The History of the Publication of Last Knight
How did the Mises Institute come to be the publisher of Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism? Clearly a book of this level of significance, one might suppose, would be published by the likes of Chicago, or Oxford, or Cambridge. How and why did we end up doing it "in house," so to speak?
It's a fascinating story that gets to the heart of the current upheaval in publishing, made possible by new technology and also the increasing market strength of small publishers such as the Mises Institute.
As the manuscript was in preparation, we had every expectation that it would eventually be published by a major academic house. But then dramatic changes took place over the ten years that eventually led to us contemplate doing it ourselves.
Now, the downside of publishing ourselves might be that it would be considered somehow an "official biography," and that somehow the Mises Institute itself dictated the contents, whereas the truth is completely different. The author had total and complete freedom to write what he wanted, and he can testify that not one word it the manuscript was changed or added or subtracted in order to reflect some "institutional" priority. Nonetheless, the perception might be there so we wanted to seek an outside publisher.
In the first round of submissions, the answer came back quickly from several publishers that a book of this size would never get past the first round. At the time, the manuscript was 1,200 pages. Yale had initially rejected Human Action on grounds that it was 900 pages! So there was essentially nothing that could be done about this problem. The entire book was just too important. Cutting it to 300 pages or something like that would have been absurd.
Nonetheless, we spent the better part of a year working with Columbia University Press, which was very interested. They sent it to anonymous referees, who came back after six months with very favorable reports and some suggestions for changes and, yes, some cuts. The author made these cuts and changes, and sent the manuscript back. Another six months or so went by, and a second round of comments came in. Two were very favorable again—one called it an unparalleled work of genius—but one suggested more changes that were really based on an incomplete understanding of the subject matter.
At this point, we hadn't even begun talking about super critical issues like the price of the book. After all, it does no good whatsoever if the book would be priced so high that students could not afford it and only state libraries could. This is book that needed to be available to everyone, not just EU libraries. We had to assess whether we really wanted to wait yet another six months to a year for more bureaucracy to work only to find that pricing issues would make it unviable.
So at this point we began to shop around more. We went to Oxford University Press, which immediately expressed the desire to publish it — by immediately I mean the same day we sent it. We requested that before any issues of an editorial nature are discussed, we needed to talk price. Their first suggestions confirmed our worst fears. It was to be absurdly expensive. So we began to press the issue.
Their best offer was to publish the book in two volumes, each costing $65 a piece, so $130 for the set. They would retain all copyright of course. There would be no electronic edition available. Our own discounts for distribution were not impressive. We would have no ability to influence the package, so that the cover and maybe even the title would be less than what it could be. This was better than Columbia could do but still not impressive. There was also this factor: the production schedule would require that we wait until 2008 or 2009 for the book to appear.
In the meantime, we began to price out our own options. It turned out that we could publish the entire book, in a beautiful package with photos, in a single volume, and charge about 1/3 of what Oxford would charge in retail. We would retain copyright so that we could publish it online at the same time. We could run daily articles. We would get reasonable discounts for mass distribution. And as regards the marketing of the book itself, it is no longer true that established houses like Oxford have some great advantage over independent publishers like the Mises Institute. What's more, we could have it out in six months or less.
We compared the two possibilities, and then it was perfectly obvious what had to be done. The Mises Institute would be the publisher. We pulled the manuscript from the other publishers (did they find this shocking?) We've had no regrets at all. What about the possibility that the book would lack credibility on grounds that it was published in house? Not one communication along those lines has been sent to us. And truly, anyone reading the book will quickly discover that it is an independent product in every way. Sometimes the criticism of Mises himself is so tough that it almost gives the reader a feeling of discomfort!
In any case, this is how it took place — really a result that would have been impossible and unthinkable at the time this project was initiated. Technology and entrepreneurship has been very friendly to the cause of Misesian theory.
Already, by the way, this book is a bestseller by any academic standard. It has already sold more than the lifetime print run of most scholarly books.