¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 Publishers were essential to the scholarly ecosystem of the pre-web age. For scholars to see their work disseminated within their scholarly community, it had to be published by a publisher. For some, this pre-web reality implies that university publishers are no longer required, because the conditions have changed.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 For unfiltered, direct dissemination, the web is without peer—which is its primary strength as well as its weakness. Today we are moving beyond information abundance to information surfeit, a hyperabundance that can be both a wonder and a tremendous distributed inefficiency in wasted time. Raw dissemination is now so easy that anything, and everything, can be “published” online—made available to Google, and Bing, and that moment’s Twitter feed.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 For scholarship, dissemination is a precondition for impact, but it is likely insufficient for promoting the long-term significance of a work of quality scholarship. The scholarly enterprise is in it for the long haul, not the next viral hit. As such, the scholarly ecosystem—libraries, universities, scholarly publishers, scholars—needs to ensure that the entire ecosystem remains strong over time, and that scholarship is well served by the systems we construct.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 6 The publisher’s role is more complex than mere dissemination. Quality assurance and filtration, presentational enhancement, metadata crafting and maintenance, meeting new market demands, establishing authoritative versions, as well as the continuing tasks of outreach, promotion, impact, and connecting to other scholars and scholarship—these elements are essential to effective scholarly communication. Some are necessary regardless of medium; others are responses to the particular conditions of online publication.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 2 Historically, for university and other scholarly presses, selling books has been simply a means to an end—to publish more and better scholarly books. Presses further leveraged the print-only business model into a tool for scholarly independence: to provide independence from university administration pressures, independence from the cyclical nature of the marketplace by having many disciplinary eggs in our baskets, and independence from the vagaries of budget cycles within home institutions.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 10 This independence is intertwined with scholarly quality, because it is the press’s own investment in a title that is at risk. The financial investment of printing and physical distribution typically comprises about a fifth of the costs; far more is invested in the time of acquiring and developmental editors, copyeditors, project managers, proofreaders, and indexers, as well as lights, copiers, office space, and other overhead costs involved in publishing that book. Thus, one of the drivers that ensures quality publishing—and part of what enables publishers to maintain their expertise—is having a financial interest in the success of a publication. Perhaps paradoxically, these financial constraints help ensure quality by raising the stakes for publication. In the print-only environment, virtue and necessity combined to make independent vetting, robust distribution, and financial motivation work together to form an essential part of the scholarly ecosystem.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 5 When financial constraints are removed—when any and everything can be “published”— different forces come into play. The challenge for the scholarly enterprise is to ensure that the best characteristics of selectivity, enrichment, authority, and imprimatur can be retained in the hyperabundant landscape, where market forces no longer dictate a particular kind of limit.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 Below is a list of some of the services that university presses currently provide. Our cultural challenge within academia is to identify what must be retained, and devise models that can support those services, to ensure that the new system of scholarly communications and publishing remains strong.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 21 In an environment of hyperabundance, assured quality will continue to matter, perhaps more than ever; even in a surfeit of content, there can be scarcity of quality. Editorial selection processes (selective acquisition, organized peer review, editorial boards) require both time and expertise. Social-network voting models of any kind (often touted as a replacement for editorial selection) will naturally be gamed by interested parties. Fame and popularity and the ability to get lots of votes are not a proxy for scholarly merit. How do we ensure that the scholarly cream is able to rise to the top?
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 2 Even the best writers can become overwhelmed by their own engagement in a topic. Some of the best scholars may not be the best writers, even if their intellectual work is of the highest caliber. Editorial development can pare, enhance, and focus a work. Interested editorial distance can allow constructive critique in ways that friends and colleagues (and even completely disinterested strangers) may not be able to do. How do we best underwrite editorial participation?
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 6 Few authors, institutional repositories, librarians, or graduate students are award-winning typographers, jacket designers, or layout experts. While not every work needs presentational development to shine, the publisher-driven additions are frequently visual icons of substantiality. Rare is the book that is not a visual improvement over a manuscript. How do we fund graphic and typographic expertise?
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 4 By maintaining a proprietary interest in an intellectual property, there is a motivation for eliciting continued promotion into any new marketplaces, new communities, and new intellectual arenas. As a context, an institutional-archive publication from 1999 (which might have had cutting- edge promotion at the time) is functionally invisible in the context of the current e-book market. Without a motivation for paying attention to metadata improvement, for active engagement in this year’s NetLibrary, Google Editions, or iBookstore, possible audiences and impact are lost. Every arrangement with a distributor, whether digital or print, requires attention to their requirements, and may require contractual negotiations; any new venue may have different mechanisms for metadata ingestion, cover-image provision, and format constraints. How do we best promote scholarship long after it’s fresh, and ensure that every new market is entered?
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 3 Information about a book goes far beyond simply title and author. ISBNs, CIP data, categorization, multiple versions of descriptive copy (for different purposes), copyright date, rights holder information about images and tables included within the book, number of pages, and far more must be not only retained, but distributed to others with certainty and authority. And ideally, it is enhanced over time—for example, with review quotes and links to reviews themselves, with new edition information upon republication, and with connections to new related publications. These are the mundane but vital tasks that enable the book to be discovered within the hundreds of thousands of books published every year, year after year. How do we ensure that these vital tasks have a motivation for being performed?
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 4 Translation rights, distribution arrangements, excerption permissions, and more require attention and time as well. While Creative Commons-based licenses can elide some of this, and one could argue that open access solves it completely, there are some protections from misuse (or resale, or mistranslation, or misrepresentation, or other abuse) that copyright affords, and which many authors and institutions will insist upon. How can we institutionalize these issues?
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 5 Printed books will remain a necessary distribution container for a multitude of reasons: customers in bookstores operate differently than on Amazon or Google Books or on the web, and authors want their books in every possible venue and format. A large number of readers will prefer bound books out of habit, utility, and training, for at least the next decade, and markets for bound books bundled with digital versions continue to grow. Given these realities, a multiple-venue, multiple-format approach to publishing is required. The time-consuming details of physical distribution and sales are best handled by professionals—especially when digital promotion and dissemination can work hand-in-glove with physical promotion and dissemination. How do we take full advantage of both the print and the digital, as the information landscape continues to change?
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 14 For two decades, we’ve been “just around the corner” from a universal format for digital publications. Until we turn that corner, it is likely that market channels will continue to evolve that take advantage of different formats. For example, PDFs are currently not accepted by the iPad (only EPUB files), and that situation is unlikely to change. Google Editions avoids the issue of PDFs by ingesting into its own proprietary reader, but the Kindle wants its MOBI format just so. Older titles must be upgraded to the best flavor of the next format. Search engines may want blurb copy in easy-to-process HTML, while distributors want their data in ONIX. TEI XML may be best for some purposes and future audiences, while NLM XML may be best for others. Perhaps the most complex problem is setting the level of quality assurance and proofreading that is necessary for every format, since a PDF is a different representation than a reflowable EPUB in an iBookstore, or the same book on the Kindle. How do we build quality assurance, in multiple formats, in a way that will be able to evolve along with the reader, browser, and library systems in the future?
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 7 University presses, while deeply associated with their parent institutions, are able to operate without direct pressures based on academic fads, expectations of colleagues or obligations imposed by university executives. That independence also means that the publisher can focus on helping develop a limited number of fields, with authors from any university, rather than being a generalized publisher for only one university. When questions of free speech and academic freedom arise, having an independent publisher not operating at the behest and budget of the Provost is very useful. The ecosystem of scholarship is fostered and nurtured by those independent centers of expertise as well. How do we ensure that editorial independence and objectivity continues to support scholarship?
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 1 Because all of the above requires time, effort, energy, and money, getting a book published by a university press means it has passed through a gauntlet of selectivity: Is this book sufficiently valuable to scholarship to invest tens of thousands of dollars of effort into, as well as risking the prestige of the Press, to publish it? That gauntlet distinguishes quality, and is used as a proxy by tenure and promotion committees (as well as by colleagues in the field) for scholarly credentialing.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 3 Ecosystems are not only wild. An apple tree, if left unpruned, just produces more and smaller apples. To get quality apples, pruning is necessary. But neither could the traditional orchard apples of the Old World survive in the Americas without hybridization with hardy wild species, much like traditional scholarship is pushing at new frontiers. New forms of scholarship and scholarly product are now made possible by new technological tools and the online environment, but the system of valuation and credentialing has not yet made them accommodation. How do we support a scholarly ecosystem that allows wild, semi-wild, and nurtured fruit to prosper?
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 1 The “long tail” of scholarship is very long. Any work’s overall lifespan impact, its likelihood of existing in the “marketplace of ideas,” is improved by having a publisher supporting that title. Institutional repositories are fundamentally passive archives, not active promoters of their content. Libraries and universities are ill-suited to becoming businesses sponsoring unique publications. Their systems are designed for dealing with hundreds of thousands of things efficiently, not a small number of things maximally. The scholarly community benefits from having a publisher with an incentive to nurture the fruits of scholarship. Currently, that structural incentive is embodied in selling books. How do we build incentives that maintain the best balance, and retain scholarly value for both the immediate and long term?
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 4 We welcome engagement by others in addressing the questions posed above. The scholarly ecosystem will evolve, as our interconnected society discovers new ways of being connected, in ways we won’t expect. But we can help direct its evolution by engaging with these issues now. Within the scholarly world, we need to help one another find the right balance: balance between openness and selectivity; balance between assured quality and diverse intellectual richness; and finally, balance between sustaining the best fruits of the earlier print-driven ecosystem, and allowing the wild and hybrid new species to flourish.