Latest wrinkles in academic publishing: MediaCommons and reborn Rice University Press

Univerity of ChicagoMany in academia are still trogs when it comes to electronic publishing. They may do one or more of the following:

  • Try to minimize the importance of e-pubs--disdaining even reputable peer-reviewed publications if they are only digital. No tenure for you, buddy, if you don't publish often enough on dead trees.
  • Avoid going digital, even if it might be one way for scholarly journals and other academic publications to reduce costs at a time when too many are trimming back or folding for economic reasons.
  • E-publish badly--for example, without enough interactivity.
With the above thoughts in mind, let's hope that MediaCommons, from the Institute for the Future of the Book, can help. MediaCommons will offer "electronic 'monographs'" in the vein of GAM3R 7H30RY, "electronic 'casebooks' with many authors writing on the same subject, e-journals on interrelated subjects, electronic reference wikis from credible experts, and e-forums where ideas can blossom and perhaps end up in more formal settings. It will be interesting to see what uses the project makes of the Sophie writing-and-publishing platform, now due "for a soft public launch in September for anyone who wants to download and use it." Meanwhile Rice University Press, shut down in '96, is reincarnating itself as an e-book-and-POD publisher, using the Connexions platform. Will other cash-strapped university presses follow? Excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

Rice University in Houston will today announce plans to relaunch its Rice University Press — a money-losing venture that went out of business 10 years ago — under a new all-digital model. Although the new press will solicit and edit manuscripts the old-fashioned way, it won’t produce traditional books. The publishing house will instead post works online at a new Web site, where people can read a full copy of the book free. They can also order a regular, bound copy from an on-demand printer, at a cost far less than picking up the book in a store.

“Our overriding mission is to make this scholarship available for free,” says Joey King, executive director of Connexions, the Rice Web-publishing platform that will serve as the new press’s backbone. The nonprofit Connexions, founded in 1999 by a Rice engineering professor, offers free downloadable educational course materials on everything from electrical engineering to music theory.

Rice’s move comes as many book publishers struggle to adapt their business models to the Internet. Some university publishers — which operate under particularly tough conditions, since many titles appeal only to niche audiences — have stopped traditional printing altogether in favor of digital, “short-run” printing, says Peter Givler, executive director of the 129-member Association of American University Presses. That means academic publishers can more easily order small quantities of books and not commit to large press runs.

Related: Ars Technia post on MediaCommons–along with some interesting comments, including the inevitable ones on the peer review issue. Also–if:book’s take on the Rice project.

2 Comments on Latest wrinkles in academic publishing: MediaCommons and reborn Rice University Press

  1. Except of course that h-net http://www.h-net.org has been doing all this for years except of course the publishing side. Funny how they’re not mentioned but then again they’re very old Internet technology mailing lists and the like.

    How exactly is the print On Demand any better? After all the average academic run does sell out. It’s not like the print OnDemand titles are priced any cheaper for the institution.

  2. Many thanks for your note. No grassy knolls here. Hi-net wasn’t on my mind when I did the post, and I’m delighted you broached the topic. I dropped by H-Net and saw that despite some mission overlap with MediaCommons, there are major differences in the technology and media used. No, H-Het isn’t doing publishing of the kind planned for MediaCommons.

    As for POD vs. nonPOD (the Rice project of course will offer a POD option), a lot of people seem to have concluded that POD is appropriate in many situations–especially given all the uncertainties of regular publishing. That’s one debate I’ll let others fight.

    Speaking of the P word, if H-Net wants to publish interactive books, it would do well to check out OpenReader and dotReader, in both of which I’m involved.

    Meanwhile I’ll repro below some basics on H-Het. From afar, it looks like a rather valuable effort.

    Thanks,
    David

    An international consortium of scholars and teachers, H-Net creates and coordinates Internet networks with the common objective of advancing teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. H-Net is committed to pioneering the use of new communication technology to facilitate the free exchange of academic ideas and scholarly resources.

    Among H-Net’s most important activities is its sponsorship of over 100 free electronic, interactive newsletters (“lists”) edited by scholars in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and the Pacific.

    Subscribers and editors communicate through electronic mail messages sent to the group. These messages can be saved, discarded, downloaded to a local computer, copied, printed out, or relayed to someone else. Otherwise, the lists are all public, and can be quoted and cited with proper attribution. The lists are connected to their own sites on the World Wide Web, that store discussion threads, important documents, and links to related sites on the web.

    H-Net lists reach over 100,000 subscribers in more than 90 countries. Subscriptions are screened by the list’s editors to promote a diverse readership dedicated to friendly, productive, scholarly communications. Each list publishes between 15 and 60 messages a week. Subscription applications are solicited from scholars, teachers, professors, researchers, graduate students, journalists, librarians and archivists.

    Each network has its own “personality,” is edited by a team of scholars, and has a board of editors; most are cosponsored by a professional society. The editors control the flow of messages, commission reviews, and reject flames and items unsuitable for a scholarly discussion group.

    The goals of H-Net lists are to enable scholars to easily communicate current research and teaching interests; to discuss new approaches, methods and tools of analysis; to share information on electronic databases; and to test new ideas and share comments on the literature in their fields.

    An international consortium of scholars and teachers, H-Net creates and coordinates Internet networks with the common objective of advancing teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. H-Net is committed to pioneering the use of new communication technology to facilitate the free exchange of academic ideas and scholarly resources.

    Among H-Net’s most important activities is its sponsorship of over 100 free electronic, interactive newsletters (“lists”) edited by scholars in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and the Pacific.

    Subscribers and editors communicate through electronic mail messages sent to the group. These messages can be saved, discarded, downloaded to a local computer, copied, printed out, or relayed to someone else. Otherwise, the lists are all public, and can be quoted and cited with proper attribution. The lists are connected to their own sites on the World Wide Web, that store discussion threads, important documents, and links to related sites on the web.

    H-Net lists reach over 100,000 subscribers in more than 90 countries. Subscriptions are screened by the list’s editors to promote a diverse readership dedicated to friendly, productive, scholarly communications. Each list publishes between 15 and 60 messages a week. Subscription applications are solicited from scholars, teachers, professors, researchers, graduate students, journalists, librarians and archivists.

    Each network has its own “personality,” is edited by a team of scholars, and has a board of editors; most are cosponsored by a professional society. The editors control the flow of messages, commission reviews, and reject flames and items unsuitable for a scholarly discussion group.

    The goals of H-Net lists are to enable scholars to easily communicate current research and teaching interests; to discuss new approaches, methods and tools of analysis; to share information on electronic databases; and to test new ideas and share comments on the literature in their fields.

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