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section heading icon     academic monographs

This page provides an introduction to the impact of the web on scholarly publishing, offering an overview of scholarly publishing as such before highlighting recent developments regarding monographs and digital theses.

It covers -

The following page discuss dissertation publishing and mass market book publishing.

section marker icon     introduction

Scholarly publishing is distinct from much ostensibly 'commercial' (ie mass-market publishing) with -

  • small markets for original monographs and dissertations (with editions of 500 to 3,000) in contrast to very large (and often quite lucrative) markets for secondary and undergraduate textbooks
  • the 'long tail' - today's bodice-ripper is forgotten (or pulped) tomorrow but demand for works of scholarship may continue for ten or fifty years, albeit often not satisfied by publishers
  • academic and professional institutions often treating a house 'press' as a status symbol or signifier of credibility
  • recruitment of academics reflecting an individual's publication record, encapsulated by the tag 'publish or perish'
  • survival, in places of the ethos that publishing is a vocation rather than a profession or merely an occupation
  • greater exploitation of remaindering compared to mass-market publishing
  • higher per item costs than works from mass-market publishers, attributable to small print runs, higher editorial standards, higher production standards (eg use of non-acid paper and bindings) and preparedness to take risks with works that are of merit but will not sell quickly

Contrary to hype about the death of the book, author or reader the demand for scholarly writing does not appear to have diminished over the past thirty years. However, the scholarly publishing business has been affected by -

  • struggles over acquisition priorities in libraries, with serials taking a greater proportion of the budget (attributable to the cost of scholarly journals outpacing inflation, as discussed in the following page of this guide, and the proliferation of journals)
  • financial pressure at the institution level, with removal of subsidies for 'marginal' activities
  • expectations among some individual consumers that they can defer purchase until an item is remaindered

That has resulted in

  • abandonment by some institutions of their presses
  • acquisition of some university presses by commercial publishers
  • merge and churn among commercial scholarly publishers, with the growth of groups such as and spin off of the academic arms of some conglomerates ( for example unloaded BertelsmannSpringer)
  • experimentation with print-on-demand (POD) technologies

section marker icon     overviews

Points of entry to the literature are Richard Ekman & Quandt's Technology & Scholarly Communication (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 1999), Kahin & Varian's Internet Publishing & Beyond: The Economics of Digital Information & Intellectual Property (Cambridge: MIT Press 2000), Robin Peek's Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier (Cambridge: MIT Press 1996) and the 2007 Ithaka report by Laura Brown, Rebecca Griffiths & Matthew Rascoff on University Publishing In A Digital Age.

Ekman and Quandt's 1999 book is the print version of the major 1997 conference under the auspices of the Andrew Mellon Foundation. It was complemented by a conference on The Specialized Scholarly Monograph In Crisis - How Do I Get Tenure If You Won't Publish My Book (SSMC) under the auspices of the Association of Research Libraries, Lindsay Waters' Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing & the Eclipse of Scholarship (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press 2004) and Richard Ohmann's Politics of Knowledge (Middletown: Wesleyan Uni Press 2003). The February 2001 report to the Humanities & Social Sciences Federation of Canada on The Credibility of Electronic Publishing offers a perspective from north of the border.

A concise response is provided in To Publish Or Perish, a 1998 Pew Symposium and other resources identified by the US Association of Research Libraries Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) and updated by the 1999 follow-up conference on New Challenges for Scholarly Communication in the Digital Era.

A European perspective appears in The Impact of Electronic Publishing on the Academic Community, the proceedings of a 1997 workshop organized by Academia Europaea and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Ann Okerson & James O'Donnell edited the interesting - if sometimes overly idiosyncratic - Scholarly Communications At The Crossroads: A Subversive Proposal For Electronic Publishing (SCC). O'Donnell is the author of the excellent Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1998).

Okerson's 1997 paper A Librarian's (Quick) View of Doing Business for Electronic Information; with thoughts about roles, relationships, issues is also worth reading and is more readily available.

Among government studies we recommend The Publishing of Electronic Scholarly Monographs & Textbooks, a detailed 1998 report by Christopher Armstrong & Ray Lonsdale for the UK Online Library Network. Scholarly Electronic Publishing In The Sciences & Humanities, a report from the University of Calgary, is significant for its examination of user responses to electronic publication.

Locally there's disappointingly little significant writing, once the hype is discounted. The Electronic Publishing Working Group of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee (AVCC) produced a set of reports - somewhat inward-looking - on Key Issues in Australian Electronic Publishing during 1995-96 and the National Scholarly Communications Forum has held a number of symposia, notably that in 1996 on The Future of Academic Publishing (FAP). 

There's more substance in The Changing World of Scholarly Communication: Challenges & Choices for Canada, the final report of the AUCC-CARL/ABRC Task Force on Academic Libraries & Scholarly Communication and Beyond Print: Scholarly Publishing & Communication in the Electronic Environment, the 1997 symposium at the University of Toronto.

In March 2000 the Association of American Universities and the Association of Research Libraries articulated Principles For Emerging Systems of Scholarly Publishing. They are complemented by Peter Noerr's Digital Library Tool Kit paper - a primer for development, management and distribution of digital content - and the Digital Library Standards from the Berkeley SunSite.

The next part of this guide highlights writings about costing and pricing academic electronic publications. It also points to material on licensing issues; the separate intellectual property guide and associated profiles consider particular licensing questions and proposals for streamlined rights clearance within academic institutions or for the mass market.

Charles Bailey's Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography online - recently updated - provides an outstanding introduction to North American research into academic EP. The University of California maintains the New Horizons in Scholarly Communication (NH) site. The Canadian Electronic Scholarly Network (CESN) site provides information on academic e-publishing initiatives, notably the Electronic Scholarly Publishing Promotion Project (ESP3).

The Journal of Electronic Publishing (JEP) and the digital library journals Ariadne and Dlib are excellent value.

section marker icon     monographs

We'll shortly be examining some of the Australian and overseas scholarly monograph e-publishing initiatives. 

One of the more interesting projects is the HistoryE-book project of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). Funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation (sponsors of the scholarly electronic publishing conferences noted later in this guide), it aims to provide electronic access - online, in CD-ROM and other digital formats - to the back catalogue of US scholarly presses.

It is taking place in conjunction with the American Historical Association's Gutenberg-e Prizes project, that will provide electronic access to new historical monographs. Both projects have been animated by Robert Darnton, whose perspective on electronic publishing is supplied in his recent essay A Historian of Books, Lost & Found in Cyberspace.

Among procedural and background studies we recommend An Architecture for Scholarly Publishing on the World Wide Web, the 1995 paper by Stuart Weibel, Eric Miller, Jean Godby & Ralph LeVan of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) - inventors of the Dublin Core metadata set - and Electronic Publishing Programs: Issues to Consider, a 1996 paper by Elizabeth Brown & Andrea Duda. Anat Hovav's 1997 paper Academic Electronic Publishing: Scenarios for 2007, considers possible futures.

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version of July 2007
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