Academic publishing

In Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes about problems of preservation of digital works that “their solutions are not predominantly technical in nature. In fact, the examples presented by the emulators I mention above may help us recognize that what we need to develop in order to ensure the future preservation of our digital texts and artifacts may be less new tools than new socially-organized systems”

Books can be just as fragile and transient as electronic texts depending on social structures. Some medieval manuscripts are known from fragments recovered from being used in bindings for other books. Other manuscripts are palimpsests, older work scraped off and replaced with newer, depending on the needs of the writer and the desires of the audience.

One of the most powerful aspects of Fitzpatrick’s work is her insistance on the importance of people and their social systems to the employment of technology and its long term implications. She does not see technology as a rigid force that mandates a particular path.  Rather, she points out the multiplicity of possible reactions to or uses of technology.

One of the concerns about SOPA is that the MPAA and other organizations which were supporting it were attempting to legislate protection for old models of business and technical organization.  Opponents of SOPA pointed out that things like DVRs and VCRs were also supposed to put the moving picture industry out of business but instead changed the revenue streams. The Oatmeal comic recently commented on the reasons for piracy. Not because people want to pirate, but because the piracy gives users what they want.

One of the problems with the state of academic publishing is that the multiple constituencies not only don’t agree on what they want, but they have conflicting needs and desires as Fitzpatrick points out.  Some of what happened with online video will happen with academic publishing. Academic publishing is already transforming itself with the online discussions and publications.  In the sciences, more than the humanities, preprint online editions of peer-reviewed articles are becoming common. Since the online copies appear under the auspices of the print journal, they are seen as just as valid as when they finally appear in print (hardcopy journals).


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Filed under History and Future of the Book, Technology

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