If I could do it over again, I’d self-publish

In 2009, Śaunak Sen and I wrote a book about QTL mapping and the R/qtl software. We started working on it in the fall of 2006, and it was a heck of a lot of work.

We’d talked to several publishers, and ended up publishing with Springer. John Kimmel was the editor we worked with; I like John, and I felt that Springer (or John) did a good job of keeping prices reasonable. We were able to publish in full color with a list price of $99, so that on Amazon it was about $65. (In April, 2013, there was a brief period where it was just $42 at Amazon!)

Springer did arrange several rounds of reviews; they typically pay reviewers $100 or a few books. But the copy editing was terrible (at the very least, you want a copy editor to read the book, and it was pretty clear that our copy editor hadn’t), and the actual type-setting and construction of the index was left to us, the authors.

It feels nice to have written a proper book, but I don’t think it makes that big of a difference, for me or for readers.

And John Kimmel has since left Springer to go to Chapman & Hall/CRC, and Springer has raised the price of our book to $169, so it’s now selling for $130 at Amazon. I think that’s obnoxious. It’s not like they’ve gone back and printed extra copies, so it’s hard to see how their costs could have gone up. But in the publishing agreement we signed, we gave Springer full rights to set the price of the book.

(Update: it’s now listed at $199, though it’s still about $130 at Amazon.)

I have a hard time recommending the book at that price; I’m tempted to help people find pirated PDFs online. (And seriously, if you can’t find a pirated copy, you should work on your internet skills.)

I corresponded with an editor at Springer, on why our book has become so expensive and whether there’s anything we can do about it. They responded

  • If we do a new edition, it could be listed as $129.
  • If the book is adopted by university classes, “the pricing grid it is based on would have lower prices.”
  • Our book is available electronically, for purchase by chapter as well.

Purchase by chapter? Yeah, for $30 per chapter!

Springer has published books and allowed the authors to post a PDF, but only for really big sellers, and ours is definitely not in that category.

I’m both disgusted and embarrassed by this situation. If I could do it all over again, I’d self-publish: post everything on the web, and arrange some way for folks to have it printed cheaply.

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6 Responses to “If I could do it over again, I’d self-publish”

  1. Jim Porzak Says:

    which is exactly what Rob Hyndman is doing at https://www.otexts.org/fpp/ after working with Wiley & Springer for his first two books.

  2. ucfagls Says:

    Thanks for writing this Karl. I have been discussing writing a book with Springer as the publisher for a little while. The major sticking point (other than having to write to a deadline – yikes!) has always been price. The UseR series was supposed to be a cheap course of R-related books but the prices of these have crept up and up since the series’ inception. Outside this series, their books are pretty expensive, as you describe. When I think of who I would want to read my book, it is exactly those people that wouldn’t be able to cover a high list price; my students, students on other classes I run, etc.

    Whilst I’ve been talking myself into writing something this winter to see how I get on and take to the activity, I’m now convinced that should I ever finish it, I’ll self-publish the book myself, give away the PDF and use someone like Lulu to offer hard copies.

  3. BH Says:

    First, thank you for writing the book. We find it very helpful. I bought a reference copy for my group before Springer sprung. My students have found pdf versions for more frequent/mobile use. Second, thanks for the post. I have always understood the high cost of technical books to be linked to fixed publication costs spread over fewer buyers, but nice to know Springer doesn’t bother with pesky author services and pre-pub work that might justify the cost.

  4. Galit Shmueli Says:

    Hi Karl – I concur with you that authors should have some control over pricing. In fact, not only pricing, but also on when to create a new edition, how fast to publish a new print (to correct constantly-found typos/errors), and where the book should be available. I too have published and self-published, and for my self-published books I have full control and have made them very reasonably priced (with the e-book dirt cheap) and globally available. Eventually, I even wrote a short ebook sharing my experiences publishing and self-publishing (http://www.amazon.com/Publish-Self-Publish-My-Textbook-ebook/dp/B00CJ94OSO)

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