More and more philosophers are calling for open access philosophy journals, but just like academics can move away from proprietary publishers when it comes to journal articles, I think they can do the same thing when it comes to entire books.

Consider a site like You don’t have to pay any money up front to publish your book. Here’s how it works.  You upload your book, and prints them on demand for anyone who would like to order them. They tell you the base cost of the book. You set how much revenue you would like to make per book. They add 25% to that number for their commission. You get 80% of the profit. So if you wanted to practically give your book  away and make say $1 per book, you could sell a philosophy book on lulu for about $8 that would cost about $30 from OUP. These books get their own ISBN number and can even be sold on Amazon.

Right now publishers make a lion’s share of the earnings on an academic book. Reviewers of the books often get some kind of minimal financial incentive, but apart from the royalties for the author (which I assume are small for most philosophy books), very little revenue comes back to the philosophical community for all of that work.

Notice too that the philosophical community does much of the work (copy editing, proofing, etc…). The publisher lays out the text, distributes it, and advertises the text – but these are services that may well be obsolete in a digital age. At a minimum, they surely don’t warrant the old publishing model mark up.

What if philosophers self-published books on a site like Authors could give their books away for free, but their is some minimal value. You get the nice, neat book format for people who like to have a physical copy of the book. You get digital ebook formats created for you. I’d love to see authors give away their books on their websites, but I would gladly pay $8 (rather than $30) for a high quality philosophy book when I knew the author was getting 80% of the profits.

The Major Problem
The major problem is that we’re dealing with vanity presses, and these have absolutely no quality control. If philosophy self-publishing became the norm we would see a glut of books on the vanity presses. How would philosophers get the kind of research credit that publishing with OUP gets them? One of the main benefits of a reputable publishing firm is that they function as a kind of quality control. You know when you get something from OUP there is some reasonably good chance that you’re getting a good work of philosophy. As an author, you can go before your tenure and promotion committee and say, “I’ve got an OUP book”

However, this function could easily be met by the philosophical community. We, the philosophers, review the manuscripts anyway. An organization could be set-up with a few big name philosophers in charge of different areas. After writing your book, you submit a proposal to the organization. The editor in charge of an area reads over the proposal and decides if it’s the sort of book that seems worthy of a closer look. He requests a copy of the book and sends it to a couple of reviewers on his/her list of referees. They come back with a verdict. If the verdict is positive the referee gets a book review on the accrediting body’s website and formal announcements are made.

This organization could put out a catalogue of the books they select each month. Professional philosophers and non-philosophers should have as much confidence in the quality of a self-published book that was vetted through this process as they would in a book that had gone through the normal publishing channels.

In fact, I envision that having your self-published book vetted through this process could garner more prestige than even an OUP book. I’m told that book publishers actually have higher acceptance rates than some of the top journals in our field. There are various explanations for this, but one of them is that their is more money in philosophy books for the publishers – so they’ll take risks on more books.

Whatever the acceptance rate is for the best presses, the accrediting board could set their bar higher. If OUPs is 15%, the accrediting board could set theirs at 8%. If your book was passed their quality test, that would be a HUGE acheivement.


The books are WAY cheaper via this method (particularly academic books)

Author Control
The author can control the price of the book. And even give away digital copies on his/her website. Buying the book on could be philosophers’ way of rewarding a philosopher if the book is really good (or used widely).

Author Earnings
The author can make 80% of the profit per book.

As soon as the author has typeset the book and uploaded the PDF, the book is available for ordering.

Potential Costs

Less Prestigious
Response: That’s what this accrediting body is supposed to solve. The only reason that OUP is prestigious is because they have a reputation of having high quality referees that attempt to select the best quality work. They could have a stamp that authors would be permitted to put on the cover of the book. In terms of promotion and tenure the norm would be to not count a self-published book as a proper book unless it had passed this kind of vetting process.

More Work
It really wouldn’t be more work than the philosophical community already puts into the current business model for publishing books.

Lulu has basic templates for their books. The tech-savvy philosophers could help the other philosophers with free tutorials, additional templates etc…

This seems completely do-able…right now. I’m not sure how to get it started, but it would be awesome if it got started. Dear Famous Philosopher with clout, do something to start this.

5 Responses to “Open Access Philosophy and Self-Publishing”

  1. Mark B.

    One good philosopher agrees:

    This might be a great avenue for logic texts. Typos could be fixed simply and quickly.

  2. Robert Seddon

    So what exactly is the critical difference between Lulu as a sort of farmers’ market for philosophers and open access on the model? (I have no experience of beyond downloading from them, so this is an observation, not a personal endorsement.) Is it an open access question, or one of authorial control, value added by publishers versus associated costs, and where the profits go?

    I’m not criticising your idea; I’m just unsure whether it is, centrally, an idea about open access.

  3. Andrew Cullison

    Hi Robert,

    I just picked lulu, because they seemed one of the better operations that I was aware of. I was unaware of However, now that I’ve looked at, I have some thoughts (although this is not an endorsement of

    First, the proposal with respect to lulu is still fundamentally about open access. Authors can make their books publicly available for free download on the lulu site. I take it that if an author were to do that via lulu, then it would qualify as open access.

    See the link Mark linked to above and you’ll see that you can download Antony Eagle’s logic textbook for free. The nice thing about lulu is that there is a very cheap option to buy a bound copy of the work and the author would get 80% of the profit.

    Second, in a weird way lulu’s process might be a bit more open. They have no restriction on content…any philosopher can publish and make freely available anything. It’s looks like only accepts proposals for the following areas – political philosophy, ontology, philosophy of science, ethics, aesthetics and psychoanalysis – see here (as an aside – this is a bit odd since their mission statement paints themselves as being a bit more inclusive than that)

    So ultimately I think lulu still is an open access model. Especially if is. Both sites allow for free download of electronic works (which seems like the crucial part). Both sites sell physical copies.

    That said, I have some other thoughts about the differences between and lulu

    1. lulu books seem to be remarkably cheaper. I estimate that a 180 page book could be sold on lulu for about $8-10. I quickly scanned some of the titles at and they seem to be going to about $20

    2. Regarding the sales side for both sites. Lulu guarantees their authors 80% of the profits, and it’s easy to find this out if you’re looking around on their site. I don’t see anything on the site that discloses what an author’s percentage of the profits is. It seems to me that if there is going to be any kind of for-profit operation mixed in with the open access…the author should get most of it.

  4. Robert Seddon

    Fair enough. I just thought there wasn’t a wholly clear distinction being drawn between the question of access and commonly associated questions (like who should get any profits)… but I’m not interested in quibbling further, anyway. Cheers for the reply.

  5. Leo

    Under the open access philosophy, Redalyc looks forward to contribute to the scientific editorial work produced in and about Iberoamerica, making available for the students and researchers the content of more then 550 magazines from different knowledge areas.

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