LETTERS: Fallacies of the publishing market

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The Independent Online
From Professor Conrad Russell

Sir: Germaine Greer's onslaught on Oxford and Cambridge University Presses ("Away with price-fixing - and on with VAT!", 29 September) shows that she has fallen victim to the fallacy that everything can be done by the principles of the market.

University presses are, and must be, dedicated not to publishing profitable books, but to publishing good books. A book that transforms its field may achieve sales well short of four figures. Footnotes on the page, which irritate commercial publishers, are essential to the book's credibility and usefulness. Such books cannot be published unless they are given some protection from the rigours of the market: Gresham's Law applies to books as clearly as it does to money, and in both cases markets have to be controlled.

My father was irritated that he had to pay Cambridge University Press pounds 50 to print his Principia Mathematica. However, he understood that on pure market terms it could not have been published at all. Ms Greer's principles would prevent the publication of this sort of book, while allowing a rapid growth of pulp scholarship. Is this what she wants?

Yours sincerely,

Conrad Russell

King's College, London

London, WC2

29 September