Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
Imagine for a moment that you are a publisher of academic books. In such a situation it would be likely that your primary market would be libraries, particularly academic libraries. Following that logic it would therefore be important to maintain good relationships with the librarians who make purchasing decisions.
It would also follow that suing librarians would not be the best way to ingratiate other librarians and build a positive reputation for your publishing house. And yet…Edwin Mellen Press (EMP) is threatening to sue another librarian.
A quick recap: EMP filed suit against the librarian Dale Askey based on a highly critical piece that he posted on his blog. In addition to Askey EMP also filed suit against Askey’s employer (different from his employer at the time of his blog piece’s posting). Recently EMP withdrew one of the suits (against Askey’s employer) but maintain the second suit against Askey (I posted on these: Part 1 and Part 2).
The suits against Askey have garnered quite a bit of interest in the library community (librarians tend to get anxious when they see other librarians getting sued). So it is no surprise that over at the blog The Scholarly Kitchen the librarian Rick Anderson wrote some postings about the EMP case against Dale Askey. What is surprising is this posting that was recently posted on The Scholarly Kitchen:
“Earlier this week, we received two letters from the attorney for Edwin Mellen Press. We have subsequently removed two posts by Rick Anderson discussing Edwin Mellen Press and all comments emanating from those posts.”
Zounds. The letters sent by EMP to The Scholarly Kitchen are also posted on the site and are worth reading over. I am certainly not in a position to comment on the possible “animosity” that Rick Anderson is accused of having towards EMP, and regardless of whether or not Anderson’s post could be defended legally, The Scholarly Kitchen chose to remove the posts rather than risk actually being sued (which is rather understandable seeing as The Scholarly Kitchen may not have deep pockets with which to fight a lawsuit). The site also took down all of the associated comments on the posts as one of the comments had also sparked a threat of legal action by EMP.
In my earlier posts on the EMP suit against Askey I noted that it seemed like part of the intent was to put people on notice that criticism would be met with legal action. And what has just occurred at The Scholarly Kitchen seems to bear this out. Though it is worth noting that EMP has not sued The Scholarly Kitchen, rather they threatened to sue unless The Scholarly Kitchen removed the offending content (which it did). However, as a recent piece at Library Journal discusses “removing content” from a single website does not do away with it completely.
As I do not particularly want to be sued (though it might be great for blog traffic) I want to state that I don’t bear any ill will towards Edwin Mellen Press. True, I rather dislike that they sue librarians and library blogs, but this does not translate into a larger opinion about EMP’s books.
The library at which I work has quite a few EMP books in its collections, and as the EMP website proudly proclaims distinguished libraries such as Harvard, Princeton, and numerous international libraries have thousands of EMP books in their collections. EMP is an academic publisher, and as such (I noted this above) I imagine that a large portion of its business comes from selling titles to academic libraries.
This is not meant as a slight against scholars (certainly not) and the writers of academic books (certainly not) and it is not meant as a slight against the publishers of academic books (certainly not); however, specialty academic presses do not (generally) publish mass market fiction. Indeed the books such presses publish are not really intended for the mass market (even if they are available through sites such as Amazon). The prominent place that the EMP website gives to noting the libraries that have purchased its books helps illustrate that for such scholarly books academic libraries are a major part of the market.
The real question is whether or not librarians will alter their purchasing decisions based on the actions of EMP. Numerous libraries are currently faced with dwindling budgets forcing librarians to act on an ever tightening budget, in these situations where librarians are already forced to be ever more selective, will they start avoiding EMP books? And what would this mean for the scholars whose works have been published by EMP?
The EMP website features a section filled with praise from academics giving positive testimonials of their experience working with EMP. Had EMP chosen to mobilize and publicize some of these voices in response to Askey’s original post or Anderson’s post they might have blunted some of the force of those posts (which was probably fairly negligible in the first place), but by choosing legal action as a tactic EMP simply turned the affair into, well, an affair. And the group who is likely to suffer (beyond Askey, Anderson, freedom of opinion, etc…) is EMP’s authors.
And for academics looking for a place to publish, will they now stay away from EMP? After all, if you conduct a web search for “Edwin Mellen Press” you will find many pieces about this continued legal brouhaha (though it is no laughing matter) in the top hits. Would a scholar who wants to see their work in a library want to go with a publisher that is currently fighting some very public battles with the very librarians who make purchasing decisions?
As I‘ve previously written, I hope that Edwin Mellen Press drops the suit against Askey, and I hope that they exercise more restraint before threatening further legal action against librarians. I also hope that some of the academics who have posted positive testimonials on the EMP website speak to the publisher as the actions of the press may be threatening the future sales potential of many of these academic works.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but Edwin Mellen Press might want to reconsider whether or not “being that publisher that’s always suing (or threatening to sue) librarians” is really the type of publicity they want.
I know that if I was publishing a scholarly monograph it would not be the type of publicity I would want to see associated with my publisher.
But that’s just me.