Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Print is dead

The University of Michigan Press (my publisher!) is going digital. In two years, they'll be primarily publishing their books in electronic format, viewable on Kindle or iPhone.

I really wonder what this means for academia. I'm guessing a lot of other major academic publishers will follow suit. Print books are terribly expensive to produce. I have a hard time imagining myself reading electronic books the same way I read print ones. But maybe it's easier for today's college students, or the kids who will be college students ten years from now. After all, you can use a Kindle or an iPhone on an exercise bike, or on a bus, or on the toilet... pretty much any place you'd read a print book. But it's a little tougher to writes notes in the margin.

Also, will a tenure review committee look upon a University of Michigan-approved PDF file the same way they look upon a printed text? In theory, it's the same gatekeeper, the same hurdle. But maybe it feels different.

And maybe it's not the same gatekeeper. University publishers limit the amount of stuff they publish in part to maintain the value of their press. Cambridge is a prominent publishing house precisely because they don't publish everything that comes across their desk. But if the costs of printing (derived from purchasing and binding cloth paper) drop dramatically, do they start publishing more? If so, how many books will junior scholars have to publish to get tenure?


Lidzville said...

I strongly suspect that it means your scholarship will get read more widely, and the acquisition power of editors will fall while the editorial power of readers will rise, broadening the marketplace of ideas. Also your students will have more money to spend on beer.

Robert said...

I gotta disagree with that. With all due respect to academics everywhere, I doubt that the barrier to wider circulation of monographs is price. The academic audience that is interested can often get review copies for free, and those outside the academic audience just aren't interested in the material at any price.

I nevertheless agree that more electronic publication will broaden the amount of material that is available, which is to the good (though it also means that there will be that much more dross to plow through).

Kim Dionne said...

When it comes to academic work, I prefer to read on-screen. Thanks to Skim, I can notate and highlight and underline -- and it saves all such markings. Whenever I want to look something up, I simply use a keyword search in Spotlight, which will bring up any relevant notations.

So... I think I'll wait until the digital version of your book comes out. Or I'll rely on the old dissertation PDF to which I've made some notations. ;)

Seth said...

Skim looks cool, Kim. Thanks for the tip!