SHARP 2015: Generations and Regenerations of the Book

Montreal 7 – 10 July 2015

SHARP 2015 was a bilingual conference hosted by the Groupe de recherches et d’études sur le livre au Québec, the University of Sherbrooke, McGill University and the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. The conference included lectures, keynote addresses, a digital projects showcase, roundtables, lightning papers presented by doctoral students, a poster exhibition featuring the work of master’s students as well as workshops. Over 350 people attended the conference, which was held in three locations over four days. Nick Canty writes this conference report.

SHARP_July2015_2

Credit: Mel Ramdarshan Bold.

The theme of the conference – Generations and Regenerations of the Book – was highly appropriate to discuss in a round table the future of the academic book. The round table consisted of Nick Canty, UCL, Christoph Blasi, Gutenberg University Mainz, Claire Squires, Stirling University and Siobhan McMenemy, University of Toronto Press. The event was chaired by Alexis Weedon from the University of Bedfordshire. Each participant briefly addressed the topic. Nick Canty outlined the AHRC Academic Book of the Future project, Claire Squires asked how SHARP could consider the question and where the topic sits in the context of Book History before addressing the definitions – what is a book, what should we consider an academic book and how what timeframe should we consider for the future. Siobhan McMenemy set out the publisher perspective with a focus on costs, monograph print runs and commercial imperatives with a sobering thought that a monograph in Canada costs C$ 32,000 to produce. Christoph Blasi saw the topic from two perspectives; bottom up driven by technological advances and the ability for content to be manipulated and distributed in radical grass-roots ways, and top down driven by institutional requirements – such as the UK REF. While we cannot know what the future holds there are some reformist top-down approaches in universities.

The debate was then opened up to the floor and started with a discussion around predatory publishers of the sort found on Beale’s List which try to hoodwink naïve researchers wanting to get their work published. This sort of publishing activity however should be seen as a symptom of the environment and not the cause. There was however a recognition that there needed to be a value shift and a questioning of whether the monograph was appropriate for all disciplines and in particular emerging disciplines – does the monograph give more authority to these as the discipline builds its infrastructure and seeks academic recognition? There are questions here around legitimacy and innovation which have yet to be resolved. Early career researchers may consider publishing a monograph from their PhD but they may achieve more visibility by publishing papers in a journal instead.

The question of funding and money was addressed which was seen as a significant issue for Arts & Humanities disciplines where the cost of Open Access books is prohibitive. Publishers are certainly experimenting with new business models such as the University of California Press community business model which a member of the audience saw as a possible solution here although this initiative is currently funded by the Mellon Foundation only for a limited period. A further suggestion was that university presses might alleviate competition by honing their publishing lists so they (the publishers) are unique. This route is being actively pursued by the Association of Spanish University Presses which is encouraging its members to specialise by discipline. The University of Toronto Press expect Open Access models to reduce profits by 50%.

The functionality of print and digital books was debated at some length with some members of the audience disliking Ebooks which were seen as less easy to navigate than paper despite innovations from publishers allowing users to annotate the content. This led on to a discussion around whether we are witnessing the slow demise of the library as a space for learning and whether students and universities needed a physical space any longer. The University of Toronto built a new library but has changed the name to a student learning space and provides limited access to print books. Ebooks should enable a convergence of content and pedagogy through virtual learning environments although this presents challenges for publishers who risk their business models changing from institutional sales to libraries to selling to the individual student.

The round table concluded with an acknowledgement that the future of the academic book will be shaped by discipline and technology but we are likely to exist in a hybrid print and digital world for the foreseeable future, and at least until there is an institutional recognition of content taking novel and innovative forms.

While the round table finished, the debate continues and follow-up activities will include blog posts for the Academic book of the Future website and a post by forum chair Alexis Weedon. The discussion will be taken forward through numerous and varied activities as part of the AHRC project and specifically during Academic Book Week, 9-16 November 2015.

Academic Book Week aims to encourage discussion around the future of the academic book while looking at how scholarly work in the arts and humanities will be produced and read in coming years. The week will see academic books discussed, showcased and even written across a number of events – notably a launch event with academic publishers at Stationers Hall in London on Monday 9 November and the Opening Up the Book Debate with Kathryn Sutherland, University of Oxford and Marilyn Deegan, King’s College London, while the British Library will host an academic book showcase ceremony and Palgrave Macmillan put the writing of an academic book into practice with a faster publishing model aiming to publish a book in a month.

Through The Academic Book of the Future project the opinions of all those who read, write, sell, produce and use academic books can be heard and the topic will be discussed at the next SHARP conference in Paris in 2016, an issue Claire Squires was keen to see addressed and saw as an issue central to the mission of SHARP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Towards an Ethics of Circulation: A Manifesto in Tweets

On 19 June 2015 a group of anthropologists and ethnographers met at RMIT Europe in Barcelona to discuss The Academic Book of the Future project. The aim of the workshop was to situate the future of the book in the context of broader anthropological engagements with how knowledge circulates, the form knowledge takes, and the ethical questions that these engagements raise. What follows is a series of principles designed to engage with the Project, composed by the anthropologists and ethnographers that took part in the workshop: it is their manifesto (with a twist).

The principles are written for Twitter-friendly dissemination (under 140-characters) in order to maximise their circulation and impact within the world of publishing and academia. Our manifesto highlights our dissatisfaction with the contemporary climate in the UK (and other national contexts) for Open Access, and acknowledges the limitations and closed nature of many of our conversations about the circulation of academic texts, which all too often do not really take into account our obligations to readers. In an era of ‘Impact’, we seek to re-centre our focus upon engaging in conversations with the people we work with, the public and other academics, challenging assumptions about why they may not be understood as one and the same.

  1. UK defined Gold+Green #OA support the status quo of commercial publishing. Both are inadequate responses to our ethical responsibilities.

  1. Readers matter most! Who are our readers? Who should be our readers?

  1. Do not fetishise the digital. We need a mixed media ecology in order to disseminate our work smartly.

  1. Practice Slow Publishing. The academic book’s greatest threat is denial of the time it takes to produce truly insightful and enduring work.

  1. Dismantle the academy’s fetish for individual authorship in favour of a recognition of the value of collaboration across all levels.

  1. Metrics cannot measure our full value. We also need to acknowledge value through ethical and human principles.

  1. A publication is not simply a closed and bounded object or commodity. It lives on and proceeds into an uncertain world.

 

signed Haidy Geismar (@haidygeismar), Heather Horst (@hahhh), Daniel Miller (@DannyAnth), Sarah Pink (@pinkydigital), Mary Murrell (@M_Murrell), Elisenda Ardevol (@Mediacciones), and Christiane Brosius.

 

This manifesto is intended to be thought-provoking, and to prompt further conversation. Do you agree or disagree with any parts of it, or have any questions? Get in touch!

 

The full programme, along with abstracts and speaker bios from the workshop are available here.

 

 

Project Activity Snapshot: July 2015

As the 2014/15 academic year draws to a close, conference season has played out in its usual wild frenzy of networking and inspirational talks, and preparations begin for the 2015/16 academic year, the Project has decided to take stock. A huge amount of activity and planning has taken place already, thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of our Community Coalition, Project Partners, and of course the core Project Team – and this post celebrates all that has happened, and looks forward to what is still to come.

So, to date…

The Project has engaged with:

  • 15 publishers
  • 12 libraries
  • 24 academic institutions in the UK
  • 10 academic institutions outside the UK
  • 3 booksellers
  • 24 organisations and societies
  • 95 individual collaborators

The Project Team has also:

  • attended 19 events
  • given 12 talks
  • initiated 55 events and mini-projects
  • published 16 blog posts
  • gained 571 Twitter followers
  • had 173 Facebook ‘likes’

Project activity has extended across several countries, including:

  • UK
  • Japan
  • USA
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Sudan
  • The Netherlands

The Project has also launched a special website, to promote and celebrate all the wonderful events happening across the UK and internationally during Academic Book Week (9-16 November): http://acbookweek.com/

A huge THANK YOU to everyone in our Community Coalition, our Project Partners, and the AHRC for the enthusiasm, support, and collaboration so far – we look forward to continuing to work with you all!

 

All figures correct as of 29/07/15.

By the Book 2, Florence 18-19 June 2015: conference report

Project Team member Nick Canty (UCL) recently spoke at the two-day By the Book conference in Florence. This post is a brief report on the conference and some of the major themes and issues that emerged.

The overarching theme for this two-day conference was ‘Books and reading in an age of media overload’ – a big subject. We were fortunate the event was held in the rarefied location of the Villa Finaly outside Florence, which since 1953 has been owned by the 13 institutions which comprise the universities of Paris – this place is no stranger to big ideas.

Villa Finaly, Florence

Villa Finaly, Florence

The conference brought together scholars from the field of publishing studies to examine key issues around the digital transformation of the book, as well as to discuss the developing field of publishing studies. In total, 14 countries were represented, an increase on last year when the conference was first held.

The conference started with the evolution and transformation of reading with three presentations looking at cross-media storytelling and screen reading practices which suggested that the pdf has established itself as an influential format with its own sets of references and screen reading habits and will be likely to influence future devices and reading habits. This, it was argued, is because we see the connection to paper from the pdf. The final session was an analysis of student book-buying practices, which suggested students take little notice of reading lists and recommendations from academics, at least in Nanking, Pisa and Zadar. Of the three countries surveyed Chinese students were far more likely to be reading on smartphones.

Staying with the book, a later session considered the book as a dissemination machine with talks on design in digital textbooks, ebook trends in Poland and software as amplified content raising the question about whether software can be considered publishing. As with all large questions this defied any easy answers.

The session on scholarly publishing had three perspectives – one looking at the use of ebooks in Swedish academic libraries; a talk by Sally Hughes from Oxford Brookes University on how the Met Museum in New York had repurposed their back catalogue to create a free online resource; and a talk from Elsevier on value and exchange in scholarly publishing interactions, referencing John Thompson’s arguments around capital and value and supply chains in publishing.

Two papers specifically addressed editing. Susan Greenberg from Roehampton University talked about the poetics of editing with her definition of editing as a decision-making process – selecting, shaping and linking content – delivering the meaning of a work to its audience, and the art of seeing text as if it is not yet finished. As was pointed out, given the conference setting, this is rather like seeing the statue of David from a block of marble. Dr Greenberg argued that there were many studies which portrayed editors in a negative light, particularly in the 1940s concept as the gatekeeper, a concept now challenged as new media can democratise the field. Katherine Reeve from Bath Spa University made a powerful case for using editors better in publishing companies as they often offer the best ideas to promote and develop content – but they need to be given the opportunity to develop new skills. This was reinforced by Frania Hall from London College of Communication who discussed a recent survey with publishers in the UK which indicated that the editorial function is getting the least attention when looking at digital change.

I gave a paper on book culture, considering books in social spaces – particularly on YouTube – and how vloggers are being picked up by publishers with varying degrees of success. UCL’s Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold’s analysis of authors on WattPad asserted we are far from witnessing the death of the author and as pointed out by Professor Alexis Weedon from the University of Bedfordshire there is space to examine author brands as part of celebrity studies.

As with every conference on publishing, the issue of definitions reared its head. Zoran Velagic talked about the problems of definitions and how traditional methods to understand publishing (functional or linear chains as articulated by John Thompson) are redundant in the digital era. He suggested instead four new approaches: media-oriented – looking at what a book does to society; an author perspective – particularly because of the increase in self-publishing; a content view, which considers network participation and asks how capital can be maximised from content; and lastly a producer orientated approach, which looks at the author and content.

Claudio Piers Franco from the University of Bedfordshire introduced us to the concept of the ‘gamebook’ and to what extent different media formats have what might be considered ‘bookness’ in them, and considered the book as a social space, influenced by bloggers coming together in a shared space.

One interesting point to note is that despite various technological developments, the term ‘book’ persists.

 

Full programme from the 2015 conference available here:

http://publishing.brookes.ac.uk/resources/By_the_Book2_-_Programme_15_June_2015.pdf

 

Next year’s By the Book conference theme is audience development.