Why am I an anti-Chapterite?

The most common comment on yesterday’s advice post for assistant professors: “I agree with everything except the tirade against book chapters.”

Let me say why I’m surprised, and ask for clarification.

  • Many people said “book chapters benefit me”. This is true. So does anything we do in our workday. The right question is “as opposed to what?” There is an opportunity cost to a book chapter. If you feel your scarcest resource is time, then shouldn’t you spend time on the projects that have the most net impact on your career and discipline?
  • If the answer is “I do! The marginal cost of a book chapter is lower than sending the same article to a peer reviewed journal, and the marginal benefit is about the same,” then (a) fair enough, but (b) I’m surprised, and (c) I suspect that times are changing. One reason being…
  • Unless you’re willing to buck copyright and post the chapter on your website (few people do) then a book chapter banishes most people from ever reading what you write–even other scholars. This is 2014. If your work isn’t accessible through a click or two on Google, it’s passed by more often than not.
  • Ergo, even if tenure practices in your department means that the private marginal benefit of a book chapter is high, the public one is low.

In sum: I fail to understand how edited volumes are a 21st century venue for knowledge.

On reflection, perhaps the solution is to make edited volumes more like online journals. Once again, however, we bash up against the fact that the academic publishers are still wallowing in 1965.

As an aside, it’s amazing to me that in just a year or two most academic blog conversations have shifted to Twitter. It’s more amazing to me that reasonable discourse actually happens in 140 characters. Of course, anything that stops academics from using 500 words where 30 will do might be a good thing.