Rice University Press, which went out of business a decade ago, is relaunching as an all-electronic entity, combining free web delivery with fee-based download and print-on-demand. Many of the exciting new features of this venture–including the ability of authors to revise published texts, the possibility of creating links amongst texts, and the creation of space for discussion between authors and readers–are very much in line with the project we’ve been working on. Rice plans, however, to “solicit and edit manuscripts the old-fashioned way,” which strikes me as a very cautious maneuver, one that suggests that the change of venue involved in moving the press online may not be enough to really revolutionize academic publishing. After all, if Rice UP was crushed by its financial losses last time around, can the same basic structure–except with far shorter print runs–save it this time out?
I’m excited to see what Rice produces, and quite hopeful that other university presses will follow in their footsteps. I still believe, however, that it’s going to take a much riskier, much more radical revisioning of what scholarly publishing is all about in order to keep such presses alive in the years to come.