The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0640 Wednesday, 2 April 2003
Date: Tuesday, 1 Apr 2003 23:16:44 -0800
Subject: 14.0461 Re: Standard Work On Early English Book
Comment: Re: SHK 14.0461 Re: Standard Work On Early English Book
List members may remember my query about a standard work on early
English book publishing. One reply suggested the Cambridge History of
the Book. I was shocked to find the list price for first two volumes
(covering 1400-1557 and 1557-1695) was $140 each. Then I found neither
volume available in San Francisco, and only one at Stanford and
Berkeley. I commented that academic publishing seems to have returned
to the days of uniquely produced books so valuable they have to be
chained to tables at monasteries.
I wrote to Cambridge University Press and just received this informative
reply from Sarah Stanton, Publishing Director, Humanities, and Editor,
Shakespeare Studies. This is off-topic but nonetheless relevant to most
on the list.
"Your query has found its way to me. I am pleased to hear that you
recommend the series. All I can do is to explain how the books come to
be, as you find them, so expensive and, incidentally, why they take so
long to appear.
"They are in fact available from any good bookseller or direct from the
Press: we have stock of both titles. We have sold 1000 copies worldwide
of the first volume published (Vol. 3, pub. 1999) and 480 of the second
(Vol. 4, pub. 2002).
"These books are based on original research in a relatively new field of
scholarship; this makes them time-consuming and costly to produce. If a
contributor fails to produce his or her chapter on time, one can't
readily call on someone else to fill that gap--as one can in almost all
other areas of the humanities--since there might be only one or two
scholars in the world who have researched that area. The development
work--in structuring the volumes, finding contributors, keeping them on
board, editing the work--is therefore even more intensive than for
comparable reference volumes.
"A number of countries are producing national histories of the book, but
the UK is the only country not to fund their history of the book. At
Cambridge University Press we have to rely on covering our costs through
"Vol. 4 is around 900 pages in length (plus a plate section). It was
very costly to edit, copyedit, design and manufacture. The sales for
such large reference works are necessarily limited. Even if the price
were to be dropped, only a certain number of libraries and individuals
would buy the volumes as this is still a new area of study. Our print
runs have been necessarily restricted due to the smallness of the
market: we printed 1200 copies of volume 4, and the price is determined
"Libraries can take up to a year to get their books on the shelves.
Some of the libraries in question might well have copies of Volume 4 of
the Cambridge History of the Book in Britain waiting to be catalogued.
"I hope that some of this information is useful, and that you or your
library continue to buy the series."
"Libraries can take up to a year to get their books on the shelves"!
That alone is appalling.
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