4 April 2006
Dimitri Rotov has posted a pre-manifesto on what American Civil War (ACW) historians might be doing in the realm of web publishing their work.
Published history which is innovative and insightful does not necessarily sell. The popular swill based on the same tired cliches sells rather better. As a result, most people get their history as Hollywood-style whiz-bang narrative, and miss the richness in the [obscure] work of the better historians. This is not good for we, the people.
If you’re one of those laboring in the dark, doing good history, but not selling any books, or daunted by the prognosis and not even attempting to publish, you might consider the web and related “New Media” as a better publishing platform.
[I've grossly simplified here, skipped all sorts of subtle gems, and made unauthorized extensions on my own. Please read the original post.]
Let’s see if I can support the practical value of what he’s saying.
I don’t know what kind of sales the average academic historian’s book has (you can tell me), but the potential of the Internet probably has any of them beat.
I am not an academic historian, but what I publish on AotW appears before a large number of eyeballs. I don’t write particularly well (tho’ some of our contributors do), we’re not doing Gettysburg, I’m not a “name”, for sure, and I don’t market much.
Even with all that, Antietam on the Web, our site about the Maryland Campaign, gets about 3,500 visitors a week, 75% of them first-timers. They request and are served over 20,000 pages of content in that week*. These numbers are still growing.
Imagine what a really popular ACW website does. Or what a name author could do. Wide is the reach of the web.
My internet-friends at George Mason’s CNMH have reported that millions visit their digital history projects. Millions. And this is just (yawn) Experimental History.
Want to be read?
Weak attempt at an ACW sales case study
Near the top of Amazon.com best-seller search results for “American Civil War” is John J. Dwyer’s The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War (Bluebonnet, 2005). Sales rank Yesterday: #9,285 in Books. Copies sold through Amazon, per week (rule of thumb estimate) at that rank: 12. National sales? Library copies? Who knows.
(blub: Finally, the true story of the War Between the States, in one captivating volume … has radically transformed the tedious, uninspiring textbook rendering of the Civil War into what it should be “America’s greatest epic” … etc)
Or, for some contrast, De Anne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook‘s They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War (LSU Press, 2002). Amazon Rank Yesterday: #547,633 in Books Amazon sales in a week (est): 0.5
(blurb: … [National Archives archivist] Blanton and Cook detail women soldiers in combat, on the march, in camp and in the hospital … Solid research by the authors …)
* Thanks to GoogleAnalytics.