In Focus: The Crisis in Publishing
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In Focus:
The Crisis in Publishing

The news first came to me on the wind: a close friend of my mother's, a renowned and much-published senior feminist scholar, could not get her latest book published; my junior colleagues could not land book contracts and their associated promotions. Then, the crisis hit at my office door as my most recent manuscript was initially rejected because the marketing department at the press where it was under consideration deemed that my fellow editor, Jesse Lerner, and I had not included enough films with name recognition in our anthology on fake documentaries. (Slightly mainstreamed in content, it is soon to be published.) One reader tried to look up the films we discussed on imdb.com, but they were not to be found!

Horror of horrors: people who sell books determining what experts in the field should consider; Internet hits determining what texts are worthy of scholarly consideration. Given that my work has engaged with experimental, nonindustrial, little-seen alternative media, this did seem like a crisis indeed. Would I have to start writing on Titanic? Would academic writing become no different from the articles in Entertainment Weekly? Would the needs of marketing and sales departments outweigh the beauty of our arguments, the subtlety of our prose, the integrity of the texts we most admire? There must remain some difference between consumer culture and the values, purposes, and principles of the scholarly endeavor.

So I jumped at the chance to organize this In Focus as an opportunity to hear from, and engage in dialogue with, my colleagues in the field: what had they heard, how was it affecting their work, was there a crisis in publishing? I asked people at university presses, an administrator/scholar, and colleagues across the ranks to address what the "crisis" in cinema and media studies publishing looked like from where they sit.

The five responses suggest that there has been a significant sea change, if not a crisis, in the expectations, economics, and industry of academic publishing, and this is already having effects on the profession. We must respond, and soon. Our authors generously offer up strategies to resist the pull into calamity: from Leslie Mitchner, editor in chief at Rutgers University Press, that universities give $200 vouchers to faculty for use at university presses; to the call to arms from Associate Professor Kathleen Fitzpatrick that there be a return of intellectual labor to the economy of the gift; to the charitable list from former University of California Press editor, and now professor, Eric Smoodin, of things that might make us stop worrying and love publishing. Smoodin concludes by asking us to "take a deep breath" and engage with the future of publishing with more knowledge and less fear.

While this In Focus can jump-start such a forward-looking process, its contributors also look back and reminisce about the publishing and professional "Golden Years," before what Mitchner calls the "Hollywoodization of the academy." The [End Page 81] thirty interviewees surveyed by fellow graduate student Jamie Poster imagine, rather than remember, a better time in academe when they are sure that there was not "a dismal outlook for the profession" and scholars made decisions about their research projects based on integrity and not careerism. The crisis begins with the loss of this Eden, an idyllic place and time characterized by reading, thinking, and the publication of lots and lots of books. Then, a meaner, stupider, corporatized, and digitized reality descends upon us all.

How can we return to, or create anew, these lost times and values? Patrice Petro places the burden and blame squarely on us (not the publishing industry) by noting a loss of standards in professional culture, peer evaluation, and faculty governance. She believes that we must adjudicate our peers' work carefully and rigorously, and stop relying on publishing to make such decisions for us. She argues that rigid hierarchies and outmoded standards for tenure and promotion lead to a diminishment of quality and a weakening of our professional culture. Similarly, Poster yearns for civic discourse, intellectual conversation, and the exchange of ideas to determine our scholarly projects; in fact, most of these...