I recently learned of a writer through a rather circuitous route. His name is 'Mike Homfray'. I disagree rather vehemently with just about everything he believes in. So I'm not linking to his blog, or his various comments throughout the Web. However, he's written a book. Like all authors he links to his book on his blog. Also like any author, he wants people to buy his book.
The name of his book is Provincial Queens: The Gay and Lesbian Community in the North-West of England. I have little to no interest in that subject. All I could make out on his blog, was the cover, which is Pepto-Bismol pink and I could not read the title, so I clicked on it, which pushed me through to the publisher's site.
Here's the meat of this story. The price of the book (full retail) in England is 34 pounds. The price in the U S is $85.95. The book is 271 pages long and is a paperback. The cost at Amazon is the same in pounds, but if you order in the US, it is $67.95. The publisher is a known semi-vanity press (that is they generally require a partial payment from the author towards publishing costs, anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds).
Now there is every reason to want to get published. Some authors think their book will be the next best-seller and are in it for the dough. That's not likely the case here. Some authors write as part of the publish or perish process in academia. To a certain extent, I suspect that may be the case here. An awful lot of academics are in the position of needing a book or scholarly paper to put on the old curriculum vitae. Peter Lang does publish some scholarly works that are cited from time to time in their fields. They publish a great many more that are not.
Most authors want to be published because they wish to communicate their ideas, their story or their thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, publishing a seventy dollar paperback is not likely the way to achieve that.
There are an awful lot of vanity presses out there. If anything the Internet has helped that market to blossom. Printing on demand has dramatically reduced the cost of book production. Many books are now available in formats that didn't exist until recently, such as Kindle or PDF.
One of the more interesting new vanity presses is Lulu.com (disclaimer: I have no affiliation with them. I just love the name). To publish a dust jacketed hardcover book with 271 pages it costs $25. That's it. You can write the book, have them print off a copy and have the smallest print run imaginable for $25. Mr Homfray's book, in the manner and style that Lang printed it would cost about half that. There are other publishers with similar services. Now Lulu.com has little to no academic status, but if your desire is to get your ideas out there then Lulu or their competitors are the ways to go.
If we assume a 100% mark up between cost of publishing to selling price, then you would sell it for $25. That would be a perfect bound trade paperback of moderate length. Lang sells it for $42 more. My question is whether the rather dubious academic prestige of being published by Lang is worth $42. For some, it obviously is. But it seems a rather steep price to pay for someone on the bottom rungs of academia to climb another step on the tenure track.
All of which makes me wonder how long the Peter Langs of this world will last.