Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A little honesty would go a long way

I just received another solicitation for prize donations from a popular email list in my field that runs a fund drive every year:

“In years past, many of our supporting publishers have contributed prizes or incentives that are given to the winners of our games and challenges. This has proven to be a great way to increase donations and provide publicity for publishers. All supporting publishers are recognized by name on all Fund Drive emails, and we provide a special acknowledgment to those publishers who contribute donations as well as prizes.”

They send out over 100 Fund Drive emails to more than 20,000 subscribers, so this sounds like it could be great exposure. They also have an extensive website where they list donors, which could be even more exposure.

Sadly, it’s just not true. We give them books every year to use as prizes. Last year we gave them over 30 free books, with a retail value of over $800. We were mentioned in just 2 emails late in the fund drive, after everyone has stopped reading the messages. They don’t mention publishers in the list of donors, and they no longer show a list of prizes donated anywhere on their website.

It certainly isn’t publicity for us if they fail to publicize the donations. And it’s offensive to once again be promised specific publicity that they have no intention of providing.

We’ve supported this email list for over 15 years. We used to process credit cards for their fund drives. We advertised their services to our customers before they had a website. We give them money every year so we can post a few book announcements, even though those announcements no longer result in any obvious sales boost for us.

In mid-December, they told us that they wanted us to pay them even more money to post book announcements in the future. When I pointed out that we were already paying far more per announcement than the large publishers, their only response was that some university press had stupidly paid them a huge amount of money for a single announcement. When I asked whether our prize donations were worth anything to them, in the hopes of reaching a mutually beneficial arrangement rather than one that only benefits them, they stopped responding.

Coming just after a long blog post from a close friend where he repeatedly referred to publishers as evil, I start to wonder some days why I engage in my chosen profession. I’m apparently losing a propaganda war that I have no interest in participating in.


Vardibidian said...

Just to be clear—I am referring to certain publishers as evil. Which they are. Others are not. Most, actually, are not. There are a few who are, and alas one of the biggest ones is.

I was under the impression that I was writing about some of the ways that publishers are useful, largely in response to a vast conversation of why do we need publishers, anyway, and highlight those things that publishers do which are not evil and which would remain undone without publishers.

If, however, I was engaging in the propaganda war on the wrong side, it was inadvertent. I often feel that I am somehow engaged in a propaganda war against myself, which I surely have no interest in participating in.


Michael said...

In situations like this fund drive, an answer to why we need publishers is that publishers are viewed as a source of cash for supporting conferences and websites and field infrastructure. Since providing cash for these endeavours generally does not improve the bottom line for the publishers, the cash that goes out that window must be made up for by charging higher prices elsewhere to the same institutions which are running the conferences and websites and field infrastructure. This complicates and distorts budgeting, and makes it that much harder to untangle the existing mess of scholarly publishing to see our way to better paradigms.