As I’ve noted on the External Reviews page contained within the table of contents, NYU Press sent Planned Obsolescence out for traditional peer review alongside this process. At the request of Eric Zinner, the press’s Assistant Director and Editor-in-Chief, one of my reviewers, Lisa Spiro, has allowed us to post her reviews — both the preliminary review of the book proposal and sample chapters and the second-round review of the manuscript as a whole, here for comment and discussion as well. I’ve asked Eric and Monica McCormick, NYU’s Program Officer for Digital Scholarly Publishing, to share their thoughts about this process. Monica’s response is below; I hope to post Eric’s thoughts soon.
I welcomed this project as a chance for NYU Press to pragmatically test new methods of scholarly communication. We are invested in exploring new ways to sustain scholarly publishing as our authors and their practices evolve. Admittedly, the evolution of print book publishing can seem very slow. Even as we maintain our current cost-recovery business model, because that is what we’re paid to do and because our products have real cultural value, we must also begin to test new tools and implement procedures that will help us gain the skills to work with new technologies, develop new business models, and support scholars who are committed to working in new ways.
Working in new ways will require some new tools. It’s also worth considering the virtues and affordances of previous practices. Most serious readers I know often read with pencil in hand, to engage directly with the text — one reason that paper continues to be a satisfying medium. In CommentPress we have a fascinating new-media tool that enables the age-old practice of marginalia. It supports communal annotation and discussion in a very practical way, and is an excellent tool for the kind of open, vigorous conversation that Kathleen wants to have with her readers. We will continue to assess how it worked for this project, how else it might be implemented, and how CommentPress and other tools for networked reading and commentary might be developed.
This dual mode of review also encouraged me to reflect on the multiple reasons for peer review–not only to help publishers decide whether to invest in it and mark it with their imprint, but also to give the author useful advice and suggest improvements, and to support the system by which scholars are rewarded (or not). What would happen, I wondered, if the Press’s readers (and possibly the editor) disagreed with the self-nominated readers (and perhaps the author)? Peer review, like any mode of scholarly engagement, often engenders at least a few contentious questions, and the author/editor/reviewer relationship can be complex, as Kathleen’s work makes clear. And the stakes are high–if disagreements are not resolved, the work may not be published or the search for a publisher begins anew. In this case, we were confident in the quality of Kathleen’s work, and welcomed the potential for improvements that multiple readers might offer, so this was not a significant cause for concern. But it seems clear that adding more voices to the mix risks more opportunities for disagreement, and we have few existing models for resolving them, beyond the good will of the parties involved. The up side is that the debate can be conducted with great transparency and the work is already available — albeit in a form that may not be deemed worthy of tenure.
In short, we are all engaged in a long transformative period, as technology and scholarship and our measures for evaluating it evolve. I appreciate the opportunity to take a small evolutionary step with these colleagues.