#AcBookWeek 2015: Publisher Workshop at Stationers Hall

To celebrate the recent announcement of the next Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017), we’re revisiting some highlights from last year’s #AcBookWeek! The first post considers the gathering of academic publishers at the historic Stationers Hall to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. There were 25 individuals representing seven academic publishers, all of which publish books in print and/or digital format. The participants were asked to work in groups and address some of the core questions first posed at the launch of The Academic Book of the Future project. Project co-investigator Nick Canty (UCL) reflects back on this event.

The questions and issues we put to the assembled publishers spanned three main areas, as follows:

 

1. Changes in the nature of research, the research environment and the research process

What do academic books do?

We started off by asking publishers for their views of what purposes they think academic books fulfil. Answers were varied, with some participants asking how we define which books relate to research and which are for reference. This point was picked up by another participant who argued that publishers’ categories (reference or textbook) don’t matter – what matters is the prestige of where you find your content and being providing with trusted credible content. There is a glut of information today with undergraduate students and researchers drawing on a broader pool of resources than in the past (including Wikipedia), which has partly been enabled by digital technologies, although it was questioned whether the structures were in place for interdisciplinary research.

Additional purposes for the academic book were offered, for instance: for academics to achieve tenure, or to publish their PhD thesis; while another participant observed that academic books are now required as a tool for metrics to help define impact, as well as working for libraries to gauge interest through bibliographic data. A more apt starting point might be to ask what the book is doing: proving a hypothesis, making an argument, or communicating an idea – but this doesn’t answer whether textbooks, reference, and professional books should be considered academic books, too. Our seemingly simple question clearly has several possible complex and multi-faceted answers.

 

What changes have taken place in the research environment?

Moving on, we looked at how research is changing in academia. This shook out some fascinating points. As well as comments about the REF (Research Excellence Framework), several participants mentioned the pressure to produce research outputs and the ‘need for speed’, which was pushing researchers to journals and away from books (presumably because of their longer production times). The pressure to publish quickly has had big changes on the production process and there has been advances on this side of publishing. However the sales cycle with library wholesalers hasn’t moved as quickly, and advance notice to market is still at least six months. As someone else said, the rate of change is quite slow.

Alternative ways of research were picked up, including real-time feedback and peer review, crowdfunding and the Knowledge Unlatched publishing model and a question about whether Amazon’s classifications are becoming more important – presumably for discoverability.

 

New forms of books

We wanted to find how books might change because of new technologies and Open Access (OA). There was agreement that OA is having the greatest influence on journals, with books following more slowly behind. Several participants remarked that OA and new media offer more opportunity for collaboration with peer-adopted books with extra resources such as data and video. Shorter book formats, such as Palgrave’s Pivot series, are also a response to a changing environment. New media might herald new virtual collections, such as chapters and articles which are led by XML and metrics, although other participants sounded a note of caution: books are still books and they are not changing – they are still driven by market demand and the activity of publishers is still the traditional model of print with some digital offerings.

There were observations that with booksellers increasingly resistant to stock niche books and the academic book more challenged in terms of sales it was hard to find books in bookstores now and they are mostly just in libraries, although book authors still want print copies. This reflects broader concerns about the visibility of books in brick and mortar stores as the online space expands.

 

2. How are the processes through which books are commissioned, approved or accepted, edited, produced, published, marketed, distributed, made accessible, and preserved changing, and what are the implications for the following?

Publishers

Needless to say this elicited lots of responses, with publishers seen as moving from B2B operations to B2C, and more functions outsourced to attempt to lower costs. While some participants didn’t think marketing had changed much over the last decade, others saw changes to staff recruitment as new skillsets are needed as consumer marketing becomes more important. Clearly there are differences between publishers here. There was a comment that nowadays publishers have to do more direct marketing and rely less on channel marketing.

Authors were seen as becoming more ‘savvy’, more demanding, and more knowledgeable on all aspects of publishing – but particularly in marketing, where for example, they understand the importance of Amazon profiles. However there was very little change to the commissioning process, which was still based on a conversation, a campus visit, or a meeting at a conference. Academics are therefore still ‘student intermediaries’. There is a need to make books available everywhere but it is difficult to push every channel and there is therefore more pressure on authors to help with marketing via their profile in academia. The publishing industry increasingly values media skills and as a consequence there is a convergence of academic and trade publishing at this point.

The publisher brand and the website are important but editors still need to actively reach out in the commissioning process. Editors need usage data to inform commissioning decisions but they aren’t getting this at the moment.

In terms of the publishing process as well as new distribution formats (XML, video) reference works can published in stages with no single publication date, raising the question: what is ‘enough’ content to launch with? Finally, there was general agreement that while there are experiments with peer review it is ‘here to stay’ and ‘still central’ to academic publishing.

 

Aggregators

Pressures and tensions were noted here. These revolve around asking how sustainable the aggregator business model is, with publishers improving discoverability and free searches from Google. There is also tension in that libraries still want aggregators and value their services and small publishers need aggregators (‘in thrall to them’), but publishers are selling complete books – not bits of content. The situation is made more complicated by centralisation and mergers in the sector.

 

Booksellers

In addition to the points about booksellers above, participants noted the disappearance of campus bookstores and the emphasis on stocking high sales books rather than niche ones, therefore questioning the value of bookstores to publishers today.

 

Libraries 

The issue of preservation came through here, in addition to comments about squeezed library budgets (although new models such as just-in-time purchasing and PDA were mentioned as solutions). There was concern about what happens when publishers merge, and features of online access are no longer available with the new company (the example cited was in relation of viewing PDFs after a merger). Further concerns were that although libraries keep digital archives, what happens when formats change? This has implications for future access and preservation.

 

How might the relationships between the different kinds of agents in the publishing supply chain develop in the future?

The last question looked at the supply chain and how publishers and other intermediaries might work together in the future. Once again, some tensions were noted. Libraries are concerned about the power of aggregators, but they choose to work with them rather than with individual publishers. This makes it hard to resolve problems, as it is unclear who is ultimately responsible for problems: the aggregator or the publisher? One group suggested we need to ask what an intermediary is in the supply chain; can we consider the library as an aggregator today? Another group defined intermediaries as ‘anyone/thing that intervenes between point of production and point of use/reading.’

Publishers increasingly want direct access to end-user data from aggregators to drive usage to their online collections to improve renewals, but this desire to drive users to their sites puts them in conflict with aggregators, who provide little information to publishers. Open Access is a possible way to sidestep aggregators, but it then needs something like Amazon or Google for users to discover the books.

 

Conclusion

The workshop was an opportunity for the publishing industry to address some key issues the project has sought to address. While there were bound to be contradictions among participants, what came through were questions about the future role of aggregators in the supply chain, changes in the research environment and perhaps as a consequence, changes in how authors work with publishers, and changes in the way publishers operate. There was agreement however that the book, whether print or digital, was here to stay.

#AcBookWeek: Book sprints and collaborative ways of working

This guest post has been written by Dr Spencer Jordan (Assistant Professor in Creative Writing, University of Nottingham). Dr Jordan led a book sprint with ten students at the University of Nottingham during Academic Book Week (9-16 November 2015), which involved writing a book in just three days. The challenge was a huge success, and this post outlines the event itself, as well as some of the lessons learned, which have broader implications for thinking about the way we work as academics.
University of Nottingham book sprint
Could you write, edit and publish a book in three days? That was the challenge I set ten first-year School of English students at the University of Nottingham who applied to my open invitation. The challenge used the methodology of ‘book sprinting’, where a book is produced collaboratively over a very short period of time, normally between three or five days. In part the challenge was a practical examination of academic publishing, as part of Academic Book Week. But it was also a fantastic way for English students to immerse themselves in the real-life practicalities of book publishing.The event took place between the 9th and 11th November 2015. I acted as the facilitator but essentially everything was done by the students. It was decided early on that the book would be a student’s guide to starting university, a sort of rough guide to student life that would complement the existing, more official, documentation supplied by the University and UCAS. Interestingly, it was decided to include factual as well as creative responses, including poems and short stories as well as photographs taken by the students.

As you can imagine the three days involved lots of writing. Everything was done using Google Documents, so that all copy could be instantly shared and collaboratively edited from any networked computer. This saved an enormous amount of time and meant that the students could continue working well into the night, if they wanted to (which some did). By the end of day two we had over 25,000 words, as well as a variety of photographs, poems, and stories. Day three was where the students brought all this together into the final format of the document, placing case studies, student profiles and photographs alongside each section. A front cover was completed, with a name – ‘An Insider’s Guide to Starting University’ – aimed at students going through the very experiences that they had gone through themselves just months before. Harriet Williams was one of the students involved. Her interest in publishing and a desire to understand more about the process led her to volunteer. She said: “Taking part in the Book Sprint was the one of the best opportunities I could have had in my first year here at Nottingham. It was a brilliant way to meet like-minded people in order to write something meaningful and useful.”

The legacy of the book sprint isn’t just the book. It’s also the video that Eve Wood and Simon Barnett took over the three days and then edited. I think the video shows that the book sprint really did make an important contribution to The Academic Book of the Future. The students worked collaboratively, mainly online, using cloud computing. This allowed them to work 24/7, very often in different places. The students were able to make collaborative decisions, either face to face, or virtually. This meant that they were able to maximise their time, making as much use of the three days as possible. Sometimes as academics, particularly in the Arts and Humanities, we forget about collaboration. In my own work, collaboration has been laborious and difficult. And yet the benefits of collaborative working, particularly interdisciplinary work, can add a new dimension to our research. This synthesis comes not only through a shared academic interest but also through a willingness to engage with what might be called a collaborative methodology. I think the students have shown us the way here through the three-day Book Sprint, and I personally want to thank them.

The full video of the book sprint can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUABtFOnx74&feature=youtu.be

The Academic Book of the Future project would like to thank Dr Jordan, all of the students who took part in the book sprint, and Neil Smyth, for organising this wonderful activity for Academic Book Week.

#AcBookWeek: The Future of the English PhD

On 12 November 2015 a dozen PhD students working in literary and creative writing areas came together at De Montfort University, Leicester, in order to consider the future of the PhD in English from as many different angles as possible. This guest post, written by Richard Vytniorgu (English PhD candidate, DMU), captures the day’s main points of discussion.

The day asked: To which tune are English PhDs dancing? And whose?

The day asked: To which tune are English PhDs dancing? And whose?

During the one-day workshop, considerations of the English PhD included:

  1. Its place within the wider scope and roles of HE more generally in twenty-first-century society.
  2. Possibilities for more creative approaches to the writing of the thesis/output(s).
  3. The demands of REF (and potentially TEF) and further authorial activity in HE contexts, and how these affect the English PhD.
  4. What academic publishers are looking for in the academic (literary) book of the future.

In order to stimulate small-group discussions later in the day around these topics, we were joined by a number of academics or stakeholders in literary studies/ creative writing at HE level, who offered thought-provoking positioning pieces from their own perspectives and experiences.

Nicholas Maxwell (UCL) tackled the first issue from the perspective of his career-long mission to adjust the aims and methods of university-level inquiry. Drawing particularly on his two books, From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution for Science and the Humanities (1984, 2007) and How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World (2014), Maxwell reiterated the need for academia to shift from a knowledge-inquiry-based paradigm of learning to one of wisdom inquiry:

‘(a) to arrive at some kind of consensus as to what our most important problems of living are, and what we need to do about them, and at the same time (b) to carry on a sustained, lively, imaginative, and critical, intellectually responsible debate about these matters’.[i]

The essential shift here is from responsibility toward problems of knowledge to problems of living, while recognising that some problems of living are also problems of knowledge.

John Schad (Lancaster) went on to offer a précis of contemporary work on ‘creative criticism’ – a genre similar to creative nonfiction, but nevertheless distinctive as pertaining to literary study specifically. Schad admitted that it was difficult at present to adopt more creative instincts, approaches, and methods to the genre of literary criticism and scholarship. But by reading some of his own work, such as Someone Called Derrida: An Oxford Mystery (2007), he was able to demonstrate to an audience partly composed of creative writers who were also writing critical PhDs, how one could architect and execute that subjective presence so often felt in ‘creative criticism’.[ii]

After lunch the day moved in a more pragmatic direction by turning our attention to issues of REF and publishing. Ben Johnson (HEFCE) was unable to make it on the day, so we were very grateful to Deborah Cartmell (DMU), who stepped in to provide a concise summary of the REF and the general expectations for early career researchers, using her own experience at DMU to give some useful anecdotal reflections. Deborah was followed by Ben Doyle from Palgrave, who offered tips on publishing and turning the English PhD into a book. From Ben Johnson’s advice given in advance of the day and also from Ben Doyle’s talk, it was clear that those outside the academy are looking for more creative and innovative work that is somewhat loosened from the intense specificity and remoteness of some topics chosen for monographs.

The rest of the day was given over to small-group discussions, following a worksheet I devised in order to steer conversation around the four topic areas the day was devoted to. I collected the sheets at the close of day and I hope to publish a commentary on these proposals for action and areas of concern in the near future. This will be refracted through my own research into the wisdom quest and aesthetic experiences with literature, as a theory and ‘metaphorisation’ of literary study at HE level.

For the moment, the following were identified as issues worthy of further attention by students and academic staff alike:

  1. The necessity in practice to ‘re-write’ the PhD in order to publish it in book form.
  2. The lack of clarity surrounding creative writing and REF.
  3. The dearth of discussion on ‘English Education’ at PhD level: its qualities, aims, methods, outputs etc.
  4. The difficulties inherent in intense specialisation.

We are grateful to The Academic Book of the Future for supporting our discussions and for enabling us to invite speakers to assist these. The workshop-seminar was a refreshing departure from those glass-half-empty forecasts for the future of literary studies at HE level: the difficulties of proceeding in this line of work, etc. If I came away with one new conviction, it was probably confidence in the need to continually assess the status quo. As young academics it can be tempting to assent to the way things are simply because we assume we have no power to change things. But as one of my PhD subjects, the educator and theorist Louise Rosenblatt, continually asserted, this is the highroad to authoritarian regimes. Democracy invites us to collaborate when we lay aside our competitive natures; to be honest about our lived (rather than imagined) situations; to reject what seems to be anachronistic or harmful, to keep what nourishes and affirms, and to put forward proposals for change based on principles of mutual aid. We hope that in the future more PhD students in English will feel emboldened to question, and, eventually, to work for change from the starting point of their own lived situations.

 

The participants in the day were:

Hollie Johnson (University of Nottingham)

Jerome S. Wynter (University of Birmingham)

Becky Cullen (Nottingham Trent University)

Jo Dixon (Nottingham Trent University)

Lynda Clark (Nottingham Trent University)

Sean Donnelly (University of Birmingham)

Katie Hamilton (University of Nottingham)

Richard Vytniorgu (De Montfort University)

Emily Heathcote (University of Nottingham)

Richard Bromhall (Nottingham Trent University)

Hannah Murray (Nottingham University)

Martin Kratz (Manchester Metropolitan University)


 

[i] Nicholas Maxwell, How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World: The Urgent Need for an Academic Revolution (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2014), p. 17.

[ii] See Stephen Benson and Clare Connors (eds), Creative Criticism: An Anthology and Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014) for more discussion on this genre of writing.

#AcBookWeek: The Guadalajara International Book Fair (28 Nov-6 Dec 2015)

Simon_Mahony_2

Today’s guest post is by Simon Mahony (Department of Information Studies, UCL), who spoke about The Academic Book of the Future at the 2015 Guadalajara International Book Fair. This post is a brief summary of his talk.

I was very pleased to be invited by the British Council to take part in one of their Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico events and to speak in an academic panel at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) at the start of December. This is apparently the largest literary festival and most important publishing gathering in Latin America with the reputation of being the largest book fair in the world after Frankfurt. The title of the panel organised by the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Guadalajara was ‘The Challenges of Knowledge Production in Modern Societies’ and as part of the FIL there was plenty of excuse to showcase some of our publications.

Simon_Mahony_3

My talk ‘Reflections on knowledge production within the framework of UK academic institutions’ finished up with some slides about The Academic Book of the Future generously given to me by my colleague Samantha Rayner. This allowed me to go full circle in my talk about knowledge production and the academy as well as traditional versus new modes of production.

My talk started with the first Free Universities in the European Enlightenment period, with scholarship built on previous scholarship, and open discourse through the publication model – this being the cornerstone of Humanities scholarship. Moving through knowledge representation, I argued strongly for the Open Access movement with the modern university as a driver for this, particularly with the mandate for open publication of research output.

Simon_Mahony_4

I finished up with a showcase of some open UCL output including UCL Press and followed by The Academic Book of the Future project, more specifically the Palgrave Pivot publication of the same name, edited by Rebecca Lyons and Samantha Rayner. What is a Book Fair without some promotion and product placement?

Images of me, the panel, and the books (including this volume prominently placed on the desk!) were captured in video and stills and circulated by the University of Guadalajara, as well as on Twitter and other social media platforms.

I offered the two volumes generously donated by the authors to the University of Guadalajara library so the physical medium (and reputation of the authors and editors!) would have an immediate international and trans-continental impact factor. The FIL itself was definitely impressive and certainly lived up to its reputation as the biggest book fair in the world after Frankfurt: so many books and so many publishers.

 

#AcBookWeek: The Future of the Academic Book in the USA

On 16th November 2015 Brown University hosted a panel discussion as part of Academic Book Week. This post outlines the key issues raised during the debate.

Note: The video recording of the full discussion is available to watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vl7O7DUB__8&list=PL2PwShbFBf4Bk6AaDM2mGixpS_7TYasyT

Brown_AcBookWeek_event 

The discussion was moderated by Sheila Bonde, Brown University Professor and Chair of History of Art and Architecture and Professor of Archaeology and the Ancient World. The publishers and editors that participated in the panel discussion were 

  • Amy Brand, Director of the MIT Press
  • Anne Brackenbury, Executive Editor, Higher Education Division, University of Toronto Press
  • Robert Harington, Associate Executive Director for Publishing, American Mathematical Society
  • Sarah Lippincott, Program Director, Educopia Institute

Sheila Bonde introduced the questions up for discussion:

  • What is an academic book?
  • What is a digital book?
  • Who reads them?
  • How do we train scholars to write these “books of the future”?

The first respondent was Amy Brand, MIT Press. Brand stated that MIT Press has been at the forefront of digital publishing (mostly PDF and open access). The digital book, Brand argued, is more than an innovation of the print book, but rather adds to/builds on the foundation of the book – it does not supplant it

How do we juggle both print and digital? Brand suggested that a uniform model is being replaced by a multiplicity of models: publishers need to remain nimble and responsive to the needs of researchers and readers. We have an opportunity now to open up books to be seen in new ways – ‘permeable’, ‘altered’, ‘sculpted’. In terms of innovation, the University of Minnesota Press’ iterative publishing offers another form of ‘permeability’, with various new opportunities for readers to annotate texts.

Brand acknowledged that print books are still objects of desire – perhaps even more so now that there are other options. MIT does print and digital simultaneously, including open versions in response to author desires. So far, Brand stated, this seems to have helped sales. Online versions offer additional/supplementary and updatable materials.

Brand drew attention to other practical issues around the academic book in current contexts. For instance, the average publication cost of a digital monograph is around $30K. These costs are significant. The question of discoverability is also an important one: how do publishers make digital books more visible/accessible to readers? Linking chapters? Indexing? And how do we effectively evaluate scholarly online publications? Bookmetrix can track citations, downloads, readers, and mentions – is this a legitimizing tool? Amazon’s line-by-line payment to authors provides an opportunity for authors to see into reading behavior – should this count as we evaluate digital publications? There is a difference, however, between short-term and long-term uses of the book. Evaluations such as Bookmetrix are useful, but don’t pick up value that accrues after several years. Same for Amazon – they both measure what is being read now, but not what is being bought and read later. There are potentially unforeseen uses of knowledge that we can’t yet tap in to.

Brand finished with a closing question: how do we make sure content remains accessible?

The second panelist was Ann Brackenbury, University of Toronto (Higher Ed division). Brackenbury highlighted that much digital content is still static (such as PDFs). She asked: Why are we trying to change, despite the resilience of the book (as an object)?

The mission of the Higher Ed division at the University of Toronto is to bring scholarship and teaching together in a more productive relationship by, for example:

  • Creating websites
  • Publishing mostly small, case-study books
  • Creative non-fiction strategies

Brackenbury spoke about their new series/initiative: EthnoGRAPHIC, which is ethnography in a graphic illustrated novel form. The hybrid of linear text-based culture and visual culture in this series keys into the ways students take in information today. This hybridity, Brackenbury argued, requires complex decoding skills, but it also offers a theoretical and disciplinary challenge, too. It allows author/scholars to build rich worlds, characters, and locations. The value added is the creation of the narrative or story, and the ability to rewrite scholarly content for different audiences.

Brackenbury suggested that graphic novels, or comics, build communities around them. They are also useful for ‘showing’ (rather than just ‘telling’) a story, and mean that audiences can be extended through transmedia: telling a variety of stories across different channels. Importantly, she argued, combining traditional and new media approaches means building new connections, and she suggested that the academic book of the future is connected in a broader sphere via multimedia presentation formats and multiple incarnations.

The third speaker was Sarah Lippincott from the Library Publishing Coalition. Lippincott started with an explanation that the publishing landscape is diverse, including print and digital, and that the production of research is outstripping the capacity for publishing it. She also suggested that new forms of inquiry and understanding by authors and readers may change the way we engage with books, and that the most important element of the academic book of the future will be openness, meaning it is free to use, free to read, and free to remix. This openness, according to Lippincott, is both attainable and sustainable, and involves a re-imagining of the monograph as tied into—not separate from—the academy. This model, she argued, can work for the humanities; subsidizing monograph publishing up-front through the university.

Lippincott went on to further define what she means by the term ‘openness’:

  • It is diverse: reliance on the market forces certain choices that diminish access to certain types of scholarship, and open access eliminates this issue.
  • It is dynamic: openness enables new forms of inquiry and understanding – low barriers to entry open up the field.
  • It is impactful: researchers turn frequently to the web rather than the library catalogue. Open books are searchable, and possibly more broadly read.
  • It is accessible and preservable: open digital books are easily adapted for various needs, and can be preserved in ways that proprietary ebooks cannot.
  • It is aligned with the mission of the university: advocating open publishing promotes knowledge.

The final speaker was Robert Harrington of the American Mathematical Society (AMS). The AMS commits to keeping its books in print in perpetuity – in math disciplines older books are still studied, and Harrington argued, print is here to stay. However, regardless of form, we need to create relevant, high quality content.

Harrington broke down the academic monograph into several factors:

  • Culture: Books are as much of a process of exploration and discovery for authors as they are for readers
  • Form and Function
  • Delivery
  • Business Models

He also offered an argument against open access: if you publish on the basis of merit vs. market, then you have to define merit. Perhaps instead, he suggested, we need mixed economic/business models – and, he asked, isn’t applicability to the highest number of readers (market) one way to do that?

In addition to continuing with conventional monographic publishing, even in electronic form (PDF), AMS is experimenting with innovative digital features for readers and for authors, including:

  • Annotation
  • Working more with LaTeX and TeX as markup
  • Experimenting with Hypothes.is and Manifold Scholarship

 

The official debate ended there. The Academic Book of the Future Project would like to thank Brown for organizing and hosting this event, and would like the extend the debate to you: what do you think of the issues raised here? Let us know!

#AcBookWeek: Interdisciplinary Research and Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities

In today’s guest post, independent academic publisher Rowman & Littlefield International  reflects on the highlights that the publishing industry celebrated in 2015, and especially #AcBookWeek. 

Rowman and LittlefieldWhen the first Academic Book Week was first announced earlier this year, we were thrilled to be given the opportunity to raise awareness what we do every day: publishing interdisciplinary academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Academic publishing is traditionally divided up into strict segments according to what disciplines are taught by universities. As an interdisciplinary publisher, our aim is to bridge gaps between the disciplines and offer new insights based on a more inclusive, innovative approach, and Academic Book Week offered us the ideal opportunity to share these principles with the wider academic community. Our event ‘Interdisciplinary Research and Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities’ was initiated!

Martina O’Sullivan, our Senior Commissioning Editor in Cultural Studies, secured a fabulous panel of speakers who are published experts in the field of interdisciplinary research and publishing. They were joined by our Editorial Director, Sarah Campbell, to offer a broad range of perspectives on the topic. Our panel covered everything from some tips on how to get interdisciplinary work published, to alternative modes of research and publishing, right through to very practical advice for early career researchers.

The speakers were:

  • Sarah Campbell, Editorial Director, Rowman & Littlefield International
  • Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts, Coventry University
  • Laurence Hemming, Professor, Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University
  • Danielle Sands, Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Culture, Royal Holloway
  • David Chandler, Professor of International Relations, University of Westminster

All we needed was an event location, and thanks to Peter Garner, Library Liaison Manager, and the excellent team at the Maughan Library, King’s College, we had the opportunity to secure the prestigious Weston Room, a magnificent Grade II listed edifice which is part of King’s College.

Although our event was free, we asked attendees to register their interest via the AcBookWeek website. We were sold out of tickets the day before the event and so a crowd of interested current and future academic researchers and authors entered the gates of the Maughan Library on Tuesday, 10 November. After a brief introduction from Martina O’Sullivan, Sarah Campbell opened the panel session with her talk on getting interdisciplinary work published.

See the video recording of Sarah Campbell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRY0deRkdHE


 

“What is required is an opening towards non-knowledge”―Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts

Gary Hall, presenting on Alternative Modes of Academic Research and Publishing, focused his talk on the three keywords audience, book and interdisciplinarity, maintaining that the task of every writer should be to challenge pre-existing definitions in academic disciplines.

See the video recording of Gary Hall:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_Y551Es1Lk


 

“What is Interdisciplinary Research?”―Laurence Hemming

Laurence Hemming followed by asking: ‘What is Interdisciplinary Research?’ and pointed out that many publishers nowadays publish books in increasingly more narrow categories, likening the current situation of interdisciplinary research to a house without a heating system, thereby also stressing the importance of letting traditional phenomena speak for themselves, based on traditional knowledge of a discipline.

See the video recording of Laurence Hemming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY7szuOGhYU


 

“Tips for Early Career Researchers”―Danielle Sands

But how to go about it and where to start as an early career researcher? Danielle Sands’ engaging and useful lecture contained tips and advice for interdisciplinary researchers, including how to navigate one’s way through academic conferences and job adverts as an academic with an interdisciplinary approach.

See the video recording of Danielle Sands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wqJ5G_FChg


 

“The problems of the world call for interdisciplinarity”―David Chandler, Professor of International Relations

David Chandler rounded up the session with his lively panel about how interdisciplinary projects are perceived, and how they act in today’s academic world.

See the video recording of David Chandler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O89z-cn4x4


 

In the Q&A session that followed, our panellists answered a range of detailed questions from the audience, and the lively discussion continued until late into the evening with drinks and canapés. For us, it was a brilliant event which not only provided us with a chance to meet upcoming interdisciplinary scholars, but also an opportunity to listen to first-hand experiences of top academics who do interdisciplinary work; inspiring us to bring the ever-evolving academic book publishing process into its next age. A round-up of the event can be viewed alongside all other videos here.

We from Rowman & Littlefield International are sure that Academic Book Week will prove to be another highlight for us in 2016, and indeed become a regular highlight in the diary of every academic. For now, I would very much like to thank the organisers of Academic Book Week for providing us with a platform to create an event like this; our panellists and the Maughan Library again for making this stimulating event happen; and everyone who contributed with their attendance and questions. I hope to see you again next year!

 

 

#AcBookWeek: Ecologies of Publishing Futures

On the 23rd November 2015 The Royal College of Art hosted a symposium to discuss the Ecologies of Publishing Futures. The symposium asked ‘How do designers engage in new ecologies and what is the future of publishing?’ Academics, designers, storytellers, publishers, and students spoke about this from international perspectives and debated over the book and its lifecycle, as well as the role of writing, designing, and the processes of mediating, distributing, and reading.

Amongst the speakers was Andrew Prescott, Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow and an AHRC Digital Transformation theme Leadership Fellow. He spoke from the perspective of a medievalist who has spent great deal of time studying manuscripts and records (writing his PhD thesis on the record of the Peasant’s Revolt 1381). Throughout his research, Prescott stated he was struck by the need to understand the wealth of information as physical artefacts, as well as just reading them as manuscripts. This work inspired him to continue on as a curator at the British Library, where he was part of a digitisation project which used special lighting techniques to discover the hidden letters underneath the repaired manuscript of Beowulf – burnt in a fire in 1731 and repaired in the nineteenth century. (Note: The Beowulf manuscript has been in The British Library’s possession since 1973 and a digitised version is now available to browse on their website, along with some additional information, here:http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/beowulf)

Prescott spoke about how this work and his time at the British Library made him conscious of the hugely varied material forms of textuality. Historical documents can range from clay tablets to sound files and moving images, and, he argued, digital technology can help convey the wide-ranging nature of historical textuality. Digital technology also allows closer contact between libraries, archives, and museums. According to Prescott the important thing to take away from this is that dialogue with artists and designers is essential in articulating fresh perspectives on engagement with historical material. An example he cited was an art project by Fabio Antinori called Data Flags, which was exhibited at the V&A last year. He used conductive ink, which is often thought of as an analogue art form but can turn paper into circuits. Through other examples Prescott suggested that the textuality of art is always changing and shifting with the times and proved that the boundary between primary object, publication and interpretation is starting to be fundamentally restated. Prescott summed up his talk by ending on a somewhat cynical note: while all the possibilities he mentioned are there, people are bit taking advantage of them. His view is that the scholarly environment for an undergraduate today is less media-rich than it was forty years ago. Textbooks during his time as an undergraduate explored the potential of new printing methods, none of which have been followed through on.

Dan Franklin, Digital Publisher at Penguin Random House, had been given a brief to provide a provocation for the event on the state of digital publishing, so what he provided was a ‘where-we-are-now’ overview to provoke discussion and invite debate. He acknowledged the changes digital publishing is making to the publishing industry and talked about it from the perspective of someone who is in the midst of the shifting landscape.

Using an analogy of William Golding’s The Inheritors Franklin compared the plot of that novel, the collision of Neanderthal men and women with Homo sapiens, the people who would inherit the earth from them with the current state of the publishing industry. The analogy here being the moment of transition between print and digital, a short and historical moment of co-existence. And Franklin suggests that they can thrive with each other instead of being viewed as competitors. He recognises the urgency and potentially demoralising nature of change, but adds that it can also be exciting, depending on your viewpoint. As a digital publisher at Penguin Random House he motivates his team to explore the bleeding edges of this publishing transformation.

During this year Franklin stated he has seen some interesting and willful misinterpretations of what is happening in publishing. The fact of the matter is that 25%+ of publishers’ revenues are coming in via digital and that is not going to reverse. The “takeover” however, has not happened as quickly as people thought it would and Franklin states this is a testament to the formidable power of the printed book. Franklin is adamant that the word processor has not stopped writers continuing and developing the novel form so why should the innovation stop there? Franklin urges publishers to continue to be innovative with change and see what can come from it.

Professor Teal Triggs of the RCA stated that by talking about “ecologies” of the publishing industry, we can strive to understand the process of the lifecycle better and whether proposed models are going to be relevant. It’s important to look at the entire lifecycle, not just the editorial or author aspects but the design and distribution as well. Creative people think differently and their design thinking process can be a catalyst for forwar- thinking throughout the whole industry.

 

See Dan’s talk write-up here: https://medium.com/@PRHDigital/an-earthquake-in-the-petrified-forest-86f6ffa5c85d#.jpyxy6pmq

See Andrews’s talk write-up here: https://medium.com/digital-riffs/are-we-doomed-to-a-word-of-pdfs-11f57edaf926#.9r1w3lyh2

See twitter hashtag #bookfutures for more information about the symposium and other related events.

#AcBookWeek: Students and the digital edition. A polemic.

This post first appeared on the blog of the Institute of Historical Research on November 18, 2015. The Academic Book of the Future is reblogging it for the #AcBookWeek review with kind permission from IHR.


 

This post has kindly been provided for us by Dr Stephen Gregg of Bath Spa University, and is the text of a talk given to the panel session ‘Opening the book: reading and the evolving technology(ies) of the book’ as part of Academic Book Week.

I want to talk about the undergraduate perspective on a particular kind of academic book – the edition. In fact my starting point is that, from the student perspective (and according to some scholars), there is no longer a clear idea of what that is.

The place and perceived value of the printed critical edition seems to be still firmly established. I once asked my students to identify and compare value markers of their printed text in front of them and of an online version of the same text, and they made a pretty good case for the printed text, citing everything from the name of the publisher, to modes of reading, navigation, and interaction, and even pointing to the durability of its medium. And this in a digital humanities module. However, asking them to tell me how and why either of these versions look the way they do was a far more tricky question. So my polemic will be a plea for teaching in a way that puts students themselves in the position of editors and curators of literary texts: and that the best way of doing this is an engagement with digital editing and curating.

But first, I’m going to begin by outlining how a dramatic rise in the online availability of our literary heritage drives certain changes in reading and studying practices.[1] When a lot of academics are running to catch up with the accelerating process in disseminating the world’s literary heritage online – even in their own field, and I include myself – is it any wonder that our students, stepping off the path of the printed set text, also find themselves slightly taken aback and click on the top hit in Google? Because there is indeed a chaotic mass of types of texts they can find. In addition to catalogue entries and Amazon hits, there are texts from web sites and web ventures that essentially depend upon some form of commercial revenue or profit (e.g. Google, Luminarium, editions via Kindle, and even apps), non-profit web organisations (e.g. Project Gutenberg, Poemhunter, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust), nationally-supported or privately-endowed institutions (e.g. Folger digital texts, British Library Shakespeare Folios), University libraries (e.g. SCETI, Virginia, Adelaide, Bodleian), a whole host of academic projects (e.g. Rosetti Archive, EEBO-TCP, the Correspondence of William Godwin, the Walt Whitman Archive) and, of course, via institutionally-accessed and pay-walled commercial publishers (like Cengage or ProQuest). My essential point is that there is a blurring of the definition of the ‘edition’. What we see – for sometimes good reasons – are projects that describe themselves as digital archives, databases, digital library collections, social editions (like Transcribe Bentham), and apps (e.g. Touchpress’s The Wasteland). And texts that come via these platforms look, feel and function very differently.

Between the printed and digital text, there’s a two-way process happening. The easy and quick availability of texts online drives a certain kind of reading of printed editions which makes invisible ‘the history of their own making’ (D. F. McKenzie).[2] At the same time, undergraduates don’t often spot the distinction between the kinds of texts they find online and the one in their printed critical editions. This partly because they see only the text in their editions, and not the ‘edition’ (introduction, textual note, annotations, etc.): the actual edition becomes invisible. I don’t want to denigrate undergraduates’ skills and this isn’t entirely the students’ fault: it’s partly how English literary studies – at least in many seminar rooms – is still running with the idea of the literary text as an immaterial abstraction (despite the influence of various kinds of historicization). It’s this that renders invisible the processes that shape the form of the book in their hands. So I guess my rant is partly a plea for a serious consideration for the materiality of the book and a bigger role for the history of the book in English Studies.

But I’m also thinking about the lack of attention (at undergraduate level) paid to how editions and texts end up on the web in the ways they do. Formats vary hugely, from poorly catalogued page facsimiles, to unattributed HTML editing of dodgy nineteenth-century editions, to scholarly high-standard editing with XML/TEI encoding. But there are still plenty of these digital versions and collections that make it very difficult to see who these resources are for and how they got to look and function the way they do. And, as I’ve hinted at earlier, issues of format and accessibility are linked to how the various sites and projects are funded. In significant ways a lot of texts available digitally do much worse than the print edition at signalling ‘The history of their own making.’

So, the second half of my polemic is about how we should be making our students more aware of how the edition is remediated based on an understanding of the limits and affordances of digital technology and of how the internet works.[3] Because this is where digital technology can open their books in a vital way. I’ve found it intensely interesting that the digital humanities community has been using a variety of material and haptic metaphors to describe what it is they are doing – ‘making’ or ‘building.’[4] For me, this is wonderfully suggestive. In asking my students to understand the processes involved in transforming a material book into an printed edition and then a digital edition is a necessarily haptic experience. This experience – a process that involves decisions about audience, purpose, authority, and technological affordances and restraints – enables a student to understand their literary object of study in a vital and transformative way. It might seem odd that I’m emphasising materiality in a debate thinking through the effects of what is, ostensibly, an immaterial medium, but technology is material and digital editing should involve the material aspects of the book and material work. My undergraduate dissertation student is producing a digital edition of a work by Henry Fielding: she will be going to the British Library to see the source text as an essential part of her learning. In a few weeks time, my students will be building a digital scanner partly out of cardboard; after that even our training in digital markup will start with pencil and a printed sheet of paper.

So I’m arguing that we give students the opportunity to be academic editors of books, and not just in theory but in practice; to enable them to be creators and not merely consumers of texts, because the electronic editions of the future should be powered by an early and vital experience of digital making.

Notes to Students and the digital edition. A polemic.

[1] Leaving aside why there is an increasing use by undergraduates of online texts instead of printed ones in class – though I suspect it’s partly down to the increasing centrality of the mobile device as well as an expectation that everything is, or should be, freely accessible.

[2]D. F. McKenzie, quoted in Jerome McGann, ‘Coda. Why digital textual scholarship matters; or, philology in a new key,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, eds, Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 274-88 (p.274).

[3] I’m always reminded of internet hacktivist Aaron Swartz’s maxim: ‘It’s not OK not to understand the internet anymore.’

[4] Most notably Stephen Ramsay, On Building.

#AcBookWeek: The Academic Book of the Future: Evolution or Revolution?

 

This post reflects on one of the events that took place during Academic Book Week in Cambridge. A colloquium was the basis of multiple viewpoints airing thoughts on where the future of the academic book lies from perspectives of booksellers, librarians, and academics. 

During the week of the 9th November the CMT convened a one-day colloquium entitled ‘The Academic Book of the Future: Evolution or Revolution?’ The colloquium was part of Cambridge’s contribution to a host of events being held across the UK in celebration of the first ever Academic Book Week, which is itself an offshoot of the AHRC-funded ‘Academic Book of the Future’ project. The aim of that project is both to raise awareness of academic publishing and to explore how it might change in response to new digital technologies and changing academic cultures. We were delighted to have Samantha Rayner, the PI on the project, to introduce the event.

 

The first session kicked off with a talk from Rupert Gatti, Fellow in Economics at Trinity and one of the founders of Open Book Publishers, explaining ‘Why the Future is Open Access’. Gatti contrasted OA publishing with ‘legacy’ publishing and emphasized the different orders of magnitude of the audience for these models. Academic books published through the usual channels were, he contended, failing to reach 99% of their potential audience. They were also failing to take account of the possibilities opened up by digital media for embedding research materials and for turning the book  into an ongoing project rather than a finished article. The second speaker in this session, Alison Wood, a Mellon/Newton postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities in Cambridge, reflected on the relationship between academic publishing and the changing institutional structures of the university. She urged us to look for historical precedents to help us cope with current upheavals, and called in the historian Anthony Grafton to testify to the importance of intellectual communities and institutions to the seemingly solitary labour of the academic monograph. In Wood’s analysis, we need to draw upon our knowledge of the changing shape of the university as a collective (far more postdocs, far more adjunct teachers, far more globalization) when thinking about how academic publishing might develop. We can expect scholarly books of the future to take some unusual forms in response to shifting material circumstances.

 

The day was punctuated by a series of ‘views’ from different Cambridge institutions. The first was offered by David Robinson, the Managing Director of Heffers, which has been selling books in Cambridge since 1876. Robinson focused on the extraordinary difference between his earlier job, in a university campus bookshop, and his current role. In the former post, in the heyday of the course textbook, before the demise of the net book agreement and the rise of the internet, selling books had felt a little like ‘playing shops’. Now that the textbook era is over, bookshops are less tightly bound into the warp and weft of universities, and academic books are becoming less and less visible on the shelves even of a bookshop like Heffers. Robinson pointed to the ‘crossover’ book, the academic book that achieves a large readership, as a crucial category in the current bookselling landscape. He cited Thomas Piketty’s Capital as a recent example of the genre.

 

Our second panel was devoted to thinking about the ‘Academic Book of the Near-Future’, and our speakers offered a series of reflections on the current state of play. The first speaker, Samantha Rayner (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at UCL and ‘Academic Book of the Future’ PI) described the progress of the project to date. The first phase had involved starting conversations with numerous stakeholders at every point in the production process, to understand the nature of the systems in which the academic book is enmeshed. Rayner called attention to the volatility of the situation in which the project is unfolding—every new development in government higher education policy forces a rethink of possible futures. She also stressed the need for early-career scholars to receive training in the variety of publishing avenues that are open to them. Richard Fisher, former Managing Director of Academic Publishing at CUP, took up the baton with a talk about the ‘invisibles’ of traditional academic publishing—all the work that goes into making the reputation of an academic publisher that never gets seen by authors and readers. Those invisibles had in the past created certain kinds of stability—‘lines’ that libraries would need to subscribe to, periodicals whose names would be a byword for quality, reliable metadata for hard-pressed cataloguers. And the nature of these existing arrangements is having a powerful effect on the ways in which digital technology is (or is not) being adopted by particular publishing sectors. Peter Mandler, Professor of Modern Cultural History at Cambridge and President of the Royal Historical Society, began by singing the praises of the academic monograph; he saw considerable opportunities for evolutionary rather than revolutionary change in this format thanks to the move to digital. The threat to the monograph came, in his view, mostly from government-induced productivism. The scramble to publish for the REF as it is currently configured leads to a lower-quality product, and threatens to marginalize the book altogether. Danny Kingsley, Head of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge, discussed the failure of the academic community to embrace Open Access, and its unpreparedness for the imposition of OA by governments. She outlined Australian Open Access models that had given academic work a far greater impact, putting an end to the world in which intellectual prestige stood in inverse proportion to numbers of readers.

 

In the questions following this panel, some anxieties were aired about the extent to which the digital transition might encourage academic publishers to further devolve labour and costs to their authors, and to weaken processes of peer review. How can we ensure that any innovations bring us the best of academic life, rather than taking us on a race to the bottom? There was also discussion about the difficulties of tailoring Open Access to humanities disciplines that relied on images, given the current costs of digital licences; it was suggested that the use of lower-density (72 dpi) images might offer a way round the problem, but there was some vociferous dissent from this view.

 

After lunch, the University Librarian Anne Jarvis offered us ‘The View from the UL’. The remit of the UL, to safeguard the book’s past for future generations and to make it available to researchers, remains unchanged. But a great deal is changing. Readers no longer perceive the boundaries between different kinds of content (books, articles, websites), and the library is less concerned with drawing in readers and more concerned with pushing out content. The curation and preservation of digital materials, including materials that fall under the rules for legal deposit, has created a set of new challenges. Meanwhile the UL has been increasingly concerned about working with academics in order to understand how they are using old and new technologies in their day-to-day lives, and to ensure that it provides a service tailored to real rather than imagined needs.

 

The third panel session of the day brought together four academics from different humanities disciplines to discuss the publishing landscape as they perceive it. Abigail Brundin, from the Department of Italian, insisted that the future is collaborative; collaboration offers an immediate way out of the often closed-off worlds of our specialisms, fosters interdisciplinary exchanges and allows access to serious funding opportunities. She took issue with any idea that the initiative in pioneering new forms of academic writing should come from early-career academics; it is those who are safely tenured who have a responsibility to blaze a trail. Matthew Champion, a Research Fellow in History, drew attention to the care that has traditionally gone into the production of academic books—care over the quality of the finished product and over its physical appearance, down to details such as the font it is printed in. He wondered whether the move to digital and to a higher speed of publication would entail a kind of flattening of perspectives and an increased sense of alienation on all sides. Should we care how many people see our work? Champion thought not: what we want is not 50,000 careless clicks but the sustained attention of deeply-engaged readers. Our third speaker, Liana Chua reported on the situation in Anthropology, where conservative publishing imperatives are being challenged by digital communications. Anthropologists usually write about living subjects, and increasingly those subjects are able to answer back. This means that the ‘finished-product’ model of the book is starting to die off, with more fluid forms taking its place. Such forms (including film-making) are also better-suited to capturing the experience of fieldwork, which the book does a great deal to efface. Finally Orietta da Rold, from the Faculty of English, questioned the dominance of the book in academia. Digital projects that she had been involved in had been obliged, absurdly, to dress themselves up as books, with introductions and prefaces and conclusions. And collections of articles that might better be published as individual interventions were obliged to repackage themselves as books. The oppressive desire for the ‘big thing’ obscures the important work that is being done in a plethora of forms.

 

In discussion it was suggested that the book form was a valuable identifier, allowing unusual objects like CD-ROMs or databases to be recognized and catalogued and found (the book, in this view, provides the metadata or the paratextual information that gives an artefact a place in the world). There was perhaps a division between those who saw the book as giving ideas a compelling physical presence and those who were worried about the versions of authority at stake in the monograph. The monograph model perhaps discourages people from talking back; this will inevitably come under pressure in a more ‘oral’ digital economy.

 

Our final ‘view’ of the day was ‘The View from Plurabelle Books’, offered by Michael Cahn but read in his absence by Gemma Savage. Plurabelle is a second-hand academic bookseller based in Cambridge; it was founded in 1996. Cahn’s talk focused on a different kind of ‘future’ of the academic book—the future in which the book ages and its owner dies. The books that may have marked out a mental universe need to be treated with appropriate respect and offered the chance of a new lease of life. Sometimes they carry with them a rich sense of their past histories.

 

A concluding discussion drew out several themes from the day:

 

(1) A particular concern had been where the impetus for change would and should come from—from individual academics, from funding bodies, or from government. The conservatism and two-sizes-fit-almost-all nature of the REF act as a brake on innovation and experiment, although the rising significance of ‘impact’ might allow these to re-enter by the back door. The fact that North America has remained impervious to many of the pressures that are affecting British academics was noted with interest.

 

(2) The pros and cons of peer review were a subject of discussion—was it the key to scholarly integrity or a highly unreliable form of gatekeeping that would naturally wither in an online environment?

 

(3) Questions of value were raised—what would determine academic value in an Open Access world? The day’s discussions had veered between notions of value/prestige that were based on numbers of readers and those that were not. Where is the appropriate balance?

 

(4) A broad historical and technological question: are we entering a phase of perpetual change or do we expect that the digital domain will eventually slow down, developing protocols that seem as secure as those that we used to have for print. (And would that be a good or a bad thing?) Just as paper had to be engineered over centuries in order to become a reliable communications medium (or the basis for numerous media), so too the digital domain may take a long time to find any kind of settled form. It was also pointed out that the academic monograph as we know it today was a comparatively short-lived, post-World War II phenomenon.

 

(5) As befits a conference held under the aegis of the Centre for Material Texts, the physical form of the book was a matter of concern. Can lengthy digital books be made a pleasure to read? Can the book online ever substitute for the ‘theatres of memory’ that we have built in print? Is the very restrictiveness of print a source of strength?

 

(6) In the meantime, the one thing that all of the participants could agree on was that we will need to learn to live with (sometimes extreme) diversity.

 

With many thanks to our sponsors, Cambridge University Press, the Academic Book of the Future Project, and the Centre for Material Texts. The lead organizer of the day was Jason Scott-Warren (jes1003@cam.ac.uk); he was very grateful for the copious assistance of Sam Rayner, Rebecca Lyons, and Richard Fisher; for the help of the staff at the Pitt Building, where the colloquium took place; and for the contributions of all of our speakers.

 

#AcBookWeek: What will the Academic Book of the Future look like? Bristol responds…!

This guest post is written by Dr Leah Tether (University of Bristol), who reflects on the debate that took place at Bristol as part of #AcBookWeek.

On Tuesday 10th November 2015, as part of Academic Book Week, we at the University of Bristol were delighted to host a panel discussion with an audience Q&A. The event aimed to offer some answers to one of the central lines of enquiry of The Academic Book of the Future Project – what format our future academic books might take. Our three-strong speaker panel consisted of an academic, a librarian and a publisher, all of whom – we knew – would bring something different to the debate. The offering of this great mix of views led to a fantastic turn-out (with people even sitting on the floor!); audience members came from a wide range of backgrounds: in addition to reflecting the make-up of the panel with publishers, academics and librarians, there were undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as interested members of the public. All of these, of course, are key stakeholders in the wider debate – all will be affected by developments to the academic book – so their vested interests made for an impassioned and rich discussion.

Dr Leah Tether introduces the event

Dr Leah Tether introduces the event

Our first speaker, Professor Helen Fulton (Chair in Medieval Literature, University of Bristol) showed how she had already embraced digital outputs in previous research projects. She used the example of the Mapping Medieval Chester project as a case study for how digital publications can both facilitate collaborative research and pave the way for different kinds of relationships between publishers and universities. She viewed project websites as often representing non-linear equivalents to monographs in terms of their scope and content. She also argued that these can be relied on for quality where support for the project in question has been provided by a recognised body (such as, but not limited to, the AHRC), due to the rigorous peer-review to which such projects have been subjected.

The second speaker, Damien McManus, spoke from his perspective as the Subject Librarian at the University of Bristol for Classics and Ancient History, English, French, German, Linguistics and Russian Studies. Damien focused on the breaking down of content into smaller units (chapters or sections) that is being encouraged by digital and emphasised the potential benefits of accessibility, affordability and sustainability. In practice, though, he recognised that many issues still exist in terms of the library provision of digital academic resources. He cited single-use licences, complicated and divergent user instructions for different platforms, cost implications and the last-minute withdrawal of resources by publishers as key amongst the problems. Damien also wanted to make clear that many resources are simply not available in digital form as yet, so from his perspective – even where issues with digital are ironed out – resourcing will remain mixed for some considerable time to come.

The third and final speaker was Katharine Reeve, formerly the Editorial Director and Senior Commissioning Editor for History and Visual Arts at Oxford University Press. As part of The Academic Book of the Future Project, Katharine has been researching the changing role of the editor in academic book publishing, and she revealed to the audience some of the results of that research. She highlighted that, despite the obvious importance of the close interaction of editor with author in producing the best possible product, editors are increasingly being pulled away from the hands-on side of their role, thus becoming a less visible part of the process. This, she suggested, risked an undervaluing of the editor in the quality control side of publishing, and that she could see this already happening with the opportunities of digital publishing offerings authors the choice to circumvent traditional publication in favour of dissemination via the web. She argued that we need to reinvigorate the role of the editor in digital publication, and understand that – no matter what the format – the academic book of the future still needs to be rigorously processed before it is made available to the reading public.

These richly diverse views provoked a fantastic response from our audience, which took the debate in many important directions. Key amongst these were the opportunities for greater interaction between libraries and publishers, the perceived values (by the Research Excellence Framework and funding bodies, for example) of different kinds of publications (collected volumes vs. monograph); whether innovative digital formats would ever be valued as highly as traditional formats; the funding models surrounding open access and how that would impact different kinds of institutions; the reading practices of young scholars (skimming vs. deep reading); how publishers and higher education institutions could work together more closely to develop products that more closely fulfil the needs of book consumers.

In my role as chair, I was delighted to see such an engaged response to the subject at hand – people really cared about the formats our academic books might take and, perhaps surprisingly, most believed that digital – on the whole – offered more opportunities than hindrances, especially when used as a supplement to traditional publication. Indeed, Katharine Reeve’s suggestion that the best academic book of the future might actually be one offering multi-platform functionality (i.e. a traditional monograph at the heart of the project, but with digital add-ons such as video interviews, apps and social media marketing) was perhaps the most warmly received suggestion of the night. Where our varied Bristol audience was in total agreement, though, was in emphasising that the process of producing academic outputs needs to remain as rigorous as it ever has been – digital should not be allowed to dilute the integrity of academic research, but rather be used as a tool for assisting with its wider dissemination and engagement – a supplement as opposed to a replacement.

Dr Leah Tether is the Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Bristol.

 

#AcBookWeek: The Manchester Great Debate

On Wednesday 11th November, the John Rylands Library, Manchester, played host to the Manchester Great Debate, a panel discussion dedicated to addressing the future of the academic monograph. The event was one of over sixty organised during Academic Book Week to celebrate the diversity, innovation, and influence of the academic monograph. While opinions remained varied, with panel representatives from both sides of the fence, the discussion always seemed to return to a few key thematic strands. How are people using books? How are people encountering books? And what future lies ahead for the academic book? Melek Karatas, Lydia Leech, and Paul Clarke (University of Manchester) report here on the event.

The reading room of the John Rylands Library

The reading room of the John Rylands Library

It was in the stunning Christie Room of the Rylands Library that Dr. Guyda Armstrong, Lead Academic for Digital Humanities at the University of Manchester, welcomed the audience of publishers, academics, librarians, early career researchers, and students with a shared concern for the future of how the humanities might be produced, read, and preserved over the coming years. Five panellists were invited to present their case to the group before the floor was opened and the debate got into full swing.

The session was chaired by Professor Marilyn Deegan, Co-Investigator of The Academic Book of the Future project. She began by outlining the project’s main objectives and its future activities, details of which can be found at www.academicbookfuture.org. Before commencing with the presentations she asked the audience to quite simply reflect on what they conceived of when trying to define the book. It was this question, with its rather complex and capacious ramifications, that was the fundamental core of the Manchester Great Debate.

The first of the panellists to present was Frances Pinter, CEO of Manchester University Press. Since print runs of academic books have decreased in volume and their prices increased beyond inflation, she firmly believes that the future of the academic monograph will be governed by the principles of Open Access (OA). She contends that although the journey to OA will be difficult, drawing on the Crossick report to highlight such obstacles as the lack of a skilled workforce and the high cost of publication, it is impossible to deny the potential of the digital age to advance knowledge and maximise discovery. She identified Knowledge Unlatched, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to assisting libraries to co-ordinate the purchase of monographs, as a pioneer in overcoming some of these obstacles. Under the scheme, the basic cost of publication is shared, and the works are made readily available as a PDF with an OA license via OAPEN. An initial pilot project saw the publication of twenty-eight new books at the cost of just $1,120 per library. The digital copies of these books were also downloaded in a staggering 167 countries worldwide, a true testament to the benefits of the OA monograph.

Emma Brennan, Editorial Director and Commissioning Editor at Manchester University Press, followed with a convincing argument against the financial restraints of contemporary academic book publishing. The system, she claims, is fundamentally broken, favouring short-form sciences over the humanities. A key to this problem lies in the steep rises in purchase prices over recent years, with the result that a monograph, which once sold for around £50 in a run of five hundred copies, is now sold for upwards of £70 and oftentimes on a print-on-demand basis. However, more crucial still is the disparity between authorial costs and corporate profits. After all, typical profit margins for article processing charges (APCs) reached an astonishing 37% in 2014, undeniably privileging shareholders over authors. Under this current system, university presses are only ever able to operate on a not-for-profit basis whereby surplus funds must necessarily be reinvested to cover the costs of future APCs. Such a fragile structure can only continue in the short-term and so the need for a drastic upheaval is undeniable.

Next to present their case was Sandra Bracegirdle, Head of Collection Management at the University of Manchester Library. Through a variety of diagrams she was able to highlight a number of curious trends in the reading habits of library users. A particularly interesting point of discussion was the usability of both electronic and print resources amongst student readers. While those who tended to prefer the former valued the mobility of text and the equality of access, readers of the latter tended to prefer the readability of the physical text. Interestingly, 50% of the students questioned said that they were more likely to read a book if it were available digitally, suggesting that “access trumps readability”. The decreased popularity of physical books is reflected further still by the fact that 27% the books held within the library have not been borrowed for some ten years. She continued to suggest that the increased popularity of electronic formats, on the other hand, might be the result of a change in the way people use and encounter information, arguing that different book forms engender different cognitive styles. While she did not appear to have a strong predisposition one way or the other, she did point out the “emotional presence” of a physical book by concluding with a note from Cicero: “a room without books is like a body without a soul”.

She was followed by Dr. Francesca Billiani, Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Languages (CIDRAL) at the University of Manchester. She fundamentally contends that the materialization of knowledge has in recent years changed beyond recognition and as such so the academic monograph must also adapt. After all, the book is no longer a stand-alone piece of writing for it is firmly rooted within a digital “galaxy of artefacts” comprising blog posts, photos, and videos. Many readers no longer rely exclusively on the academic book itself in their reading of a subject, nor will they necessarily read the work in its entirety choosing instead to read what they consider to be the most relevant fragments. Academics need to embrace these changes in their future writing by composing their monographs in a way that accommodates the new methods of knowledge dissemination. Yet, at the same time, she remained mindful of the fact that the monograph of the future must also retain its academic rigour and avoid falling into the trap of eclecticism.

The last of the speakers to present was Dr. George Walkden, Lecturer in English Linguistics at the University of Manchester. A self-proclaimed Open Access activist, he claims that academic books should not only be free in terms of cost but also in terms of what readers can do with them. He lamented those individuals who, in such a climate of exhaustive copyright limitations, are all too readily branded as pirates for attempting to disseminate knowledge publicly. Although he remains sceptical of what these individuals share with the “cannon-firing, hook-toting, parrot-bearing sailors of the seven seas”, he believes that such labelling elucidates the many issues that have constrained both historic and modern publication practices. In the first instance, publishers should value the transmission of knowledge over their own profitable gain. But, perhaps more crucially, it must be acknowledged that the copyright of a work should remain with its author. He fundamentally contends that academics predominantly write to increase societal wealth and readership, a mission that can only ever really be achieved through the whole-hearted acceptance of Open Access.

Once all of the panellists had concluded their presentations, the floor was opened to the audience and a stimulating debate ensued. One of the most contested issues to arise from the discussion was the ownership of copyright. Many institutions actually hold the copyright of works produced by academics whose research they fund, although they do not always choose to exert this right. Walkden questioned to what extent this practice effectively safeguards the interests of academics, particularly since it is oftentimes too costly for them to even justify challenging this. He argued that academics should be granted the power to make decisions concerning their own intellectual property, particularly regarding the OA nature of their work.

Copyright issues were complicated further by a discussion of Art History monographs, particularly with regards to third party content. The case of Art History is particularly curious since, as Brennan highlighted, print runs have continued to remain reasonably high. After all, many art historians tend to opt for physical books over their digital counterparts since problems can often arise with their visual reproductions if, for instance, the screen is not calibrated to the original settings used in its creation. The discussion then turned to the resurgence of a material culture, whereby consumers are returning to physical artefacts. The increased popularity of vinyl records in today’s digital music society was used to illustrate this point. It was nevertheless argued that such a comparison was counterproductive since consumers ultimately have the freedom to decide the medium through which they access music but do not always have this choice with regards to books. Perhaps the academic book of the future will permit such freedom.

A member of the audience then identified the notable absence of the student in such a discussion. Academics, both on the panel and in the audience, expressed concerns that students were able to access information too easily by simply using the key word search function to find answers. Many felt that the somewhat lengthy process of physically searching out answers was more valuable to developing their research skills. Students within the audience said that while they do like the speed with which they are able to process information, they also value the experience of going to bookshelves, possibly finding other items they had not initially set out to obtain. An interesting discussion followed on whether technology might ever be able to replicate the experience of a physical library, and to what extent learning can be productive within a digital environment.

While the future of the academic book remains unclear, certain issues materialise as central topics of debate. Concerns for copyright, visual reproductions, and third party content, for instance, must necessarily form a basis of this future discussion. But more so than this, authors must begin to write within the context of a rapidly emergent digital world by ensuring that their academic outputs engage precisely with new technological formats and platforms. The opening of the book has only just begun, and perhaps it is only through investment and interdisciplinary collaboration that the academic monograph will have a future.

 

 

Melek Karatas, Lydia Leech, and Paul Clarke are postgraduate students in medieval and early modern languages at the University of Manchester, with research interests in manuscript and print cultures of the literary book.