Scholarly Tools and Expectations in a Digital Age
In traditional scholarly publishing, scholars ideally provide:
Expertise in content
Understanding of discipline-based textual conventions
Information helpful in finding potential readers and reviewers
and publishers ideally provide:
Selection (acquisition, peer review, etc.)
Editorial assistance (project development, copy editing, proofreading, source-checking)
Clearance of rights and permissions
Page composition (sometimes contracted out)
Printing (usually contracted out)
Cost recovery and accounting
Though it is not often the case that both the scholar and the publisher fulfill all of their respective functions, this list still forms a kind of backdrop of expectations against which the new technologies of electronic editing and publishing have come into play, beginning (in my view) with word-processing, which shifted certain publisher functions to the author, and continuing with the advent of the World-Wide Web, which seems to have shifted still more of the publisher functions either to the author or into the category of irrelevance.
The questions I’d like to spend the rest of my time on are these:
1. Which traditional functions (for scholar and for publisher) are still relevant?
2. Which are irrelevant?
3. What new functions are there?
4. Whose functions are they?
Actually, I think I can dispatch the first two questions fairly quickly. All of the functions I’ve listed for scholar and for publisher are still relevant: even those that are print-specific (like page composition) have direct digital equivalents (like writing or adapting the routines that will render a page into HTML from some more complex form of SGML markup). Printing itself may be an obsolete function (though I note that electronic publications often do have print manifestations as well)—if it is, then so is warehousing and shipping books—but all three of these functions together may have an equivalent in web servers and the digital data they store and distribute.
Some authors argue that they can now do their own design and marketing work—cheaply if not well—and that, without the costs of design, printing, warehousing, marketing, and distribution, there is no need for cost recovery. I believe Michael will have something to say on the idea of the economics of publishing scholarship without charging for it, so for now I will just note that:
a) If the web has taught us anything it is that a business can give away content and still charge for other things, and those other things may well have value.
b) If the web has taught us anything else, it is that this “free” medium adds rather than reduces the cost of any publishing operation, since it adds, rather than duplicates, functionality, audience, and content.
It is probably true that we can do traditional kinds of publishing more cheaply in electronic form than in print (the book, for example): however, if we limit ourselves to doing in electronic form what we can do in print, we will find that we have produced neither a good electronic publication nor a good book—the result will be something less flexible and interactive than other electronic publications, while at the same time being less durable and portable than paper.
It may also be true that we can do certain things in electronic form that, for economic reasons, we would never consider doing in print (providing lots of color illustrations, for example): these things may only impose modest costs, but they will be new ones.
Finally, though, it is demonstrably the case that an electronic publication which takes full advantage of the possibilities of its medium will be more expensive than even the most costly book.
A few months back, I put together a comparative list of the contributions and rewards of authors and of publishers in print vs. digital culture, somewhat more complicated and detailed than the list I started with today. I’d like to put that before you as I address the second two questions: What new functions are there, and whose functions are they?
Authors’ Contributions and Rewards in Print Culture
What’s Different or New in Digital Culture
Original theory and criticism
Reward: Tenure, salary and status, royalties
Collaboration moves from periphery to core of humanities research
Need to track individual contributions to collaborative efforts
Need to authenticate individual contributions/components
Need control over versioning, permissions, etc. for collaborative editing
Finding aids become a two-way street and an integral part of the final product
It becomes possible to present underlying evidence as well as argument about evidence, and it become possible to present multiple and potentially competing views of that evidence.
Publishers’ Contributions and Rewards in Print Culture
What’s Different or New in Digital Culture
Dissemination of scholarship
Remuneration of scholars
Funding of production
Editing and Publication design
Storage and Distribution
Guarantee authenticity, integrity and accuracy
Institutional reward: profit and prestige
Individual reward: salary and prestige
Both: Advancement of scholarship
New forms and combinations of payment become possible (micropayments, site licensing, etc.)
Multiple re-use of material is easier
Markup replaces typesetting
Data needs to be refreshed
Storage costs go way down
Print becomes a byproduct, an afterthought, or a partial representation
Software configuration and (in some cases) production become part of publication design and distribution.
Authentication and rights management are more closely linked
Rights management is an ongoing rather than an advance process.
Fulfillment services are more likely to be completely automated
What am I trying to suggest with these tables and in what follows is that the real issue for scholarly publishing is not whether scholars and publishers still need one another—it seems obvious to me that they do—but rather what they need from one another.
In my view, scholars who conceive of projects that take advantage of the digital medium may need publishers to:
manage collaborative environments and processes
provide information systems design and consulting (including the selection or adaptation of DTDs)
produce or adapt software for searching, rendering, and analyzing content
imagine, design, and promote new technical means and new economic strategies for funding expensive, long-term, labor-intensive electronic scholarly projects
recommend (and possibly provide and support) authoring tools that mesh well with the publisher’s production tools and strategies
represent the interests of authors in relevant legal, technical, and professional battles (over fair use, for example, or library practice with respect to the preservation of digital objects, or tenure for scholarship in electronic form)
participate (with authors, libraries, and user communities) in the evolution of new interface design (e.g., new textual conventions).
For their part, publishers will need scholars to:
accept some loss of autonomy
understand the economic and technical implications of their behavior as authors (including their use of copyrighted material, their ideas about really cool features, etc.)
understand (though perhaps not accept) the limitations of current technologies for electronic publishing
actively participate in the design of information systems, analytical tools, and user interfaces
actively seek subvention from university, government, and private sources
lobby university libraries and administrators to support author-friendly economic, technical, and legal strategies proposed by publishers
By way of illustrating the new relationship that needs to develop between scholars and publishers, let me leave you with a snippet of a recent email exchange between Jerome McGann, who is in the final stages of producing the first published version of a massive electronic scholarly edition, and a young woman named Chris Powell, who works in the University of Michigan Library as part of John Price-Wilkins’ Digital Libraries Production Service. In this email exchange, Chris and Jerry are hammering out the issues involved in producing rule-governed procedures for transforming Jerry’s SGML data (marked up in the Rossetti Archive DTD) into HTML for web browsers: this particular excerpt records an iterative process of identifying and correcting a small problem in the design of the edition’s appearance to a user, with Jerry’s report of a problem followed by Chris’s initial response (in italics), followed by Jerry’s response, followed by Chris’s (in italics again)
What it shows, I think, is that inventing a new mode of scholarly publishing requires, above all, an informed and intensive collaboration between scholar and scholarly publisher: