Guest blog: The future of the academic book

Blog (2017)

By Niels Peter Thomas, Chief Book Strategist, Springer Nature 

Monday 23 January 2017.

Commercial publishers handle the majority of all published academic books. And while we continue to work like companies, while we are part of the interplay between supply and demand, at the same time we view ourselves as part of the academic community, serving science and the advancement of knowledge. For many people outside our industry this contrast could hardly be starker, but for us it is stimulus to balance these two worlds and help foster the future of academic books.

And there is a lot to do, in order to be relaxed about the future of academic books. Academic book publishing and the academic book itself has probably changed in the last ten years more than in hundred years before. I remember very well the discussion in the academic and the commercial communities, when it was time to publish all books not only in print, but also in electronic format. As always, some were embracing the new possibilities of e-books, some feared the end of the written culture. Ten years later, we can now be sure that publishing e-books was not only good for the speed of the dissemination of knowledge, but also some kind of life-insurance for the printed books. We may not print as many copies of each book as we did in those days, but more books are published now and almost all of them are available in all formats.

Books, and most of all academic books, will continue to change. With this change come new challenges and new opportunities. While in the last ten years, electronic books were the best possible copy of the printed book, the situation will turn around and print books will be the printed manifestation of the leading format: the virtual and comprehensive e-book. Nobody knows yet exactly which road the development will take. But I am sure that we need to work together, publishers and researchers, to guarantee that the academic book sustains its importance. Research needs not only short journal articles, but also longer academic books, and we publishers need to invest into ideas and technology to prove that books still have impact on science and society. At least this basic necessity did not change.

Niels Peter Thomas, Chief Book Strategist, Springer Nature