Where is the academic book now?

At the end of January, SAGE Publishing celebrated Academic Book Week, hosting a range of content on SAGE Connection/ Insight that challenged the existing preconceptions about the role, value and modern day use of academic texts. All of this content got us thinking about how far the academic book has come, and where it stands now. To find out more we spoke to Mark Kavanagh, Executive Publisher and Ben Sherwood, Group Marketing Manager here at SAGE. Both Mark and Ben are part of the team responsible for publishing Andy Field’s An Adventure in Statistics: The Reality Enigma, a ground-breaking textbook written in the form of a novel enriched with graphic elements to transform the way students learn statistics- a real first for SAGE! So what does this publication mean for the future of academic texts?

Mark Kavanagh

“Student needs and expectations are evolving significantly so as a publisher with a wide ranging portfolio of textbooks we have had to ask ourselves: what new publishing experiences can we enable that respond to these shifting needs, and how can we champion innovation through our books programme as a leading independent social sciences and methods publisher?

An Adventure in Statistics is a great example of innovating with the student experience in mind. A few years ago we commissioned Andy Field to write an introductory statistics textbook, to complement his already successful Discovering Statistics Using SPSS – one of the bestselling social science textbooks to come out of the UK.

As a proven engager of students and an author we’ve worked closely with we knew we could give him complete freedom to nurture his ideas around the ultimate way to engage students in a subject that they traditionally struggle with.

Where An Adventure in Statistics departs from convention is in conveying statistical concepts through a story – the interactions of characters in a novel length fictional narrative. It uses a science fiction love story in which Zach searches for his beloved Alice in a futuristic world; one in which every character he meets wants to teach him stats!

Delivering such a unique undertaking involved doing a lot of things that we’ve had to learn. We adopted an entirely “bottom up” development process once the draft was available. This allowed us to learn more directly from students about how the book could be used, what the strengths and weaknesses were, and how we should tailor our sales and marketing strategies accordingly.

Adopting the mindset of learning by doing we’re conducting a series of experiments of varying scales across our broader textbook publishing programme in both print and digital.

The emphasis is to learn by doing, and to contribute to – and benefit from – a better understanding of engaging students at a time when they are increasingly influential in what gets used on campus. This last point is something that we see as a crucial development in the textbook world, and one which may be key to driving growth in the area.”

Ben Sherwood

“At a time when on top of everything else going on in the world, news of the first drop in annual ebook sales in the UK has been accompanied by continued widespread austerity measures, a recent opportunity to re-imagine what a textbook is, has not just been a pleasant distraction, it’s potentially lighting a path through the gloom.

For the Research Methods books team at SAGE, from editorial to production through to marketing and sales, it’s been an exciting time bringing An Adventure in Statistics to students’ bookshelves from concept to the beautifully illustrated work it is now.

Author Andy Field’s instinctive grasp of what a student needs from a textbook coupled with his drive to realize his ideas has presented us with challenges and opportunities to experiment with and explore new ways of producing and selling textbooks that at its core puts the voice of the student and the need to engage with him/her directly first.

Judging by the success An Adventure has enjoyed so far in its admittedly brief life, it’s a flame to burnish against the gathered darkness.”

Read a free chapter of Andy Field’s An Adventure in Statistics: The Reality Enigma here.

You can find all of our Academic Book Week activities here.

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