Much attention has been focused recently on the transition from the printed to the digital book, and some of these reactions—and invariably the ones featured in the media—have been extreme, ranging, at one end, from teeth-gnashing proclamations on the end of culture, if not civilization, as we know it and, at the other end, to apocalyptic euphoria verging on Rapture. To the true believers, the digital book, and the seamless connectivity it seems to make inevitable between everything ever written and everybody still reading, appears either as the final dagger in the heart of the literary culture or as the realization of the globalizing, utopian visions of writers such as Teilhard de Chardin, Marshall McLuhan, or Internet guru Ted Nelson. Both extremes, but with opposite affect and attitude, seem to take for granted the imminent precipitous decline, if not outright demise, of the printed book, notwithstanding that such books have held sway for four and a half centuries, during which they have been integral to and instrumental within immense religious, political, social, intellectual, scientific, and cultural reformations, revolutions, and upheavals.
The Journal of Electronic Publishing Vol. 11 Issue 2, 2008-05-30.
Two years ago, the University of Michigan Press and the Scholarly Publishing Office of Michigan’s University Library embarked on a joint publishing project, digitalculturebooks, whose aim was to publish books about new media in both a printed for-sale version and an open access (OA) online version. The intention was not only to publish innovative and accessible work about the social, cultural, and political impact of new media and to collect data about the ways reading habits and preferences vary across different scholarly reading communities, but also, implicitly, to explore the opportunities and the obstacles involved in a press working in a close, full partnership with a technologically savvy library unit with a business model, orientation to clients, and digital and archival competence very different from the press’s. I won’t discuss this project, still in a very early stage of development, in any detail here other than to mention what a pleasure it has been and how instructive it has been to observe, close up, the digital skills and the public commitment of our library colleagues. (The joint press/library Web site, http://www.digitalculture.org, offers a full description of the aims and the content of the project, a list of the series that have already been developed, and other ancillary materials.) I do, however, want to share some provisional observations concerning the future of scholarly communication, prompted, in large part, by early experiences with this hybrid publishing model.