Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Books not dead yet

Posted by metaphorical on 21 December 2007

Webster University and Lee University have each “announced the creation of their own university presses,” Inside Higher Ed reported today.

The article calls this “a challenging time for the economics of scholarly publishing” and notes that they “will both publish in cooperation with other entities.”

I can guess what that means. Both the organization I work for and the one I worked for before that—professional societies each—had a Press unit that, during my tenure, developed “cooperation” agreements with large academic publishers. The book operation where I am now, for example, publishes them in cooperation with Wiley Press.

In such a situation, the Press isn’t exactly an imprint of the bigger publisher. My organization does all the up-front work of acquiring and editing manuscripts. Wiley handles production and distribution. The two do their own marketing in, um, cooperation. Each, in other words, does what it’s good at.

With the development of digital technologies, I wonder if music won’t eventually go a similar route. Why aren’t there small imprint labels that develop acts and produce them? Let the big record companies handle manufacturing and distribution. Well, in a sense, we may see a little of that—except that in the iPod/iTunes era, manufacturing and distribution are somewhat trivial. [ADDED: Music distribution was the subject of a forward blog entry, here.]

Well, let’s turn it around then. When will manufacturing and distribution become trivial for books?

As a partial answer to that, I saw my first Sony Digital Reader in the wild yesterday on the subway. The guy next to its owner was quizzing her as if it were an iPhone on June 30th. I heard her to say she’d had it since September and loves it. Maybe when ebooks are are common as iPods, the small universities and and the professional societies won’t need the “cooperation” of “other entities.”

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