This post contains lots of links to exciting new academic research in the field of popular music. But first, a diatribe.

One of the perks faculty have at my institution is to identify books for the college library to purchase. Since I co-teach a course about Musical Urbanism, I try to keep the library up to date on the academic titles that might be relevant to topics that we might teach or students might research for their final papers. So I was interested when I got an e-mail from Ashgate Publishing (“one of the largest academic music book publishers, featuring original research by scholars worldwide”) announcing two new edited volumes as part of its “Library of Essays on Popular Music” series:

Non-Western Popular Music, edited by Tony Langois

Electronica, Dance and Club Music, edited by Mark Butler

Yep, definitely up my alley—maybe they’ll be relevant, maybe they won’t, but the scope and importance of their subject matter made them no-brainer acquisitions for the library. (My institution belongs to an inter-library consortium with 17 other colleges and universities, so if the other don’t have them—and they don’t—then that makes ordering these books all the more important.)

And then I saw the publisher’s price for each book: $275. Shit that’s expensive! Not that these are skimpy volumes (628 and 568 pages long, respectively), but that price is far beyond anything I had seen in this field.



Over the last decade or two, changes in academic publishing have pushed book and journal prices sky high and have shrunk the number of titles that these publishers will print in the humanities and qualitative social sciences. Note that these are disciplines and research fields that generally don’t attract the enormous, institution-floating sums in grant funding (as the natural sciences do, most notably) and aren’t taught in professional schools for which universities regularly charge students expsensive, aid-unsupported tuitions (as in medicine, business, law, and engineering). As a result, most colleges and universities don’t have the incentive to keep their libraries filled with “all the important” journals and titles that it behooves competitive research institutions and professional schools to have easy access to.

(In this era of online journal archives like ScienceDirect, JSTOR, Cambridge Journals, and so on, I don’t know why the top research universities and professional schools place such a premium on having print subscriptions within walking distance. Is perusing the stacks of journals a traditional kind of busywork for graduate research assistants?)

From this demand-side shift, two consequences have shrunk the academic publishing market for humanities and qualitative social sciences publications. First, colleges and universities prioritize their limited library funds to journals and books (but mostly journals) in the natural and material sciences, law, business, and economics. Sure, some institutions keep their library holdings well stocked and up to date in other disciplines and research fields for various reasons—they have special research legacies, are competing for academic prestige, have entrerprising faculty or department in certain areas, etc.—but these factors are idiosyncratic to particular institutions. It’s as an entire sector that colleges and universities have put the humanities and qualitative social sciences on the back burner of their library acquisitions.

Second, academic publishers have responded to this shift among their institutional consumers by pricing their in-demand titles in order to maximize profits. Let’s look at the case of journals, because these are the most important literary medium where “keeping up with the latest research” and measuring institutional prestige (as, e.g., the number of article citations by departments and institutions) are concerned. According to the latest figures calculated by Science Watch, the highest ranked journal (in terms of their “impact”) in chemical engineering was Progress in Energy and Combustion Science, published by Elsevier; in sociology, it was American Sociological Review, published by Sage. A six-issue yearly print/online subscription to Progress in Energy and Combustion Science costs an institution $2,438; by contrast, the same subscription to American Sociological Review costs $311. This polarized cost structure means an institution that already intended to devote a bigger piece of the pie to subscriptions in the big-ticket fields vis-á-vis the humanities and qualitative social sciences will have to pony up even more than if comparably ranked journals were priced the same across disciplines/fields.



What does that mean for smaller academic publishers like Ashgate and its “Library of Essays in Popular Music” series? I was thinking it’s got to be rough out there for them, and I had concluded that Ashgate felt compelled to price edited volumes like these two titles just to break even at whatever levels are deemed appropriate for a niche market like music studies. So, feeling sympathy for the little guy, I e-mailed the librarian at my institution in charge of acquisitions to ask if it was feasible and desirable to order these two volumes for our library.

The librarian’s response, which I paraphrase, was my second surprise.

I’m amenable to purchasing books that cost $300. But I was curious why these titles cost this much. Ashgate is typically expensive, but these prices were over the top, even for them. Then I wondered if the essays in the books were reprints and Ashgate had to pay for the rights to reprint them. And that’s what appears to be case. In fact, every single one of the essays in the Non-Western Popular Music is a reprint, almost all of which are from journals in JSTOR. Possibly these articles have been revised somewhat, which is very difficult to tell from the publishers website information. There’s certainly an introduction by the editor, and I don’t know how much that might be worth to you. I’m happy to discuss this with you further, but I did want you to know that we have access to nearly all of the content of the Langlois volume. As far as I’m concerned, the publishing industry has hit a new low with these publications.

WHAT? $275 FOR A VOLUME OF MOSTLY UNORIGINAL MATERIAL?! Now this I don’t understand: why would a publisher devote its limited resources in the field of popular music studies to repackaging articles that most institutions have already paid for, especially if it’s going to jack up the price of the title to counterproductively prohibitive levels? How can this not do anything but further shrink the resources it could dedicate to monographs and edited volumes of original scholarship? I see that the lion’s share of these articles were originally published in Popular Music, one of the Cambridge Journals portfolio to which, so far as I can tell, Ashgate has only an arms-length relationship. Honestly I have no idea about how this model ever came about, and how Ashgate or other publishers could possibly legitimate.

If you’re an academic, I hope your librarians are wise to these publisher tricks. I’m thankful my institution’s librarians are, and as a token of my appreciation, I’m sharing their research with you. By doing this I may be shooting myself in the foot as far as ever getting a book contract with Ashgate, but I post this information as an invitation to Ashgate or any other academic publisher to explain what looks to me like an exploitative pricing system that can only endanger future scholarship in this field.

pirates at the library door- publisher exploitation of popular music scholarship

I recognize that many readers of this blog might not have access to JSTOR or the other institutional journal archives. And if you’re an academic or otherwise have access to these online archives, you’ll probably need to log on to those archives before clicking through below. (If these links don’t work, plug the titles and authors into Google or your library’s search engine to see what you come up with.) The academic commons that publishers like Ashgate re-commodifying wasn’t exactly free to begin with. Why they aren’t free, and what would be gained or lost if they were somehow made available for free, is an important topic for further discussion.

Non-Western Popular Music
Edited by Tony Langlois, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Ireland
Series: The Library of Essays on Popular Music
Imprint: Ashgate
Published: January 2012
Format: 244 x 169 mm
Extent: 628 pages
Binding: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-7546-2984-9
Price : $325.00 » Website price: $292.50
BL Reference: 781.6’3’095-dc23

LoC Control No: 2011938374

Islam, the Turkish state and Arabesk, by Martin Stokes

Starting from nowhere? Popular music in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge, by Stephen Mamula

Soccer, popular music and national consciousness in post-state-socialist Bulgaria, 1994–96, by Donna A. Buchanan

Music and cultural politics: ideology and resistance in Singapore, by Lily Kong

‘The morning of freedom rose up’: Kurdish popular song and the exigencies of cultural survival, by Stephen Blum and Amir Hassanpour

Saida Sultan/Danna International: transgender pop and the polysemiotics of sex, nation and ethnicity on the Israeli-Egyptian border, by Ted Swedenburg

Re-thinking ‘Whiteness’? Identity, change and ‘White’ popular music in post-apartheid South Africa, by Christopher Ballantine

Borderland pop: Arab Jewish musicians and the politics of performance, by Galit Saada-Ophir

Are we global yet? Globalist discourse, cultural formations and the study of Zimbabwean popular music, by Thomas Turino

Interpreting world music: a challenge in theory and practice, by Jocelyne Guilbault

Between globalisation and localisation: a study of Hong Kong popular music, by Wai-Chung Ho

¡Hip Hop, Revolución! Nationalizing rap in Cuba, by Geoffrey Baker

Bandiri music, globalization and urban experience in Nigeria, Brian Larkin

The cassette industry and popular music in North India, Peter Manuel

Recycling Indian film-songs: popular music as a source of melodies for North Indian folk musicians, by Scott Marcus

Charisma’s realm: fandom in Japan, by Christine Yano

Cross-cultural perspectives in popular music: the case of Afghanistan, by John Baily

Trends and taste in Japanese popular music: a case-study of the 1982 Yamaha World Popular Music Festival, by Judith Ann Herd

Popular music in Indonesia since 1998, in particular fusion, indie and Islamic music on video compact discs and the internet, by Bart Barendregt and Wim van Zantem

‘The world is made by talk’: female fans, popular music, and new forms of public sociality in urban Mali, by Dorothea E. Schulz

Tom Jobim and the bossa nova era, by Suzel Ana Reily

Haitian dance bands, 1915–1970: class, race, and authenticity, by Gage Averill

You can’t rid a song of its words: notes on the hegemony of lyrics in Russian rock songs, by Yngvar B. Steinholt

The rise and generic features of Shanghai popular songs in the 1930s and 1940s, by Szu-Wei Chen

Commerce, politics, and musical hybridity: vocalizing urban Black South African identity during the 1950s, by Lara Allen

Name index

Electronica, Dance and Club Music
Edited by Mark J. Butler, Northwestern University, USA
Series: The Library of Essays on Popular Music
Imprint: Ashgate
Published: January 2012
Format: 244 x 169 mm
Extent: 568 pages
Binding: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-7546-2965-8
Price : $300.00 » Website price: $270.00
BL Reference: 781.6’48-dc23
LoC Control No: 2011934418


From refrain to rave: the decline of figure and the rise of ground, by Philip Tagg

On the process and aesthetics of sampling in electronic music production, by Tara Rodgers. Originally published in Organised Sound. Cambridge: Dec 2003. Vol. 8, Iss. 3; p. 313

The aesthetics of failure: ‘post-digital’ tendencies in contemporary computer music, by Kim Cascone

In defence of disco, by Richard Dyer

‘I want to see all my friends at once’: Arthur Russell and the queering of gay disco, by Tim Lawrence

Sampling sexuality: gender, technology and the body in dance music, by Barbara Bradby

Sampling (hetero)sexuality: diva-ness and discipline in electronic dance music, by Susana Loza

Dancing with desire: cultural embodiment in Tijuana’s nor-tec music and dance, by Alejandro L. Madrid

Electronic dance music culture and religion: an overview, by Graham St John. Originally published in Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 7 1: 1-25.

Genres, subgenres, sub-subgenres and more: musical and social differentiation within electronic/dance music communities, by Kembrew McLeod

Exploring the meaning of the mainstream (or why Sharon and Tracy dance around their handbags), by Sarah Thornton

Women and the early British rave scene, by Maria Pini

‘I want muscles’: house music, homosexuality and masculine signification, by Stephen Amico

Mr Mesa’s ticket: memory and dance at the Body Positive T-dance, by Fiona Buckland

The death of the dance party, by Kane Race

Post-soul futurama: African American cultural politics and early Detroit techno, by Sean Albiez

Music tourism and factions of bodies in Goa, by Arun Saldanha
The dancer from the dance: the musical and dancing crowds of clubbing, by Ben Malbon