One of the effects of the digital age is that it is causing us to rethink things we have lived by for centuries. Take shopping. It would seem adequate to define shopping as "browsing and selecting items for sale." But after doing a great deal of online shopping--even while enjoying its efficiencies--we can feel that we haven't really "gone shopping." It turns out this phenomenon has social or physical elements you just don't get without joining your friends and trotting around the mall. It works the other way, too. After motoring around to several retail outlets to find that SLR camera you wanted for Christmas, this old-school comparison shopping seems ridiculous compared an online experience. Okay, then. We learn that shopping has both meant something more than we thought, and we are finding that (due to the online world) we view and do "shopping" differently.
Publishing compares. As with shopping, the online world is redefining "publishing," taking us back to our assumptions about what this activity is, revealing just how tied this concept has been to printing and paper, and leading us to rethink basic categories such as "book" "periodical" and "issue."
Why, for example, is publishing at the heart of academia? Why is the phrase "publish or perish" such a real threat? Why doesn't something really count until it is published? What purposes or functions does publishing serve? Are those same functions being met online? Could they be met in different or other ways? What legitimizes scholarly publishing and sets it apart from other kinds? And how does "publishing" differ from "archiving" in an online world where texts are databased until they are searched? Does it matter? Is publishing at heart an individual activity, or a collaborative one? And what about copyright? How can one actually "own" knowledge? Does copyright protect or limit knowledge, protect or limit academic careers?
We'll find that there are interests at stake here from business, from academic institutions, from scholars, and from othere stakeholders that the electronic realm is making more visible now. Does academic publishing target and reach the right audiences? For whom are humanities scholars writing when they produce scholarship?
The posts that follow will bring this back into a tighter scope, but I wanted to lay out some of the larger questions looming below the surface. The electronic word is a new medium, and new media only imitate existing media to a point before breaking away, becoming something else, and taking our institutions and our concepts into brave new worlds.
This is what happened in the last media revolution. "What is print publishing?" is not a question that was asked again until recently, but it was as fair a question in 1508 as "what is electronic publishing?" in 2008. And at first the answer to either question was "the prior kind of publishing, just more efficient." But that only lasted for a time in the 1500s. Then print publishing changed all the rules about manuscript publishing, and it changed forever the institutions that were grounded in that prior publishing paradigm.
How invested are you in the traditional print paradigm of publishing? What is to be gained, what lost, in transitioning to the digital publishing paradigm?
Next: The four types of electronic publication.