Tuesday, March 24, 2009

U of Michigan Biting the Dust (?), Poised to Turn into Blog....?

The Great Lakes IT Report reports that the U of Michigan Press is following the trends and will revamp their publishing operation and expand into "3D animation and video", as well as publish it's scholarship in digital format so it can provide hot links and graphics. The announcement says that it "will be "restructured" to focus primarily on digital monographs, not the printed version."

It seems to me that ceasing publication is quitting publishing, and selling scholarship as pdf's and web pages won't enhance it's prestige, but will dilute it. It also seems odd to brush off concerns about customers who want to "hold something" can simply print them off on their own. Most scholars that I know would rather publish with a publisher who can actually capture the scholarship and sell it as an item. Blogs and hot links still don't have the cache of a printed book.

That's not to say that blogs don't have their place, or that bloggers aren't thinkers. It's just that their material is inherently different. It's a new format that's gaining respect and notoriety all it's own. Witness, Obama has even called on Politico correspondents in his first two press conferences. If that act alone hasn't given bloggers credibility, then nothing has. But does this mean that blogs are equivalent to University Presses?

UM's announcement, I think, is short-sighted. If anything, they should go slow, and start a blog, perhaps, and use it to promote it's catalog.

Fortunately, the announcement doesn't say that it is going to completely cease it's print publishing, but, spokes-people quoted in the article seem to indicate that it is going in that direction. I predict that ten years from now, it will largely be the same as it is now. But with the addition of a digital division; it will have higher overhead and will probably be selling more books.

Finally, I'd like to know how many libraries, or customers, for that matter, actually buy digital books. When I see adverts for e-books, I usually pass them up. What's a library to do with e-books, any way? To me, it seems that delivery of e-books is too personal for libraries to be involved with. I can provide links to the material, or direct patrons to useful titles, but I can't be responsible for how they actually obtain use, or fuss with setting up their equipment or software to guarantee their ability to use it.

If a patron has a Kindle (or the new e-book reader/web-book from Apple that's coming in the summer) how can a library lend it out? There's a missing link in this business model.

I wish the U of Michigan Press well, and hope that they are able to complete their misguided experiment before too many others go down the same road.

OK, a final thought: If a publisher publishes a title in a format that no one can read, have they still published a title? The thing that's neat and tidy about publishing a book is that the end user needs only two things to read it: light and the ability to read. (OK, knit-pickers, they do need access, but that's theoretical....) But look what's required to read an e-book: power, equipment of a particular variety, connection to the internet, software and the ability to make it all work together - plus the ability to read.

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