A recent sociology PhD describes an interesting experience: he found that his dissertation was being sold online as an ebook.
A Google search brought me to a link to BarnesandNoble.com, where with one click I soon discovered that my dissertation was being sold. It took a minute of staring at the computer screen to fully accept that my work could be purchased for (at the time) $32.34 as an eTextbook for the Nook reader. I thought the price was a steal. Literally.
I had graduated about a year earlier with a Ph.D. in sociology. Although I had hoped to turn my dissertation into a book one day, I had not yet started that process. I hadn’t even secured a contract with a publisher…
I began investigating how it could have come to be for sale. Like many graduate students, I was burned out after defending my dissertation. My immediate thoughts were not about which publisher I should contact but about whether I would be able to afford rent and food in this economy. My final weeks of graduate school had been a bit foggy, and I couldn’t recall the specific publication options I had selected when I submitted the dissertation to my university as a degree requirement.
So I dug out my copies of handouts from the Office of Graduate Studies, describing my options for publication with ProQuest (the university’s publisher of theses and dissertations). Reading through the papers, I could find nothing on all the possible ways my dissertation could be sold.
Then I logged into my account on the ProQuest site and saw that when I had submitted my dissertation electronically I had chosen an option for third-party selling. At the time, I was unsure what that meant, and in my end-of-graduate-school haze, I had neglected to find out. I assumed it meant that some other academic company could sell my work to individual researchers, typically few in number, who would have to exert great effort even to discover its whereabouts. I never thought it meant it could be sold, in its entirety, on the same site where one can purchase calendars and the complete series of The Sopranos on DVD.
Remembering some similar feelings at the end of my time in graduate school as I was looking to complete and defend my dissertation, I could see how this information could slip through the cracks. However, the lesson still remains: read all of that fine print so you know what you are agreeing to.