Enfilade

Enfilade at Three — Buy a Book and Open a Door

Posted in anniversaries, books, opinion pages, site information by Editor on June 22, 2012

From the Editor

Enfilade turns three today, and to celebrate, I’m announcing a campaign to establish June 22 as Buy-an-Art-Book Day. As I’ve said repeatedly, you deserve credit for making this site so much more than I could have possibly envisioned when I stepped on-board several years ago as newsletter editor. With more than 220,000 hits on some 1300 posts, Enfilade attests to the global depth of interest in eighteenth-century art — both among scholars and a wider, engaged public. The site now receives around 10,000 hits each month with some 1500 from returning visits. In short, there are hundreds of you who read Enfilade on a regular basis, and the site’s success depends on you. Thank you!

With these numbers in mind, it seems to me that Enfilade readers could mobilize to make an impact — modest perhaps but still an impact. In transitioning from traditional print formats to the digital realm, academic publishing, particularly art historical publishing, faces tremendous challenges. With the ‘business’ of the academy more generally plagued by questions of sustainability, it’s easy to see how hard decisions about budgets have wreaked havoc on the sales of books (when major universities are cutting whole departments, declining library budgets may seem relatively benign, but in both cases, fewer books will be sold). For most of us, such gloomy observations are all too familiar, and you don’t turn to Enfilade for more bad news. Today is after all a birthday celebration!

So as a gesture of positive action, I’m asking all of you to buy a book today (and fellow bloggers to spread the word). It’s easy to think that it won’t matter, but it does. Most people are astounded to learn just how small the circulation numbers are for art history books published by university presses. However humbling it may be for those of us who spend years of our lives producing a book, it’s not uncommon for only 400 or 500 copies to be sold. Surpass 1000 and you’re a superstar. There’s a tendency to assume that university presses receive generous funding from their host universities. It’s almost never the case. If they’re not in the business to turn huge profits, they must still be economically viable. Several years ago, I heard Susan Bielstein, executive editor at the University of Chicago Press, give a talk on the nuts and bolts of publishing. How did she begin? By asking members of her audience (almost entirely composed of art historians) to go buy a book. She was entirely serious. So am I.

Many of you buy lots of art history books already. Bravo! Buying a book today won’t be any major change for you. As I think about my own buying habits, they tend to go something like this: I buy discounted display copies at conferences, I buy things I need for an upcoming talk, I buy remaindered copies of books I should have bought a year or two earlier, or I buy used copies I need for an article via Amazon. None of that’s what I have in mind in launching Buy-an-Art-Book Day. Those used books do nothing to help the authors or the university presses who produced them. For that matter, new purchases through Amazon often result in smaller royalties than buying from the publisher directly. Ever wonder who shoulders the expense of that reduced price? Yes, the publisher and the writer.

If 200 or 300 of you buy an art history book this week — ideally one treating the eighteenth century and, better yet, one written by a HECAA member — it would send a strong message that there is an eager audience for such books. Whether you spend $6 or $1000, buy a book.

I like the metaphor of an enfilade because of the way it suggests an open — almost limitless — vista, with each room leading to a deeper, more intimate experience. But such a vision is premised on those doors being opened. Reading a book — buying a book — is one way we turn the handle, one way we open doors to the eighteenth century.

-Craig Hanson