Explaining S4S Publishing

Professor Herbert Warren Richardson

Professor Herbert Warren Richardson

I come from a publishing family. Isaac Adams was my great grandfather; Edwin Mellen was my grandfather. My father, Herbert Richardson, was a publisher, too

I received degrees from the Ohio Military Institute, Baldwin-Wallace College, Western Reserve, and the Sorbonne. I then studied theology at Boston and was ordained a Presbyterian minister. Finally, I enrolled at Harvard University where I received my Ph.D. (1963).

Even before I finished my dissertation, I was invited to join Harvard’s Graduate Faculty. I taught there for a decade, writing and eventually publishing books with Harper, Beacon, Bantam, Analecta Medica, and Harvard (including original works, collections, documentations, and translations from Latin, French, and German).

In 1970 I was invited to become a Gastprofessor at Tuebingen. There, I learned wissenschaftliche publishing. So when I joined the faculty at the University of Toronto, I was asked to set up a German-style press to publish our own faculty research and our best Ph.D. dissertations. (This is called “S4S” (“scholar-for-scholar”) publishing.)

Since 1972, for forty years, I have published over 6000 S4S titles. They are all advanced peer-reviewed research. So my books are always purchased by research libraries.

My press is financially self-sustaining. I never need any subsidies. So I have complete editorial independence and I can publish specialized scholarship that no university press would ever undertake. Let me explain S4S to you.


There are many different kinds of publishers. This is because every publisher produces books written for one particular group of buyers. Since the number of potential buyers for a particular kind of book varies; so the number and type of publishers varies, too.

For example, there are 50,000 potential buyers for a textbook; there are 10,000 potential buyers for an average novel; there are 3000 potential buyers for a non-fiction book in history; there are 200 potential buyers for a specialized book in central Asian archaeology; and there may be fewer than 40 buyers for a book in Bulgarian linguistics.

“Trade publishers” produce books for the general public (10,000 sales per title). “University presses” publish non-fiction books intended for the middle range of the book market (1000-3000 sales per title). “S4S presses” publish books for the 40-200 copy market. (“S4S” means books written by scholars for scholars.)

How do we know that the market for S4S books is 200 copies or less? It is because there are about 200 research libraries in the entire world. S4S books are purchased primarily by these libraries whose task it is to develop and maintain the book collections used by scholars who are doing doctoral/post-doctoral research.

University presses do not publish the kinds of S4S books that are purchased only by research libraries. This explains why university presses do not publish monographs and doctoral dissertations. It also explains why university presses are always urging their authors to make their manuscripts interesting to non-scholars.


But why should scholars have to revise their research so that it is interesting to non-scholars? Why shouldn’t a scholar be able to write a book in technical language on a problem of interest only to his/her scholarly peers?

Suppose that a manuscript is focussed on a very specialized question and, if it were published, then it would advance scholarship in that field. Then why shouldn’t a scholar be allowed to publish his/her research (or his dissertation) as a S4S book?

The usual objection is that such an idea is airy-fairy idealism; it is not financially realistic. But this objection implies that the publication of S4S books is really not financially viable. However, the truth is that S4S publishing is financially viable. It can be done.

For over forty years, The Edwin Mellen Press has been peer-reviewing and publishing S4S books on a financially break-even basis. Mellen has been able to do this because it publishes only the kinds of books that research libraries really need to add to their specialized collections. So The Edwin Mellen Press is proof that specialized S4S publishing can be financially viable.

But if S4S publishing is financially viable, then why don’t university presses do it? The obvious answer is that university presses don’t do S4S publishing because they don’t value S4S books. Their editorial boards function at a middle market mindset.

University presses could publish S4S books; but they don’t really value them. This is probably because they don’t have directors or editors who have earned Ph.D.’s

What university presses find valuable is non-fiction that is written by scholars for non-scholarly readers. Hence, the Director of Harvard University Press prefers that his books be written at the reading level of “sophomores.”


The Edwin Mellen Press does not publish books written at the undergraduate reading level. Mellen publishes SRS books that are written at the doctoral reading level. (This means that you need to have written, or to be writing, a Ph.D. dissertation in order to know how to read a Mellen book.)

S4S books that are written by scholars for their scholarly peers are regarded as boring by non-scholars. The S4S genres are monographs, primary sources, methodologies, revisionist arguments, commentaries, concordances, doctoral dissertations, etceteras.

Books written in such scholarly genres seem worthless to non-scholars. Such books include, for example, titles like these: the use of the participle in middle Latin; 16th century boundary disputes between the Lithuanians and the Rus; a commentary on an 8t1 century monastic rule; an archaeological report on the excavated ruins of an 18th century ice house; an inventory of unpublished opera scores in the world’s libraries.

How many potential readers are willing to buy books on such specialized topics as these? Very few. Yet it is only through the publication of S4S books like these (and through their addition to the archives of research libraries) that scholarly research is able to continue.

If no publishers are willing to publish books on topics of interest only to a small number of scholars, then the entire humanistic research enterprise will come to an end. It will end because research, by its nature, is a cooperative project where individual scholars each contribute their own small part to the ongoing quest for knowledge of a multi-generational working group.

The Edwin Mellen Press values scholar-for-scholar research more than anything. Therefore, its mission is to publish books written by scholars that are intended to be read only by their scholarly peers. Therefore, Mellen plays an essential role in sustaining the entire enterprise of research in education, religion, the humanities and the social sciences. (And Mellen publishes more new titles each year than any American university press!)


Scholar-for-scholar (S4S) publishers do not calculate success in terms of the number of copies sold. Rather, S4S publishers calculate success in terms of the number of scholarly readers reached. This is because S4S books are purchased primarily by research libraries where every single copy reaches dozens of scholarly readers.

Libraries track the number of times a particular copy has been used by a reader. For example, the University of Toronto library recently reported that the average number of times several Mellen titles had been checked out over a five year period was 73 readers each.

The usual calculation is that, over the 30-50 years of its shelf life, every S4S book in a library will eventually be used by 100-200 readers. Therefore, if a S4S publisher sells 100-200 copies of a given title, then that book will eventually be used by over 20,000 readers. (This is twice the number of readers of a mid-list trade novel.)

Moreover, the influence of S4S books is far greater than the influence of trade or university press books. This is because S4S books are used by scholars who are engaged in research and who, therefore, immediately incorporate the information and argument from these S4S books into their own research.

Non-scholars cannot begin to imagine how intensive the use of S4S books is. This is because they do not realize that the scholars who are working at research libraries feel academically obligated to know about, and to consult, everything that has been published on a problem that they themselves are researching. So, for example, every scholar working in 19th century American literature, history, or culture will feel obliged to check out Mellen’s recent title on “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Quest for the Unforgivable Sin.”

If a book is in the collection of the libraries of Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Duke, or Stanford– universities that produce hundreds of Ph.D.’s– then that book will be read by thousands of scholars. So the influence of S4S books in the collections of research libraries is far greater than the influence of books from trade publishers or university presses.


Some cynics say that the reason why Harvard or Yale or Stanford have so many Mellen titles in their collections is because these universities have so much money that they buy everything. That is, they don’t need to be selective. But the truth is quite the opposite. The truth is that Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Duke and Stanford have so much money that they are able to be even more selective. This is because these wealthier universities can afford to employ more highly trained collection development specialists. Then the real job of these specialists is to ensure that books which do not make a genuine contribution to scholarship do not inadvertently slip into their libraries’ collections.

Harvard is not just a great university library because it has so many books. Widener Library is great because Harvard librarians and faculty are able to exercise more discrimination in selecting which volumes to add to their collection than, say, librarians at Penn State.

So Widener is not just a really big library; Widener is a really good library. And it’s the quality, not the quantity, that makes the real difference.

Here is a list of the number of Mellen titles that have been selected by top research universities to be included in their really good collections:

London 4,926
Harvard 4,731
Munich 4,498
Berlin 4,388
Paris 3,968
Toronto 3,940
Columbia 3,551
Yale 3,305
California 2,850
Princeton 2,690
Zurich 2,645
Oxford 2,621