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On the Future of Academic Publishing

Dorothea Salo and Timothy Burke have both turned their sights on the state of academic journal publishing, arguing, in slightly different veins, that the move to electronic delivery of such journals is the most affordable, equitable, and just plain sensible model for publication into the future. I wholeheartedly agree.

What I’d like to turn to, though, is a topic that Matt and I briefly encountered a while back: the future of the academic monograph. While the economics of journal publication have clearly been nonsensical for some time, and while, as Tim rightly points out, shorter texts (such as articles) lend themselves more easily to electronic delivery, because they’re more likely to be read on-screen, we nonetheless have reached a crisis point in academic book publishing as well, at least within the humanities. The choice, it seems to me, is to remain tethered to a dying system or to move forward into a mode of publishing and distribution that will remain economically and intellectually supportable into the future.

That future mode of publishing must of necessity include some form of electronic distribution. But what form? Should academic presses move to a print-on-demand model of publication? Or should they think more radically about an all-electronic mode, in which full-length texts are made available in formats that are portable, readable on-screen, and printable by the user?

Or, most riskily, perhaps, is there a means of escaping the academic-press model of publication entirely, moving to some new system of peer-review and manuscript-editing that sheds the antiquated structures of press bureaucracy and economics in favor of an open-source, communal mode of intellectual discovery?

If this last, how might we in the humanities set about creating such a system? The move toward online journal publication began in the sciences, where the crisis first manifested; the move toward a new system of monograph publication must begin with those whose careers are most built around the monograph. Unfortunately, we’re (stereotypically, at least) also the most likely to work within the old system rather than imagining — and setting about creating — something technologically and structurally new.

This is a project that I’d very much like to work toward, for reasons both professional and personal. I’d ask that anyone with ideas — and particularly anyone interested in working on transforming such ideas into a workable new publication model — comment here, or contact me.


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