This is a very important issue for postdocs who are planning how to disseminate and publish the findings from their PhD research and an increasingly common question that academic publishers are now being asked. It was this question that originally kick-started my desire to run this blog series and start this conversation (#onlinethesis). I know that I am not the only one who has been dealing with this question either. One of the comments made in relation to Part 1 of this series was that a thesis that is available online is something that may be seen as problematic to publishers if a monograph based on a PhD is proposed. Others on Twitter are also interested in how publishers responded to this question. I contacted several publishers to find out more about this and these were the responses.
Jay Dew of University of Oklahoma Press informs me that this is a question he is frequently asked and his response is in favour of making theses online:
“On the whole, I don’t believe that having a dissertation or thesis available online works to the detriment of publishing a monograph. Indeed, more and more dissertations and theses are available online through library databases such as Dissertation Abstracts, etc. A dissertation and a book are two different things, with two different and distinct audiences. The revisions that are almost always necessary to bring a dissertation into book manuscript form are usually substantial enough that one need not cannibalize the other. There may be exceptions, of course, especially in the hard sciences, but at least for my press and the kinds of books we publish, this is not a problem.”
John Yates of University of Toronto Press extends this debate further arguing:
“I believe the situation in North America is different from yours [in the UK]. I understand that here all PhD thesis are licensed to ProQuest. I also understand that in Canada, theses are posted on-line by University libraries. Consequently scholars have quite a bit of work to do to convert their thesis into a scholarly monograph since libraries are not interested in purchasing titles that are effectively a thesis with minor revisions.
In your situation, if there is no requirement to post the thesis on-line and you’d like to have it published it as a monograph, I would think by not posting it on-line you’d be able to have the monograph published sooner, since fewer changes would be required than if the full thesis was publicly available on the web.”
The responses I have received in relation to this issue support the idea that making a thesis available online is generally acceptable to academic publishers, as long as the proposed monograph is substantially different to the submitted PhD thesis. Nonetheless, concerns are still evident amongst authors and researchers and it is recommended that potential publishers are contacted in advance of proposing a monograph to find out how they view this because opinions may vary depending on discipline and research topic. A more specialised research topic for example with a smaller market and audience may be seen as more problematic for some publishers if the material is already accessible online. It is possible to embargo the publication of your thesis in university depositories if this is considered an issue and you plan to propose a monograph but it is increasingly important to make this decision before the thesis is submitted, and made available electronically.
The key message then, is that the monograph based on a PhD thesis should be in substantially different format to the submitted PhD. Publishing houses from different countries are in agreement about this as presented here but it is important to be aware that making it available in an online depository may slow down the process of writing a book. It is also important to check the position of publishers who you wish to write book proposals for, to ensure that your decision is well informed. In a period of increased debate over open access to research, making the thesis online should not be, and doesn’t appear to be, a barrier to publishing a monograph but is certainly a consideration.