What is a Scholarpreneur?
In order to describe how an academic can earn an income outside of a university, I need to define what a Scholarpreneur is. It is a mindset that lets academics find freedom in employment and research. It means:
Being an academic who controls your own career. You are not tethered to an institution as the means of your identity. You control the means of your academic production. You take your knowledge to the open market to earn what you deserve and profit in ways unthinkable at a traditional university.
In other words, your knowledge and paycheck isn’t filtered through a university. You take your knowledge and offer it directly to your audience.
The Scholarpreneur Business Model
A scholar working at a university is selling knowledge for a wage, while the university owns the means of production—the classrooms, student enrollment, and funneling all those students to the professor.
But a scholarpreneur working alone sells directly to students, keeping the majority of profits.
Let me give you some back-of-the-napkin calculations to clear this up.
Let’s say that you are Socrates teaching his students at the agora. You charge them $2,700 each, the cost an average U.S. student pays for a semester-long course (never mind Socrates accepted no payment for his teaching, but whatever). Since there are 50 students enrolled—normal for a large university course—and the agora is a free public forum, you come away with $135,000. But no modern instructor will ever earn that much.
One course nets more like $12,000 for a tenured professor or $2,000 for an adjunct. All that money is vacuumed up by the university for its gleaming student centers and millionaire football coaches.
But a freelance scholar keeps 50-70 percent for an online course or e-book. Our hypothetical Socrates, if he taught on an online learning platform like Udemy instead of at the agora, would still come away with $67,500 for one course. Not bad.
Some Examples of Scholarpreneurs
Margaret Hiley was a lecturer in literature in England but didn’t like the paperwork, teaching restrictions, and arbitrary university procedures. As a bilingual native speaker of English and German, the few enjoyable parts of her academic life were freelance translation.
Then she had an epiphany — why not buck the university system and go completely freelance?
Margaret contacted all her old clients and university colleagues. She put up a website and joined a professional association for translators. She took a course on self-employment. After a year of building up a client list, she quit her job as a lecturer. Margaret now has a near-endless number of projects from academic publishers and private scholars. She is able to charge £90 per 1,000 words of translation from German to English and earns far more than she ever did at a university.
Other scholars are moving to self-publishing. Long the realm of failed authors and conspiracy theorists, it has gained new legitimacy in the last five years as Amazon has opened its publishing platform to any author (the 70 percent royalty rate doesn’t hurt either).
One such stand-out on Amazon is Andrew Hartley, a Shakespeare scholar at the University of North Carolina who has had tremendous success,among many other novels, adapting Macbeth into a thriller. He has adapted it for audio and is now working on Hamlet.
How to Create a Personal Academic Website in 10 Minutes
Every academic needs to create a personal academic website. A profile page at your university or an account on Academia.edu isn’t enough. If you don’t have your own personal website, preferably with your name in the domain name, then you do not own your online presence.
If you do not take charge of your online presence, then Google will create it for you through the chaos of their algorithm. Communications instructor Kelli Marshal notes that a Google search for academics without their own website will return one of two results: the name of their institution or department; second, their webpage on Rate My Professor. The latter rarely has anything positive to say.
Has a student ever gone on a nasty rant about your class? That could be the top entry on a Google search for your name. Or it could be a disgruntled undergraduate who considers you unfair, ignorant, or unprofessional – exactly what happened to Marshall. A student was angry with her because she had begun incorporating Twitter into the classroom. Many students in her introductory film course embraced the Twitter assignments, but a handful revolted. One particular student took to the Internet to argue that social media has no place in the classroom. In the diatribe he mentioned Marshall’s name, school affiliation, and the classes she taught.
A Google search headlined “Professor _________ Totally Sucks!!!!!!” or “I No Longer Fear Hell, I Took a Course With Aruna Mitra” hardly the first impression that you want to give to scholar in your field checking out your background. Worse yet, imagine a search committee member browsing such a page.
But what about putting my CV and peer-reviewed articles on a platform like Academia.edu? I control that platform, right? Not exactly. Those of us who are looking for non-academic or alternative academic jobs must cater our online presence to Google searches. Besides, if you make your digital presence completely dependent on another company, then you are building on somebody else’s land. It’s a recipe for disaster. Your personal academic website belongs to those sites, and we are enriching Academia.edu or Facebook by doing so. It’s what some Web 2.0 analysts call digital sharecropping.
Instead of seeing social media links or nasty diatribes at the top of a Google search for your name, the first thing that should appear is your personal academic website, followed by social media profiles, followed by direct links to your publications.
But how do you do this? Setting up a website, getting a domain name, and web site design seems complicated.
There are free options out there like WordPress.com, Tumblr, or Blogger. They are good options for some, but I don’t recommend them for your personal academic website. I don’t believe they convey enough professionalism. Having www.scottrank.blogspot.com doesn’t look nearly as good as www.scottrank.com. Your domain name will always be an extension to the service provider’s domain name. If I made this website on wordpress.com, the website would behttp://thescholarpreneur.wordpress.com instead of http://thescholarpreneur.com. You also have fewer options for customization, design, and functionality.