The Ithaka Report: "University Publishing in the Digital Age"
|Inside Higher Ed has published a couple of articles in the past week on a recent report prepared by Ithaka, which is described as "a nonprofit group that promotes research and strategy for colleges to reflect changing technology." The report is titled "University Publishing in the Digital Age," and the always smart Scott McLemee says everyone should read it.|
Its basic conclusion: publication in the future will almost certainly be different than it is today (more digital, less ink).
Among the report's many suggestions is the recommendation that, rather than rely on commercial sites like JSTOR or on informal list-serves to distribute scholarly research, university presses and librarians ought to create their own platforms to distribute digital content, both old and new. This would mean “a powerful technology, service and marketing platform that would serve as a catalyst for collaboration and shared capital investment in university-based publishing.” That sounds smart, not least because there's no reason for universities to pay JSTOR to access journals that the universities themselves originally published.
But what about the monograph book (he selfishly inquires)? The report notes, "Print may well remain the preferred format for certain types of usage, such as cover-to-cover reading and display." But because professors, especially younger professors, often like to search scholarly literature (rather than read it in a linear manner), prefer 24/7 access, and like remote accessibility (i.e., at home, in the office, and on vacation), the report says that "scholarly publishers must get their previously published, as well as current content, online and that in the future they will need to operate print and electronic programs simultaneously." One press, Ohio State University's, has already begun to do so.
Then there is this paragraph, which more or less suggests that university presses need to start publishing books in a digital format so that the commercial presses don't beat them to it (and enjoy any resulting first-mover advantages):
One could make an argument for small presses to let commercial publishers risk their capital in experimenting with new technologies and business models until the market matures, especially since most of the content at stake (humanities monographs) has limited commercial appeal. We are concerned, however, that the commercial publishers are pursuing different objectives that may not lead to desirable outcomes for universities; for example, universities have an interest in exploring ways to use new technologies to reduce costs of publishing so that the monograph continues to be a viable format for new authors and those in less mainstream fields. Commercial publishers are focused instead on maximizing scale. Moreover, the “wait-and-see” approach allows large commercial firms a critical head start in building large scale platforms with the ability to attract and control scholarly content. It would not be in the community’s interests to see electronic monographs and new electronic formats follow the same path as journals.This is all quite interesting, if not nerve wracking, because of what it means for the future of the scholarly book. Based on its interviews with press directors, the report claims "There is once again widespread hope that electronic dissemination, done effectively, could revitalize the monograph." And doom my career.
Actually, the report goes on to note the many problems with this idea, and it actually does a surprisingly good job of addressing the complicated, often vexed issues that digital publication raises. There is a lot in this report worth pondering and discussing, but I'm not going to do so right now (I have work to do). If people are interested, though, feel free to comment away (or write your own post).
(And here are some old posts of ours with random thoughts about academic publishing: Amazon, Values, Bookselling, Monographs.)