An Exercise in Strategery: Innovation & Academic Publishing, Part 3

So this is going to be an exercise in speculative strategic planning, of trying to guess what people want, at what times, under what conditions, and how we, as publishers, can satisfy these demands.

Now, this might be a bit rough—I wouldn’t recommend starting any businesses off of this or anything—and is very much me thinking out loud, more trying to think through a few issues and obstacles rather than create something I could pitch to investors or the provost.

I’m also going to take the point of view of someone primarily trying to find a viable way of publishing minigraphs in both print and electronic formats. While there are other interesting, and perhaps viable, formats for distributing academic content—ereader and tablet/mobile device applications, for instance—minigraphs have a pedigree and a sort of familiarity to our core audience that more novel media might not. If even trying to publish short books on a significant scale, rather than mostly long books on a slightly smaller scale, is a radical idea, one likely to encounter resistance and without an established place in the academy, then who knows what trying to find acceptance for these more radical formats might involve. This is a bit of a “if this works, we can try something a bit more adventurous next” exercise, a potentially workable first solution to a very real problem. Continue reading

Beating Our Audience to the Punch: Emeriti and Publishing

The conundrum: we academic publishers want to use ebooks and/or print-on-demand for our titles that would otherwise be removed from print and remaindered, but the technology isn’t yet ready and our audience sees these as signs of the Apocalypse.

Really, how do you get a 78-year-old emeritus professor who misses his typewriter to embrace ebooks? Continue reading

Academic Ebook Conversion Sucks

No, really.  It does.  Ain’t no other way to say it.

Part of this, as seen in this lovely little Gruniad article, is because ebooks are essentially different editions of the same book.  Just as paperback books don’t follow hardback pagination, ebooks, being their own strange format, won’t follow any print pagination. Continue reading

Print Ain’t Dead Yet

Fine, yes, I know, everyone in publishing is obsessed with this whole e-book thing.  Lots are even saying it’s going to doom the industry (yeah right).  Heck, I had a few profs (who, granted, still use WordPerfect because their typewriters got taken away) who thought e-books were another sign of the decline of Western civilization.

Okay, it’s none of the above.  If publishers just did the work of putting ink on paper, perhaps—but most things publishing houses do happens long before a drop of ink finds the paper.  However, there are a few reasons why the printed book is here to stay.
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Epublishing Ain’t Free

Time to crush the hopes and dreams of many a publishing pundit: just because it’s in an electronic format doesn’t mean it’s cheap to produce—or that you can/should skip the publisher and go straight to dissemination.  This one will probably hack off half my twitter feed—it aims straight at the core of at least a few of the assumptions behind open access publishing—but the assumption that publishing houses do nothing but slap someone’s text on paper is wronger than a wrong thing that’s wrong.

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Ebooks and Philosophy: Odd Writings and Aphorisms

It’s no secret that philosophers are often odd people.  They also write strangely sometimes, too.

“No, really?  We didn’t notice.”  Yes, I know philosophical writing is notoriously bad—there’s a reason I put a pot leaf sticker on my copy of Heidegger’s Being and Time*—but some philosophers (oddly enough, often the ones who could actually write) use very odd formats for their works.  Though several philosophers have peculiar styles they’re associated with—Plato’s dialogues, Nietzsche’s aphorisms, Aquinas’ disputed questions—two thinkers seem to have writings that beg to be dealt with in a way electronic publishing could do a better job of than print media ever could.

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The Medieval Ebook, Part II: Writing in the Margins

As I mentioned last time, the odd writings you find in the margins of medieval books (and, for that matter, in between the lines or on loose sheets of paper inserted between the pages) are often of great importance.  Known as marginal or interlinear glosses (or, if on loose paper, extras), these notes, asides, and corrections took on a life of their own, sometimes rivaling the importance of the book they were written in.  Perhaps the most famous collections based largely on these writings would be the Catena Aurea of Thomas Aquinas, one of many such catenae aureae compiled by late antique and medieval authors, and the four books of Peter Lombard’s Sentences—though most any Scholastic writing on philosophical or theological  matters will cite glosses or extras at some point or other.

Royal 10 E IV   f. 59v   Rabbit shooting

We've lost a lot since we decided "*" was good enough.

Which brings me to the point I was making at the end of my previous post.  If you have a copy of the books/papers being cited at your fingertips, in parallel with a paper or essay using them, then, rather than having some artifact of scholarship divorced from its roots, you can see the organic growth and web of relationships between source text and new work.  Though this would be helpful enough if you could click on a citation in a paper and be taken directly to the location cited, the reverse—reading a book or paper and seeing who and what cites it as you’re reading it—could be more interesting and fruitful. Continue reading

A Thought on Electronic Publishing, Returning to Form (Part 1)

This post is part 1 of (at least) two; the second part is located here.

“Everyone” in publishing (well, other than at my small academic press where people still submit things in WordPerfect) seems to be all excited/worried/up-in-arms about the Impending Ebook Revolution.  It may happen, for obvious reasons.  It may not happen, again for obvious reasons.  I’m not a tech blogger, nor an industry pundit, nor even a cranky old emeritus professor who causes Bossman to say things about people who submit in WordPerfect before dumping it onto the production editor, so I’d suggest finding one of those if you want to know why ebooks are The Next Big Thing/The End of the World.

Rather, I was thinking about why someone would prefer electronic reading material to print.  Much of this will be addressed in later posts, but one thing that struck me as a potentially interesting consequence of electronic book downloading is how similar it is (or could be) to how reading materials were bound in the middle ages.

Yes, really. Continue reading