Dr Ron Choong, a dear friend, commented the following:
I have been reading about this complaint and the voices of support for years, yet there seems to be no practical solution.
This is a really important moral and economic issue.
Books are very accessible here in the West, both in borrowing privileges and in cost, let alone the abundance of used books. But there is a serious need to address the matter of theological access to non-western scholars.
One of them is licensing to local on-demand printing.
I always worry that my own books may be unaffordable to readers in countries that cannot afford them. So I choose to personally hold all copyrights. Now I can legally authorize academic readers in many countries who are unable to afford them (Africa, S America and parts of Asia) to photocopy at will.
I refer to this as COPYLEFT. Some generous souls in Malaysia itself have in the past made sacrificial contributions to my COPYLEFT project. It flies in the face of Western notions of academic publishing but I do this because I myself was born in Malaysia and only by the grace of God do I enjoy unheard of access to data in my own interdisciplinary field research. Why should my colleagues in the non-Western world be deprived? It's is unconscionable for this situation to persist.
In my COPYLEFT project, I even distribute FREE copies of my own work.
This is not a long term solution. It is merely a token of my awareness of how uneven the playing field is for those of us enjoying the economic privileges in the West. How then do I fund my own research? I go out (shamelessly) and seek financial sponsors to underwrite my books in order to give away copyrights.
Note: I do not receive any royalty from my books so that there are no conflicts of interest - because my writings often directly challenge the status quo of every doctrine from every Christian denomination I can think of. Ouch...yeah.
If I were writing on standard orthodox/safe Christian theology and biblical studies, I will expect legitimate royalty for my labors, So this is not a critique of anyone receiving their rightful due as authors.
It is especially challenging when many new discoveries and insights make most academic books out of date within 3-5 years, the length of time it takes to research and write a book.
My own recent Biblical Guide to the Metropolitan Museum's ANE Gallery was published last year. Already I am under pressure to announce a revision or a second edition. This is a burden to students of science and theology. So I am looking into online addenda to reduce the cost of scholarship.
I call upon all believers who have more stable income and wealth to share your blessings. Set up a special trust fund to encourage academic research by sponsoring book projects, even if the amount is modest, because it brightens up even the gloomiest writing day.
Except for a few weirdo-aliens of blessed memory like CS Lewis, writing is one of the hardest and loneliest tasks in the world. It is sheer self-imposed isolation. Agonies from self-critique can be crippling.
Even after you secure funding, the pressure is on and the deadline looms. Last year, I secure an unrestricted grant from a Bible Society of US$10,000 to assist in the underwriting of a Christian Guide to the American Museum of Natural History. I have been burdened by it ever since as the 1 year deadline looms - June 30. However, the confidence it gave me was and still is deeply more satisfying than the dollar amount is worth.
If anyone in Malaysia is willing to set up such a fund and appoint trustees to monitor and disburse tokens of encouragement for writers for the Church, I will be honored to kickstart the project with a matching grant of US$1000 of my personal savings.
I am not rich or even economically comfortably by any means and I myself do not draw a regular salary. But I feel strongly that the economics of publishing is killing an entire generation of Christian thinkers who do not write popular books which sell better.
Come on, people, GIVE, and take my money, to encourage FULL-TIME thinkers and writers for the Church.
Do not lose a generation of Christian academics in Malaysia, it may never recover.
If 20 people reading this forks up US$50 each, your can happily take up my offer and deprive me of my money. I will eat taugeh for a month, and EACH of you will orang me a dish of HOKKIEN MEE.
I applaud Ron for his thoughtful response for the suggestion in setting up a fund for Malaysian writers and his generosity for the initial matching grant of US$1,000.
As a scholar from the Majority World, I find it extremely difficult for us to research and write. It often costs us dearly in the pursuit of our passion. Oftentimes, many think that we earn huge sum of royalty. I can testify that nothing is further away from the truth. As an author myself, the royalty we receive for our publication is almost negligible. The royalty cannot even come close to cover our cost in publication where we need to pay for the services of proofreader and editor to help us in our writing, not to mention the time and money spent in our research.
We do not have generous sabbaticals like our counterparts in the Western world. Many of us may only have one or two sabbaticals of a semester each in our entire teaching career. Where do we find the time to research and write when most of us are also engaged in church ministry? Some of us even take unpaid leave or a period of unemployment so that we could fulfil our passion and calling in research and writing.
Our access to excellent libraries and books is limited. Books are way too expensive for us in Malaysia taking into account the unfavourable exchange rate. While Society of Biblical Literature has initiated an excellent project through its International Cooperation Initiative where books by selected publishers are made available in full text to scholars of the Majority World, there are many other crucial books priced beyond our means that we simply do not have access to. Some publishers offer discount for readers. For example, Sheffield Phoenix Press, an academic publisher specialising in biblical studies, offers 50% discount on hardback books to all bona fide scholars, but the sad news is that it has ceased publishing new books since the beginning of this year. Another publisher, Eerdmans, offers excellent discount up to 40% through its Eerdmans Commentary Club. Eerdmans publishes standard commentaries both scholars and students of the bible consult. However, in reality, Eerdmans’ offers are only limited to those from North America, Europe and Australasia and this excludes scholars from the Majority World who genuinely need these books at discounted prices.
So why do we still pursue our passion in publication despite these challenges? We write because we are passionate in what we do. We write because we do have a voice. We write because we believe we could make meaningful contribution to biblical scholarship. We write because this is one of the means in which we could improve ourselves, so that we could be better teachers, scholars, and preachers, and we hope that we could bring the fruit of our labour to the church for her benefits.
If anyone out there is keen to deprive Ron of his US$1,000 matching grant to initiate a fund to assist scholars in Malaysia towards publication, please respond and drop me a note. We need some volunteers to kick start this, and we hope this will, in some small ways, encourage our local scholars.