I was recently requesting permission from various museums and music publishers for illustrations and musical examples that I am including in my forthcoming book Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections.
One of the questions I was asked brought me up short: size of the print run. I contacted the publisher of my book, Cambridge University Press. Answer: 600 copies, at least for the first printing.
My only previous monograph (in 1986), which was based on my dissertation, was published in an edition of 2000 copies (500 hardcover, 1500 paperback). It's still available for purchase. A book that I co-edited (in 1997) printed 1000 copies, sold out within perhaps four years, was (I believe) unavailable for a few years, but can now be read in electronic form by anybody who wishes to log on (no need for a subscription or password) at:
Does University of California Press get money every year from CDLib.org for renting them this book? How does CDLib cover its operating costs if it makes its wares available for free?
The gradual emergence of online publication surely explains why Cambridge University Press now thinks that 600 copies might be a safe bet for the initial print-run of my forthcoming book. A colleague pointed out to me that a number of recent musicological books have come out in hard and electronic form, either simultaneously or in very quick succession. Two examples: Elizabeth LeGuin's book on Boccherini (UCalifornia Press) and Michael Pisani's on how Native America has been evoked in Western music (parlor song, Dvorak's Ninth, film music, etc.–Yale University Press).
But, getting back to permissions: the exchange I remember most vividly occurred back in the mid-90s, when I was trying to talk a permissions-giver (i.e., a recent college grad at a desk) into lowering a permission fee for a few measures of music to include in an article in a scholarly journal. I pointed out that I was not going to earn anything for publishing the article.
"Then why did you write it?" the young employee asked–not in an unkind way, just truly puzzled.
It's a question I suppose we all think about at times: Why do we do research at all, and why sweat bullets trying to write it up effectively? Should we make the argument elaborate and nuanced (for the few who care about all the details and evidence)? Should we keep it streamlined (so as to hold the attention of the non-specialist)? What different kinds of readers are likely to be consulting the book or article?…
In this regard, I just noticed an interesting personal statement on From Beyond the Stave, the music-book blog (of publisher Boydell and Brewer) that I mentioned in a post about Elgar's incomplete Third Symphony and the supposed New Musicology. The post is by Martin Anderson, the publisher of Toccata Books (whose wares are now distributed by Boydell–something I hadn't realized). He's writing here as a publisher, not an author, but he gives a good sense of what drives him to make high-level writing available on (in the case of Toccata Books) important composers who are not generally considered first-rank.
"I started Toccata Press way back in 1981, basically because I got fed
up waiting for other publishers to bring out the books I wanted to
read: there was nothing published in English on Enescu, nothing on Franz Schmidt or Pfitzner or a host of other important composers."
What a startling way to phrase it!: Write the book or article (or, in Martin Anderson's case, publish the book) that you wish you could read on the subject.
Is that why we write (or should write) about music, musical life, etc.?
I suppose there are all kinds of reasons for writing seriously about music. But Martin Anderson's reason seems so simple and obvious that I wonder why it never occurred to me in quite this way before.
Would we musicologists find it stimulating (refreshing, challenging) to think more about what we ourselves find engaging and informative on the page?
Might this question help a musicologist decide what to explore next in his or her research . . . and how to write it up for the readers "out there," whether they hold our prose in their hands or click their way through it on their computer screen?