Why Do We Need Academic Publishing in the Digital Age

By JMax | November 29, 2012

Earlier this week I took part in a panel discussion at UBC on “Why Do We Need Academic Publishing in the Digital Age,” organized by the smart folks at UBC Press. The discussion touched on a variety of topics in scholarly communication, peer production, and the role of editorial, and we ran out of time before we really got into the meaty part of this really enormous conversation.

One of the meatiest questions that was proposed, which we only barely got started on, was about whether we are “inexorably moving to a post-book world.” I think this issue is of foundational importance to scholarly presses, who have for many decades organized themselves around the exacting demands of the scholarly monograph—a paragon of bookish essence which, like the literary novel, is difficult to imagine as anything other than what it already is.

Given the enormous movement in scholarly communications to adopt more open and fluid means of sharing both activity and results (e.g., the OA journal movement, the rise of social media, and the advent of massive database-driven publications likePLoS One, etc.), it’s hard to look at the role of the scholarly book in quite the same light. Releasing monographs as ebooks and even making them Open Access doesn’t fundamentally change what the monograph is nor what it’s intended to represent: the culmination of serious scholarship in a painstakingly produced, long-lasting, milestone in the scholarly record. How exactly does that model fit as we go forward into the digital age? Should we assume that because the scholarly book is soimportant that it will simply endure, while everything around it changes? I’m not at all confident about that.

At Books in Browsers last month, Pressbooks’ Hugh McGuire made an important comment about the nature of the book while considering how the book might be “opened” to the larger web of ideas and media. Hugh said:

A book is a discrete, collection of text (and other media), that is designed by an author(s) as an internally complete representation of an idea, or set of ideas; emotion or set of emotions; and transmitted to readers in various formats. (“Opening the Book”)

Read full post here. (Originally posted November 22, 2012)