In a rare instance of a for-profit publisher receiving a large sum of grant money, a foundation will pay more than $1 million to Doubleday to support a new line of books about inventors and discoveries. The grant, from the science-minded Alfred Sloane Foundation, will go mainly to the authors of the eight-book series, providing money that will support them and pay for amenities such as research assistants.
None of the authors or subjects have been selected yet. The foundation will form a book committee and, with the help of Doubleday, will select the authors, who in turn will choose the subjects. The series will be called Great Innovators.
"In our culture, people pay more attention to science and scientists. This is about technology and inventors," said Doran Weber, program director at the foundation. "All the details of our lives are technological and people don't understand this as well as they might." Steve Rubin, publisher of Doubleday, offered "Velcro, or e-mail, or the microchip" as examples of innovations.
The Sloane Foundation is known for its involvement with book publishing; it has co-sponsored similar series and supports as many as a dozen authors every year with grants that can go into the six figures. It has been kind of a secret weapon behind many award-winning science books, helping to fund everything from Richard Rhodes's Pulitzer-winning Dark Sun to Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter.
Weber added that the award is need-based; an author with a higher advance might get less money than one with a small advance. He also said the books could become the basis for a TV program, play or documentary that the foundation will also help fund, as it has done in the past.
Asked about the unusual situation in which a foundation is giving a grant to a large conglomerate, Weber noted that the money "primarily helps the author," then added, "if the for-profit system produced these kind of books, then we wouldn't have to do it. In order to get their attention, we need to sweeten the pot."