Scholarly Publishing Out of Step with the Academy

Publishing makes the academic world go round, but, despite a great range of opportunities to distribute academic work in the Web 2.0 world, a new report issued by Ithaka argues that universities are still not enabling or sufficiently supporting publishing opportunities at their institutions. A commitment to publishing “in its broadest sense,” the report argues, could not only enable universities to more realize the “potential global impact of their academic programs,” but even potentially reduce costs.

“In American colleges and universities, access to the Internet and World Wide Web is ubiquitous. Consequently, nearly all intellectual effort results in some form of ‘publishing,'” writes Ithaka president Kevin Guthrie in his preface. “Yet universities do not treat this function as an important, mission-centric endeavor. The result, he says, is a scholarly publishing industry many scholars see as “increasingly out of step with the important values of the academy.” Ithaka “is an independent not-for-profit organization with a mission to accelerate the productive uses of information technologies for the benefit of higher education worldwide.”

The paper was authored by Laura Brown, former president of Oxford University Press USA, with support from Ithaka’s Strategic Services group, along with Matthew Rascoff and Rebecca Griffiths, who did the research. Despite such extensive research, Guthrie notes, “this is not a report presenting findings from an objective, empirical survey of the field.” Rather, it is a “qualitative review,” informed by a combination of survey results, interviews, and the knowledge of the investigators.

With the advent of powerful information and communication technology, the report explains, “the responsibility for disseminating digital scholarship is migrating in two directions–towards large (primarily commercial) publishing platforms and towards informal channels operated by other entities on campus, mostly libraries, academic computing centers, academic departments, and cross-institutional research centers.” The latter offers new opportunities for universities to reduce costs and to claim a greater stake in the research they subsidize and produce. It also creates challenges for university presses.

One thing is certain: change. “Publishing in the future will look very different than it has looked in the past,” the authors note “The next stage will be the creation of new formats made possible by digital technologies, ultimately allowing scholars to work in deeply integrated electronic research and publishing environments that will enable real-time dissemination, collaboration, dynamically-updated content, and usage of new media.”. This means both a range of new methods of “content creation” as well as new commercial models and marketplace innovations for distribution, and also an expanded role for libraries in maintaining “alternative distribution models” such as institutional repositories, pre-print servers, and open access journals. “Different economic models will be appropriate for different types of content and different audiences. It seems critical to us that there continue to be a diverse marketplace for publishing a range of content.”

So, in the digital future, every university that produces research should have “a publishing strategy,” if not a press, the authors suggest. “Universities give up too much by withdrawing from publishing,” they argue. “There is a great need, as well as a great opportunity, to revitalize the university’s role and capabilities in publishing.”

Library Journal Academic Newswire, July 27, 2007

To read the complete Ithaka report go to: University Publishing In A Digital Age

Related Article: New Model for University Presses
From Inside Higher Education, July 31, 2007. Scott Jaschik, New Model for University Presses

It’s the nightmare-come-true scenario for many an academic: You spend years writing a book in your field, send it off to a university press with an interest in your topic, the outside reviewers praise the work, the editors like it too, but the press can’t afford to publish it. The book is declared too long or too narrow or too dependent on expensive illustrations or too something else. But the bottom line is that the relevant press, with a limited budget, can’t afford to release it, and turns you down, while saying that the book deserves to be published.

That’s the situation scholars find themselves in increasingly these days, and press editors freely admit that they routinely review submissions that deserve to be books, but that can’t be, for financial reasons. The underlying economic bind university presses find themselves in is attracting increasing attention, including last week’s much awaited report from Ithaka, “University Publishing in a Digital Age,” which called for universities to consider entirely new models.

One such new model is about to start operations: The Rice University Press, which was eliminated in 1996, was revived last year with the idea that it would publish online only, using low-cost print-on-demand….

Read the complete article:

The Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan has released the Ithaka Report in CommentPress which allows readers to share online, paragraph by paragraph annotation and commentary of the Report. CommentPress was recently developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book to allow readers to share annotations and commentary on texts. The hope is that all of us that have a stake in the outcomes of the Ithaka Report will share our thoughts and commentary in this new forum.