The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Making a living from Christian scholarship

On one of my Christianity and Copyright posts I received the following comment:

I’d love to hear you talk about the ways in which someone who uses a CC license and makes it their occupation to produce scholarly work can make a living.

Allow me to begin with some caveats. First, I am by no means an expert at earning money through Creative Commons publishing. Second, I am not an occupational scholar and I do not really know how a living can be made by producing scholarly works.

My go-to answer would be to use a Creative Commons license with a non-commercial clause. This way you the copyright holder can grant an exclusive license for commercial sale to a publisher and thereby earn a share of the profits. O'Reilly Media is an example of a real-world company using this model: many of the books they publish are available as free downloads from the authors. The only thing being sold is the physical copy of the book. There are probably other examples as well. I must re-iterate that I do not really know anything of the economics of this, so I am not sure if it can earn a family wage.

Another model for funding scholars would be the patronage model. Here a scholar would make the case to the Christian community for the benefit of the scholarly work he or she will produce (whether Bible translation, lexicon, etc.). If the case is convincing, people may pay up-front to fund the scholar's work. If Christians had to raise funds for scholarship which would become freely-licensed for the benefit of all, we might find that a lot fewer scholarly works get produced. However this would be a good approach in my opinion, since it aligns the work of Christian scholarship with the needs of the church (and not the capitalistic logic of the market).

I wonder about the person who makes it their occupation to produce scholarly works and thereby makes a living. Does such a scholar exist? Virtually all of the publishing scholars I am aware of hold faculty positions at colleges and universities, and presumably that is how they earn their living. Any scholarship they produce is in the course of or in addition to their didactic duties. Perhaps a few of the most outstanding scholars earn a living merely by publishing, but I do not think that is the norm.

So maybe it is not possible for someone who uses a CC license to earn a living as a Christian scholar because it is very difficult to do so in any case.