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We’ve been discussing the future of e-books among ourselves at JEP, and are coming to the reluctant (at least to us, bibliophiles all) conclusion that with the advent of electronic publishing, a whole class of print books should be on its way out.
One of my colleagues says that book excerpts, chapters, and even many monographs would work fine as long articles. Another thinks that with the slicing and dicing most of us do in research, we tend to make our own books out of the material that interests us.
I find that many monographs are just a convenience, a series of ideas linked together, sometimes somewhat tenuously, sometimes raggedly, by the convention of "book" — the printing and sale of a collection of ideas. Many of those books bring to mind one of those famous lines, repeated in various fashions by people like Thoreau, Pascal, and Nietzsche, about how if you have more time you can write shorter. How many ideas need book-length treatment? How many could be long theses, tractates, or essays, but are pushed to 200-400 pages because publishers have a problem selling "slim" volumes?
Perhaps e-books are the harbinger of fewer books. If a publisher can sell two "themes" in a collection of "e-books" rather than one "book," might not that collection seem more important, and therefore more valuable?
When an issue of JEP provokes such thinking, I think it’s a winner. I expect you will, too. Here’s a rundown of what you will find in Volume 10, issue 3 of The Journal of Electronic Publishing.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s New (Social) Structures for New (Networked) Texts makes the point that electronic publishing is fundamentally a social process, which takes it miles from the paper publishing that she says creates the “bookness of the book.” It’s an intriguing thesis, and one that is explored from different directions.
One of those explorers is John Dawson, a professor at the University of Guelph. In Electronic Publishing as Course Content, he explains how he devotes part of his Protein and Nucleic Acid Structure course to giving undergraduates an idea of what it is like to publish in the electronic environment. For Dawson’s students, the scientific process has a strong communication element—and it’s been an eye-opener for them. Not surprisingly, it is the process of publishing electronically, and not the writing itself, that seems to most intrigue students. There may be a message here.
Students in journalism schools also need to understand e-publishing, and Rick Musser and Staci Martin-Wolfe have found that a blog-publishing package allows them to teach the fine points of writing, reporting, and communicating on line, again with a strong interactive element. They describe their approach in Blogs as a Student Content Management System.
In their literature review, Lynn Silipigni Connaway and Heather L. Wicht attempt to answer the question What Happened to the E-Book Revolution? Their exposition of how e-books have fared in library collections show that the acceptance has been more gradual than many predicted. I wonder if that is because “books” are something else when they are electronic.
Mark Sandler, Kim Armstrong, and Bob Nardini probe that same question from the point of view of the market factors that influence the adoption of e-books in Market Formation for E-Books: Diffusion, Confusion or Delusion?, and conclude, in part, that the merchandise and the medium are not yet well matched.
Perhaps, writes Matthew Mayernik, it’s because we haven’t adequately exploited the possibilities of e-publishing. He looks at what journals have done to exploit the electronic environment—and concludes in Electronic Features in e-Journals that it’s not much.
In Redefining Scholarly Publishing as a Service Industry, Paul Peters says perhaps we’re going about it backwards. He suggests that publishers should be selling to authors the editing, publication, promotion, and distribution of their articles, and giving the product away free electronically.
Finally, our own John Cords reviews two books on Google, The Google Story, by David Vise and Mark Malseed, and Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge, by Jean-Noël Jeanneney, and concludes that the truth about this 9-year-old phenomenon is probably somewhere in between. See his Review for a trenchant analysis and insight into how the founders of Google have gotten to the point where they are affecting the future of the book.