Webber? Get a grip.

Now then. Who’d like to pay me to write something for them? Now? Me? Oh, we’ll see how it goes with the budget … right.

2 thoughts on “Loss leader? Loss, just loss

  1. Well I can put my hand on my heart and say that we have always paid you exactly 100% of the editorial budget for your pieces in ON THE MOVE. In fact, I think I will give you 50% raise. Don’t spend it all at once.

    • Well, Jon, as you know, I’m worth at least 200% of your editorial budget, but seeing as it’s you, I’ll happily accept the derisory percentile offered … I’m off to the caribbean now …

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