Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jennifer Crewe and Scholarly Publishing

From: Literary Emergency
In her article, "We're definitely not in Kansas Anymore - but Are We in Oz?," Jennifer Crewe, of Columbia University Press, discusses the current state of scholarly publishing and analyzes the roles that academic presses and their editors will continue to play despite the "revolutionary changes" affecting the publishing world (page 116).

First and foremost, she argues that "one thing that hasn't changed much in the world of scholarly publishing is the way that manuscripts are selected for publication" (page 117). She explains the crucial role that editors play and will continue to play in finding and choosing new books for their presses. She acknowledges that most presses receive many more "worthy manuscripts" than they are able to publish, and she emphasizes the importance of the "fit" between a book and its press. Editors have to strike a balance between books that mesh well with their existing catalogs and books that will not hurt the bottom line in selecting manuscripts to publish. She also observes that editors shepherd the book through the writing and re-writing process, and she anticipates that academic presses will continue to play this vital gatekeeping function.

She also argues that, in an increasingly digital world, editors and presses perform the vital service of managing and disseminating metadata about their titles so that readers are able to find the books once they are published.  "People increasingly learn about books via search engines and databases," she writes, "which reinforces the need to use metadata effectively to increase discoverability and optimize search results so that a book can be found by anyone searching on the topic" (pages 119-120).

Lastly, she writes that, despite, the increasing digitization of the printing process, e-books, like their print counterparts, require a great deal of labor intensive work such as formatting, coding, marking up, proofreading, and editing that most authors cannot do themselves.  Due to all of these time-consuming activities, she notes, e-books are not appreciably less expensive for academic presses than print books.

In the end, she observes, that for the foreseeable future, most academic presses will continue to publish both print books and e-books, but I wish she had talked more about the economics of academic publishing. She observes that keeps e-book titles artificially low in order to to sell Kindles, but she never really says whether or not she thinks there is a viable and exploitable future in digital publishing for academic presses.

Similarly, she seems not to consider the possibility that the three important functions she lists (selecting manuscripts, creating metadata, and editing/marking up books for publication) could be performed by people not affiliated with academic presses. Is there a viable avenue for authors to self-publish their work? In an open-source environment, could scholarly organizations or other institutions perform the gatekeeping role? Could libraries or library consortiums create metadata for new books instead of relying on academic presses? Are crowdsourced projects like Goodreads a viable alterative for applying metadata to books? Could authors/publishers outsource mark-up and coding?

Crewe makes some interesting points about the continued role for academic publishers in the digital world, but, in this article at least, she seems to consider the future for academic publishing very narrowly.

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