What will it take to make essays the standard of achievement once again in the scholarly world? This is not where we are: Books are the gold standard for tenure in most of the humanities and some of the social sciences, so much so that journal articles almost don’t even count. As august a figure as Helen Vendler assured me recently that essays could never replace books as a basis for tenuring junior colleagues. So, in departments of English as on Wall Street, counting is all that counts. “It’s the bottom line, stupid.” Countability is the thing whereby you’ll catch the conscience of the dean, as a friend of Hamlet might advise the young Danish assistant professor or the young Shakespeare scholar. Articles don’t make a thumping sound when you drop them on a table the way a body might in Six Feet Under.
I have claimed elsewhere (subscription required) that the book-for-tenure system is coming to an end, that it is unsustainable, that its growth has been an obscenity, because it was mindless, because it sought to make something automatic and machine-like play the role that should only be played by the soul. Please excuse my antiquated language: The “soul,” I remind you, is that faculty of the human body whose juices are made to flow by the exercise of judging myself whether something is of merit. In earlier publications I have charged that professors have been seeking to dodge the one activity that is most essential to their own development when they outsource tenure decisions to bureaucracies and counting replaces reading as the central job of tenure committees, because in that situation content goes by the by. Personally, for me as a publisher, the situation that has arisen is sad beyond endurance. I believe the contents of the books I publish matter. I am not selling milk, which does sustain life, but is homogenized by comparison to book. In fact, milk’s the very definition of homogenized. Each of the books I publish is different.
Books are the standard now, and for me to ask you to think that the future will feature the renaissance of journals and the replacement of the book by the essay might seem crazy. (You should know that it does not seem crazy to many of the leading university press publishers.) My suggestion is not crazy; it’s utopian. We don’t live in that world I am asking you to imagine, the world in which essays are the norm, but if we were to imagine that world could exist even for a second, how might seeing things that way cause us to change what we are doing?
We need to slow down, and remember that the essay has been the main form for humanistic discourse. The book is an outlier. Many of the writings that changed the direction a scholarly community was marching toward were essays. Think of Edward Said’s “Abecedarium Culturae” or Paul de Man’s “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” to stay in recent history and not begin, as I easily could, an epic catalog from Montaigne’s “De l’amitie” onwards. Some of the most important books are collections of essays, sometimes assembled with no pretence to forging a unity of them, such as John Freccero’s Dante: The Poetics of Conversion. One could give many examples.
There is no good reason why the essay should not replace the book, and a lot of good reasons why it should. I am tempted to say -- in order to be maximally provocative -- that anyone who publishes a book within six years of earning a Ph.D. should be denied tenure. The chances a person at that stage can have published something worth chopping that many trees down is unlikely. I ask you: How are you preparing for the future that could be yours and mine? We -- I mean the world in general -- don’t need a lot of bad writing. We need some great writing. “Pump Up the Volume” has been the watchword in the scholarly world and in America long before that movie with Christian Slater came out. “Don’t Believe the Hype” somehow got twisted into “Believe the Hype” along the way, too. Totally.
The big problem that afflicts the humanities in the United States is not a problem of quantity. Yes, I know, some politicians ridicule university administrators who retain on their staff professors who produce so little by way of income, student-credit hours served, and publications. The newspapers said that U.S. troops could “walk tall again” after conquering Granada. Will professors be able to walk tall again if they produce tall heaps of publications on the scale of manufactured goods coming out of the factories in Suzhou? (If you don’t know where Suzhou is, look it up. It’ll do you good. You are going to want to know in fewer years than you can imagine.)
No, the productivity problem of professors in the U.S. is not one of quantity, but quality. (Same is actually the case in China, too.) I recently got a book proposal that I decided to look at closely rather than reject it summarily as I knew it deserved. It consisted of a welter of confusing sentences. It was contemporary, very up-to-date, located right where the profession is. And the scholar, though young, was very accomplished in the way the world judges achievement, a dozen or more fellowships, a book from a major press, tenure too at a respectable university. But the views in the proposal were those manufactured by others and the linking of them in the proposal had no coherence, and the problem was manifest in the clumsy writing. Who had ever read anything by this young scholar seriously before, I wondered?
Has social passing come to grad school? A friend teaches in a clinic to help people from 3 to thrice 20 to remedy problems of speaking and reading. I have been curious about the stories she tells me of people in their 50s confident enough about their personal success in life to address what used to be a source of deep embarrassment -- the fact that although they could talk like a college grad they could not read better than a second-grader. It takes great self-acceptance to go to the clinic at that age and confess you cannot read and to be taught the things little kids learn.
One of the chief explanations these learners give for how it was they got by for so long without learning the basics of reading is social passing, the decision of teachers to ignore what it is they think they cannot deal with. Imagine an air-traffic controller ignoring some slight intimation a plane is going off course? You cannot, but you know that Captain Delano in Benito Cereno stifled his worries that something was amiss on the San Dominick. Problem too big for me to solve. “I’m a mere fourth grade teacher. I cannot remedy such a huge problem. The system is so much bigger than me or this kid. The principal will be angry if classes get clotted up with the unfortunate. Pass.” So a person might say to themselves privately. Are professors in grad school saying such things to themselves now? I am sure most of them are not, but some must be. Otherwise how did this person get this far writing like this? This person is not alone.
In his Enemies of Promise, Cyril Connolly lambasted Joseph Addison, co-founder of the journal The Spectator because he was “an apologist for the New Bourgeoisie.” The problem: Addison wrote playfully and unapologetically about nothing, casting a smokescreen in front of his readers. Addison is like Zizek. If Zizek is a success -- and you know he is -- the consequences are worrisome. The kids who flock to see him might try to write like him. In fact, if the elders present Zizek as a star speaker, then what is a kid to think? If this stuff flies, my prose -- a young scholar might reasonably say -- can crawl and stumble and I can become a superstar of theory, too.
I believe sometime in the dark backward and abysm of time, when Zizek was closer to Hegel and Lacan, he must have been a good expositor of the thinking of Lacan, but he is not now. He’s an entertainer, an ersatz version of real explorers like Derrida and Umberto Eco. People used to complain bitterly about the way Derrida, DeMan, Deleuze wrote. Such people’s problem was that they did not pause to read what newly emergent scholars wrote. Derrida and the others wrote perfectly well. Their sentences were difficult to read, perhaps, but they parsed. It is different with Zizek. The torrent that flows from him is like (to go to a realm he’s visited to criticize someone else and very unfairly, too, I might add) a toilet overflowing.
As one critic of his writes, “He does not develop a clear-cut idea, nor does he structure a book around a definable topic. His proofs are mostly introduced with an ‘of course,’ or ‘it is clear why’. He delivers what his fans want -- razzamatazz.” Pascal wrote, “A maker of witticisms, a bad character” ( Pensees, p 12). Let me give a sentence of his to be concrete: The first sentence of the Preface of his new book For They Know Not What They Do is: “There are philosophical books, minor classics even, which are widely known and referred to, although practically no one has read them page by page (John Rawls's Theory of Justice, for example, or Robert Brandom's Making It Explicit) -- a nice example of interpassivity, where some figure of the Other is supposed to do the reading for us.” First of all, even if you accept the Lacan-lingo (“other”), what could the made-up word “interpassivity” mean? And why would I want to know when, second, the sentence in which it occurs is a lie, not a clever one, but a stupid one. Almost 300,000 people have bought the Rawls and the reading of it was so important to enough of them that they have kept their copies of the book, so the used book market is not swamped with copies. And Brandom has nowhere like the same sales, but his book is an international sales success. Remember the “blancmange” skit in Monty Python? Zizek’s writing is “blanc-et-noir mange.” It was a style. Eliot complained the West was but a heap of broken images. Zizek, in this still a Soviet sympathizer, wants like Kruschev to bury us in the heap of his verbiage. It’s not fun anymore, if it ever was. Beware, Mr Zizek, Connolly also says that “one can fool the public about a book but the public will store up resentment in proportion to its folly.” Words suffer under the whip of such a taskmaster.
If words lose out, so do we all: We are in danger of losing our souls, our backbones, our bearings. We are in danger of losing the civilization that was created in the West in the Renaissance. Until I’d read Ingrid Rowland’s book on 16th century Rome, the Rome of Raphael, I had not known about what I’ll call “the Renaissance of the sentence.” I’d lived in Florence when I decided to study the Italian Renaissance, and I’d gotten a very concrete sense of the how, what, when of the Renaissance of architecture at Santo Spirito. I knew about the Renaissance of narrative plotting from immersing myself in Ariosto and Milton and seeing the debate about plotting over Tasso. But the Renaissance of the Sentence -- it had never occurred to me. Hadn’t the monks kept the art of the sentence alive through the Dark Ages? Short answer: No.
Ingrid Rowland recounts how Angelo Colocci (aka “Serafino Aquilano”) pioneered the transformation of writing in vernacular Italian. No longer was it revolutionary to use the vernacular instead of Latin; no, revolutionary was using the vernacular with rhythm, with passion. The point of writing in such a way was because it unleashed a power one could have using word to “unlock the emotions through a combination of words and music.” To write in this way was to have style, what Colocci called “modo.” Sure, one could write about sexy topics in the vernacular, as shown by the author of Hypnerotomochia Poliphili, one of the most famous books of the Renaissance, but the results were not sexy, because the Italian was in a ponderously Latinate style. Sexy sentences got to have rhythm. As Rowland wonderfully describes what I, not she, call the Renaissance of the Sentence, (but my description owes all to her interpretation of the historical record), Castiglione wrote in a manner that “set standards for vernacular style: like the building blocks of a classical temple, the subordinate clauses interlock, one after another, to construct the sonorous bulk of Castiglione’s monumental run-on sentences.” Castiglione brings “epic muscularity” of Michelangelo’s sculpture into sentence construction. The writers of the Renaissance had figured out what made Ancient writing click, and they’d found a way to do it on their own.
What I’m saying is that the first step to re-establishing the essay as the standard in humanistic writing is to reinvigorate the sentences we write, so that, when one reads an essay, one feels it. One feels it the way one tastes -- and here I’m going global -- a good curry. It really sets you back. Or maybe forward. Style, maniera, modo is what we readers demand. The humanists of the Renaissance knew the Romans had the ability to put sentences that had concinnitas, but that their ancestors in what we call the Middle Ages had lost that ability. When the Ancients constructed the Arch of Constantine, it stayed together for centuries, even though neglected. Concinnity -- what a splendid word!
It seems to me that when bad styling of sentences became accepted, we got used to it. We compensated for the lack of quality and impact of the sentences that people wrote as evidence of their scholarly abilities by asking them for more of them in the hopes we could get the same buzz going that we used to get from fewer sentences. Last year I ran a panel at the Modern Language Association on “Slow Reading,” and today I’m advocating slow writing. Editors are in the position to make this change take place.
Now, I can hear you saying: Who am I to think I can turn the academic world around?
I suggest that what we in scholarly publishing -- books and journals -- need to do is to simultaneously go down-market and upscale. I am also an editor for a journal, a member of the editorial board of the Duke University Press journal boundary 2. We decided to change our policies to deal with a whole set of changes that have beset the academic world since 1989. Before I talk about the specifics of the changes in policy, I ask you to step back to take in the bigger picture. It’s important to see our moment in historical perspective from the Oil Crisis of 1973-4, which had a profound effect on university libraries, until 1989-2001. Because of the oil crisis of the early 70s, librarians cut back drastically on purchasing books but maintained journal subscriptions. As a result some publishers decided they could raise prices on serials with impunity. It was license to print money. The result radically distorted university library budgets.
After September 11th the universities finally decided they could reduce purchases of journals as much as they’d cut back on books. I’m talking about general trends. Of course, there are exceptions to what I’m saying. The development of electronic forms of publication provided the justification for the cutbacks. There was a sense that if a library switched its purchasing to electronic media, it was not really cutting back, because there were alternative avenues for publication. This was partly true, but in the meantime, there was a growing sense that educators needed to be policed better and given measuring sticks for productivity. Thus, the demand for books increased even at the time the budgets for purchasing books were slashed. And libraries were appropriately looking for opportunities to cut subscriptions to print journals that were perceived as unnecessary.
Journal editors felt the need to rethink what they were doing to make themselves seem more essential, less cuttable. In the meantime, the good intellectual and academic times that ran from the late 60s were over. The wonderful flowering of new theories in almost every field of academic endeavor had run their course. In literary studies, for example, the great excitement of theory had mutated into the police state tactics of the New Historicism that in fact often focussed on policing, setting rules, enforcing market conditions. So it was not a time for developing new journals and readers’ interests were waning. When people did not understand de Man and Foucault, there was interest in essays by scholars telling readers they’d finally come to understand these gurus of the postmodern, but this sort of thing gets stale. It got really stale. And we found our pages filling with careerists eager to add another line to the cv. Jonathan Arac, one of the lead editors of boundary 2, describes the new policy for acquisitions for the journal in these simple terms: We decided to serve our readers more than our contributors. Paul Bove summarizes the changes in the journal editorial policy as consisting of four criteria:
1. ordinary language, not jargon 2. essays first, scholarly articles second 3. application of the “cui bono?” test to all submissions 4. contents of journal must educate the readers and serve the audience, not the careers of the writers
We must, he said to me, appeal to the curiosity of the reader and recover the right to use the word “stupid” as a judgment call.
A journal, hopefully, stretches on and on. Editorial principles will change if the journal stays as flexible and fluid as the sentences that we hope will appear in it. It should be structured to make the needs of the readers primary, those needs as imagined by the editors in an act of empathy and political responsibility. How could one set up a journal or any publication where essays were being gathered in order to make them command respect. We have some work to do on this at boundary 2, but we are trying to demand more of ourselves in order to give more to readers.
I am involved in a project now where the essay is the monarch, where we have set up editorial procedures to push us, the editors, to publish the best essays, and that is my book, forthcoming in Fall 2009, called The New Literary History of the United States, whose chief editors are Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors. In publishing it’s always about how to rig things for the best results, knowing there’s going to be a lot of resistance coming in from every which way.. The book depends on the chief editors and the members of the editorial board leaning on the best people they know to contribute. But having done that, how can you be demanding? Beggars can be choosers, I say!! We set up the editorial procedures to make sure the personal loyalty of the editors to contributors doesn’t interfere with the loyalty of the publication to its readers. I’ve been through this twice before with the French and German literary histories in 1989 and 2004, but I think we’ve improved things! Working with my chief editors who have each had a lot of experience editing the work of others, we set the editorial procedures up to fight the lazy writing habits that have entered the academic world over the last decades.
When Edward Said predicted the decline of writing by professors in the early 1980s, I did not believe him; but he was right and I was wrong. A lot of bad habits developed, and now they are protected by power by those who write poorly who have now risen in rank as a result of what I called “social passing” in educational levels above the primary and secondary schools. We had fights and had to have emergency meetings of the board for Hollier’s New History of French Literature because, although Hollier was demanding and so were we at Harvard University Press, some members of the board did not think we had the right to make professors revise to the degree that every page would be readable.
What an outrage! I remember the would-be contributor whom we were demanding more of who said “But I’ve written the perfect New Historicist, feminist, deconstructionist essay. You dare not tamper with my very self and voice. And we dared not tell Professor Polonius that he did not have any writing voice at all. You cannot be comical-pastoral-tragical (I am playing on what Polonius says at Hamlet 2.2.397.) and speak in any tongue in which humans have spoken. We nearly turned down an entry by one of the chief editors of that book. With the Marcus/Sollors I confess to having stacked things towards readability by making one of the founding editors of Rolling Stone be one of the two editors-in-chief of the volume. Guilty as charged. The way I have set up the Marcus/Sollors is all around the essay. The book is a collection of 220 essays that resonate in surprising ways so that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts, but each individual part is a free-standing essay.In the making of this book I have pursued the essay so strongly that I have made it function in a new way like an individual instrument in Alexander’s Ragtime Band.
If we want change to happen so that essays become the norm of scholarly publication for tenure for junior people, then we will have to make it happen. It is in our power, but it will not happen unless we make a concerted effort. We need to make changes in our journals, as I described we did with boundary 2 and the Marcus/Sollors. . We need to do what we might fear will be dumbing down our publications by insisting upon clearer language set forth in rhythmical sentence. The reason for the persistence of gobbledy-gook is that it’s a lot easier to hide mediocre thinking under the cloak of gobbledy-gook. If we insist upon clarity, we will miss those moments of professional “stuplimity” (to use my dear author Sianne Ngai’s word) caused by the deep unclarity of the sort we get from Zizek. But we’ll win back readers. We want to publish writings people will talk about.
The real, dirty secret of academic publishing, as a daring author of a letter to the editor of Nature had the courage to say, is that it’s too easy to get published nowadays: “Let’s admit it . . . one can publish just about anything if one goes low enough down the list of impact factors,” wrote Vladimir Svetlov of the Department of Microbiogology at Ohio State University. There are procedures for refereeing and they make some difference in an international context (this is going to be a bigger and bigger issue in the years to come), but those procedures don’t in and of themselves guarantee anything. In fact, where I hear people talk the most about journals edited according to international standards for refereeing, it often attached to mediocre publications and is a reason for excluding from counting towards one’s record publication in essays it is almost impossible to get into because they have their own, very high standards, like Critical Inquiry.
A good journal has a direction, a mission and scholarly goals. The for-profit publishers know how to set up a journal that gets credibility in the most facile way possible. It has become harder to make money from journals since September 11th. The old tricks won’t work, but the authorities in the universities have not adjusted to them and in some way they feed into them, feed into the undermining of scholarly standards. The profit motive undermines true credibility of many scholarly journals. I have been clipping the articles from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other papers that document the assault on the authority of scholarly journals by a number of for-profit operations. It has become a lot more dangerous to edit a scholarly journal, especially in the medical sciences where there is big money to lose when the claims for a Big Pharma product are contested by a scientist. I have a big sheaf of such essays gathered over the last three years. All this would be bad enough were it not that papers like the Wall Street Journal also run essays by -- what is the right word for it? -- people like Professor Thomas P. Stossel of the Harvard Medical School saying that scholarly journals “are magazines,” no better than the magazines you find in the grocery store with no more authority than such publications. The pull-quote from the essay reads: “Why are scientific journals regarded with such reverence?” This shameful screed was meant to undermine scholarly journals. To say the least such talk is of no help in the effort I am encouraging to bring more authority back to the scholarly journal.
We live at a time when I can see that a whole series of great developments are emerging in philosophy, literary studies, and other fields. We are on the verge of great things, and they are apparent in a number of articles appearing in journals and some of the projects have developed far enough to merit publication in book form. But these are also desperate times for many, a time of uncertainty and false prophets. Now, Mr. Zizek is about to be shut up by a whole set of people who are tired of hearing him blab his mouth. About time! But, look, it’s America: There are still a lot of snake oil salemen ready to try to convince you that up is down. Beware! As we prepare for the next thirty years we need to refind our foundations, to re-establish learning on the best foundations, and the best one of all is the sentence that the Renaissance reinvigorated. A sentence is not like a laundry line on which we pin words so they can flap in the wind. No, a sentence “is a sound in itself on which other sounds called words may be strung.”
Will the Internet, will Google destroy the scholarly journal? Will blogs spell the end of little magazines? I hope not. Look at N + 1. There’s no authority in being disseminated by the Internet in and of itself. As Benjamin wrote of technology, it is is a force for good and ill; all depends on humans subordinating the tool to human needs. The iron we smelt we can use to make railway tracks that bring us together and movie cameras we use to make art that brings us together. Or that metal can be made into bullets and bombers. It is up to us. The tools don’t determine our course. That’s why we have to go back to fundamentals, to the sentence, to judgment -- it’s no surprise those words can mean the same thing -- to reassure others, and more importantly,ourselves that what we do is essential. Against the bluster and braggadocio of a Zizek and so many other boastful denizens of the Roaring Nineties, let us affect the modesty that seems to be endemic to the essay!
Lindsay Waters is executive editor for the humanities at the Harvard University Press. This essay is adapted from a talk he gave at the meeting of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, held in December at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association. His Enemies of Promise came out from Prickly Paradigm Press in 2004, and then from State University Press of Sao Paolo in 2006 and will come out from Editions Allia in Paris in 2008 and from Commercial Press in Beijing in 2009.
For all that they are seen as bastions of knowledge and unfettered flow of information, colleges and universities are not typically known for welcoming rigorous scrutiny of themselves. They often have love-hate relationships with the journalists who cover them.
So imagine my surprise in 2002 when R. Dean Mills, dean of the University of Missouri’s Journalism School, asked me, an investigative reporter on its faculty, to write an institutional history of the school, the world’s first and arguably best, to commemorate its centennial.
The offer felt like an attractive one -- he agreed to pay a sum commensurate with what a New York City book publisher would pay for a trade title found in the country’s major bookstores, and had lined up the University of Missouri Press, a first-rate academic press, to publish it. Still, I said no -- I was under contract to write a trade book, I did not think I could handle a second book project at the same time, and the idea of an institutional history sounded potentially boring. But the dean demonstrated persistence. Each month that passed, the money became increasingly appealing, in part because my advance from the trade publisher had long since run out.
I was sure, though, that my unshakeable demand -- complete editorial independence – would cause the dean to draw back. I was wrong. When he agreed to that condition, I said yes, despite my reservations.
You have it right: Mills chose the person most experienced at unearthing skeletons, digging up dirt, (substitute your own cliché, if you like), to tell his institution’s history. Was he crazy, or gutsy, or what?
Protected by my written promise of complete editorial independence, I began digging -- er, researching. What happened over the next five years surprised me, a veteran of seven trade books, over and over.
Surprise Number One: The secrets hidden in archives. As an investigative reporter, I am accustomed to being stonewalled when I seek information from government agencies, private sector corporations and even not-for-profits such as charities. Yes, I had used archives before, so I grasped their importance. That said, what I found at the University of Missouri archives astounded me at times. The dedicated, skilled archivists delivered box after box to the table where I was taking notes. They never withheld folders, never inquired about my motives, never complained about the voluminous nature of my requests.
Inside the boxes I found revealing information about journalism school programs (including budget increases and cuts) as well as documents about faculty, staff and students, many of them still living. Negotiations preceding faculty hires, disciplinary panels, tenure and promotion applications and votes – all there for my consumption.
Surprise Number Two: The prickly questions of self-censorship I faced. Access to sensitive files meant potential invasions of privacy if I decided to publish what I found. As an investigative reporter writing in the omniscient third person, I worry about invasions of privacy infrequently. A story important to a broad readership must usually trump concern about an individual. That formulation might sound heartless, but those uncomfortable with it should never become investigative reporters.
I felt differently as the chronicler of the journalism school’s history. My name would appear as author, but I did not consider the book so much “mine” as I did “ours,” with me representing current and former faculty, staff and students. I understood from the start that lots of folks constituting “ours” wanted me to produce an upbeat centennial history rather than an expose. As a result, I discussed only the tenure and promotion controversies necessary to document themes, such as the troubles faculty at what is partly a vocational school encounter when being judged for tenure/promotion by a campus-wide committee of Ph.D.s in biology, physics and history.
Not all the self-censorship puzzlements arose from archival material. For example, I knew from my decades at the school of faculty on faculty extramarital affairs; faculty on staff extramarital affairs; and faculty members who began romantic liaisons with students. How to handle those, especially because at least a few affected the educational atmosphere within the school? I considered writing about the impact of some affairs without naming names. But that would have violated my personal ban on anonymous sources and subjects. Furthermore, failing to name names would have cast a shadow on the uninvolved. For better or worse (probably worse), I omitted all such sexual liaisons from the book, except for rumors involving the founding dean and a student, rumors that had been published previously. That student became a faculty member, as well as the dean’s second wife after he spent years as a widower.
Surprise Number Three: Examining my biases. I arrived at the University of Missouri in 1966 as a student. I graduated from the journalism school in 1970. In 1978, I joined the faculty, eventually became a full professor with tenure, and continue to teach there part-time. That means for more than 40 years I have known many of the people mentioned in the book. I never pretended to put aside all biases. I devote more paragraphs than some other author might to my mentors. I devote more paragraphs than other authors would to Investigative Reporters and Editors, a professional group with headquarters at the journalism school; I served as executive director of IRE from 1983-1990, and still serve as an editor on IRE’s magazine. I did my best to avoid score settling, but probably failed to erase or even hide all my negative reactions to certain individuals. In the preface, I warn readers: “When I possess firsthand knowledge of people and occurrences, I have allowed that knowledge to inform the narrative. I am acutely aware that my firsthand knowledge is open to interpretation by others with different values and vantage points.”
Surprise Number Four: The dilemmas of context. The journalism school has been home to ugly episodes of racism, sexism, religious intolerance, homophobia and ageism. I worried about slamming the journalism school for such behavior when the same ugliness permeated the entire university (the first African-American faculty member did not arrive until 1969), city, county, state and nation. I eventually decided to cover a few of the most significant ugly incidents in depth, and omit the rest.
Well, the book is generally available now (press.umsystem.edu). Its main title is The Journalism of Humanity, part of a quotation from the founding dean Walter Williams, who, by the way, never attended college but eventually became the University of Missouri’s president. The subtitle is “A Candid History of the World’s First Journalism School.” I believe the word “candid” is accurate, despite what I omitted.
Imagine what would need to happen for university presses to return to what was once, long ago, their virtually exclusive mission: the publication of scholarly monographs intended for restricted, indeed sometimes infinitesimal, audiences. It would require more changes than the mind can readily picture.
Libraries would need to have bigger budgets. The costs of printing and distribution would have to deflate. Chain bookstores, apart from paying for their inventory up front, must agree never to return books to publishers. And that’s just for starters. Professors, while cultivating an interest in fields well outside their own, ought to buy more books. Graduate students would be given generous stipends earmarked for building up their own collections.
Also, while we’re at it, everyone should get a pony.
But reality, which tends to be pony-free, has long compelled university presses to split their catalogs ever more sharply between specialized works and commodities designed for a wider market. Occasionally, though, a new title hits that sweet spot somewhere in between. In a column earlier this month, I began scanning the fall lists for possible “crossovers” -- books that might reach an audience beyond the ivory tower. Here are a few more possibilities.
Half the effort involves guessing what the public’s appetite might crave. Over the past few years, some university presses have been quite literal on that score. Hence the emergence of something called “food studies” -- a trend that will no doubt culminate, one of these days, in an endowed chair in Cookbook Theory.
For the moment, at least, the United Nations has declared 2008 to be the Year of the Potato, making it very timely that the University of Wisconsin Press is bringing out Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip, by Dirk Burhans. Scheduled for November, it promises to uncover the “dark side of potato chip history,” according to the catalog. Alas, its purview does not extend to an analysis of Funyuns, which have always struck me as far more sinister. (See this phenomenological description.)
Another, still more stomach-churning exposé is due from Princeton University Press, which is publishing Bee Wilson’s Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee, in October. It provides a survey of how foods and beverages have been “padded, diluted, contaminated substituted, mislabeled, misnamed, or otherwise faked” throughout history. Of any academic book published this fall, Swindled has the best chance of inspiring a really horrific documentary.
A more comforting prospect seems to be Maria Balinska’s The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, due from Yale University Press in September. This cultural history begins in 17th century Poland and ends, I’m guessing, in your grocer’s freezer – though if you think that’s a bagel, you don’t know bagels. As if to confirm that a bona fide trend is emerging within the field of food studies, Balinska’s narrative, too, has its darker side: an account of “the Bagel Bakers’ Local 388 Union of the 1960s and the attentions of the mob.”
If the Association of American University Presses gave an award for best subtitle -- which, by the way, it really should -- this fall’s strongest candidate would be Marion Nestle’s Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, out in September from the University of California Press. The book “uncovers unexpected connections among the food supplies for pets, farm animal, and people,” according to the catalog, “and identifies glaring gaps in the global oversight of food safety.”
Another appetite that always generates attention, academic and otherwise, is that of the libido. Not long ago I complained that a recent series about the history of the sexual revolution might have benefited from the involvement of scholars who actually knew something about the matter. (Instead, the producers filled out the show with commentary by fifth-rate demi-celebrities.) Clearly, though, this is an area where stirring up popular interest is not too difficult. The crossover appeal of books on the subject is obvious.
The one scholar to appear on that program was Linda Williams, whose new book Screening Sex is forthcoming from Duke University Press in November. Moving between personal recollections of how she responded to particular films and in-depth cultural and historical analysis, Williams begins with cinematic representations of the kiss -- though the book becomes considerably less chaste in very short order. Larry Flynt used to do jail time for publishing things less explicit than some of the movie stills in this book.
Even more startling for most people, though, will be Steven Marcus’s classic The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England. First published in 1966, it will be reissued by Transaction in September with a new introduction by the author. This is not a book to read just because Foucault alluded to it in the first volume of The History of Sexuality, or even because Marcus was doing cultural studies well before anybody was calling it that. All duly noted, of course. But The Other Victorians is fascinating in its own right -- a riveting look at how Victorian smut reconciled desire and anxiety in a vision of insatiable excess that Marcus calls “pornotopia.”
Every so often, we learn that a politician or famous clergyman, or even the occasional provost, has carved out his own little niche for pornotopian bliss. Some of those figures recover from having their walks on the wild side exposed (Bill Clinton for example) and some do not (what is Mark Foley doing these days?) In The Art of the Public Grovel: Sexual Sin and Public Confession in America, due from Princeton University Press in October, Susan Wise Bauer analyzes what works and what doesn't. Evidently "a type of confession that arose among nineteenth-century evangelicals has today become the required form for any public admission of wrongdoing.” This book should probably be bound in loose-leaf format, thereby permitting frequent updates.
If all else fails, plead behavioral compulsion. Leading disability-studies scholar Lennard J. Davis’s Obsession: A History, appearing in November from the University of Chicago Press, traces how behaviors once understood as the result of demonic possession were transformed into symptoms of a medical condition -- one with a “huge increase (estimates up to 600-fold) in diagnosis” over the past three decades.
Another condition that is diagnosed ever more frequently, autism, is the subject of two books due out this fall. In Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure (Columbia University Press, September), Paul A. Offit, a physician and professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, “recounts the history of autism research and the exploitation of this tragic condition by advocates and zealots” who champion dubious theories and quack cures. The philosophical implications of the disorder are considered by Deborah R. Barnbaum in The Ethics of Autism: Among Them, But Not of Them (Indiana University Press, November). The disconnection between the autistic individual and other people raises questions about both the nature of consciousness itself and the possibilities of moral understanding among those with the condition.
Health-care reform is bound to be on the national agenda once George Bush is safely out of power. In October, Harvard University Press will publish Harold S. Luft’s Total Cure: The Antidote to the Health Care Crisis, offering a “comprehensive new proposal” the author dubs SecureChoice. The details cannot be quite grasped on the basis of the catalog description. But once SecureChoice is established, it seems, things will be just about perfect. All of us will be happy -- doctors, patients, drug companies, everybody. Well, good luck with that....
This survey of the fall's potential breakthrough books has been quick, dirty, provisional, impressionistic, and by no means complete. The point bears admission, if only in the vain hope of mollifying any publicist inclined to write a letter of complaint. Your press's exciting new cultural history of guacamole clearly deserved mention. I feel your pain. But variety was the intent here, and not exhaustiveness.
As a matter of fact, there is at my elbow a list of other forthcoming titles that, while of less interest to the nonacademic book buyer perhaps, do merit notice in this column. We’ll consider many of them here in months to come.
Meanwhile, your roving correspondent will soon be headed to the Association of American University Presses annual meeting, held in Montreal later this month. Here’s hoping any Intellectual Affairs readers who plan to attend will say hello. The life of a professional bookworm has its pleasures -- but conversation is good, too.
It can be a frightening time to be in the publishing business. The economic mechanisms that support the reproduction and distribution of information in print have been disrupted by the economics of digital media. The newspaper industry provides just one example. As Eric Alterman pointed out in a recent New Yorker article, “In the Internet Age,… no one has figured out how to rescue the newspaper in the United States or abroad.” Print circulation is at its lowest level since records have been kept and online revenue from advertising and subscriptions are nowhere close to making up for those declines. It is well known that journals and scholarly presses are also struggling to adapt their business models.
At the same time that established publishing organizations are struggling, more and more academics and academic organizations are attempting to enter digital publishing. They are digitizing new content daily, developing new software tools, and collecting new data. Naturally, the creators of these online academic resources (OARs) wish to make them broadly available and to ensure their continued availability and currency.
These new digital resources have generally been created from one-time grant funding or short-term commitments of resources. However, unlike a printed book, digital resources require continued investment. The software systems and platforms on which they depend must be upgraded and kept current. It is the nature of digital resources to be continually growing and changing, attracting new content, and rapidly cycling through revisions and additions.
Increasingly, therefore, foundations, government agencies and universities are asking where they will find the recurring funding to sustain these online resources over time. They are requiring the leaders of such projects to develop sustainability plans that include ongoing sources of revenue; in short, they are looking for academics to act as publishing entrepreneurs. Success in such endeavors requires entrepreneurial expertise and discipline, but in our experience at Ithaka, few OAR projects employ fundamental principles of project planning and management. Why don’t they?
What we have observed is that deep cultural differences separate the scholarly mindset from the mindset of the e-entrepreneur. Most people overseeing online academic resources are scholars, raised in the academy, accustomed to its collegial culture and deliberative pace, shielded from traditional market forces. However, the rapid changes and ruthless competitive landscape of the Internet require a different mindset. The challenge for a successful OAR project leader is to marry the scholarly values essential to the project’s intellectual integrity with the entrepreneurial values necessary for its survival in the Internet economy.
To assist project leaders in successfully managing digital enterprises, Ithaka embarked on a project to study the major challenges to the sustainability of these online academic resources. Working with support from the Joint Information Systems Committee and the Strategic Content Alliance, we interviewed a range of people both in the academy and industry. During that effort, the fruits of which were published last week, we identified several aspects of the entrepreneurial approach that seem particularly important to creating sustainable digital projects:
1. Grants are for start-up, not sustainability. Most often, project leaders should regard initial funding as precisely that -- start-up funding to help the project develop other reliable, recurring and diverse sources of support. The prevailing assumption that there will be a new influx of grant funding when the existing round runs out is counter-productive to building a sustainable approach. There are exceptions to this assertion -- for example, if a grantee offers a service that is vital to a foundation’s mission or is exclusively serving an important programmatic focus of the funder -- but these cases are unusual.
2. Cost recovery is not sufficient: growth is necessary. Project leaders need to adopt a broader definition of “sustainability” that encompasses more than covering operating costs. The Web environment is evolving rapidly and relentlessly. It is incorrect to assume that, once the initial digitization effort is finished and content is up on the Web, the costs of maintaining a resource will drop to zero or nearly zero. Projects need to generate surplus revenue for ongoing reinvestment in their content and/or technology if they are to thrive.
3. Value is determined by impact. OAR project leaders tend to underestimate the importance of thinking about demand and impact and the connections between those elements and support from key stake holders. The scholarly reluctance to think in terms of “marketing” is a formula for invisibility on the Internet. Without a strategic understanding of the market place, it is only through serendipity that a resource will attract users and have an impact on a significant population or field of academic endeavor. And of course, attracting users is essential for garnering support from a variety of stake holders: host universities, philanthropies and government agencies, corporate sponsors and advertisers. The most promising and successful online resource projects are demand driven and strive for visibility, traffic and impact.
4. Projects should think in terms of building scale through partnerships, collaborations, mergers and even acquisitions. Project leaders need to consider a range of options for long-term governance. Start-ups in the private sector, for example, aim for independent profitability but they also consider it a success to merge with complementary businesses or to sell their companies to a larger enterprise with the means to carry those assets forward. Not-for-profit projects should think similarly about their options and pursue different forms of sustainability based on their particular strengths, their competition, and their spheres of activity. Given the high fixed costs of the online environment, collaborations and mergers are critical for helping single online academic resource projects keep their costs down and improve chances for sustainability.
5. In a competitive world, strategic planning is imperative. In the highly competitive environment of the Web, project leaders must embrace the best operating practices of their competitors -- a group that includes commercial enterprises -- for mindshare and resources. That means they will have to act strategically, develop marketing plans, seek out strategic partnerships, understand their competitive environment, and identify and measure themselves against clear goals and objectives for how they will accomplish their missions successfully and affordably. An academic disdain for “commercialism” can doom many a promising scholarly project to failure on the Internet.
Historically, academic projects have been shielded from commercial pressures, in part by funders, but mainly because their economic environment operated independently from other areas of commerce. This separation between the “academic” and “commercial” economies is no longer meaningful. The project leaders that are most likely to succeed in today’s digital environment are those who can operate successfully under the pressures of competition and accountability, and in the messiness of innovation and continual reinvention.
6. Flexibility, nimbleness, and responsiveness are key. OARs need to develop the capability for rapid cycles of experimentation (“fail early and often”), rather than spending years attempting to build the optimal resource in isolation from the market. Unfortunately, many OARs are structurally set up to do the latter – their grants commit them to promised courses of action for several years and tie them to specific deliverables. Leaders of online academic resources may not realize that many funders would prefer nimbleness if it means that the OARs will have a greater impact. Funders, for their part, must recognize that multi-year plans need to be highly flexible to allow for adaptation to new developments in technology and the marketplace.
7. Dedicated and fully accountable leadership is essential. Running a start-up – and developing an online academic resource is running a start-up – is a full-time job requiring full-time leadership. The “principal investigator” model, in which an individual divides her time among a variety of research grants, teaching assignments, and other responsibilities, is not conducive to entrepreneurial success. New initiatives aiming for sustainability require fully dedicated, fully invested, and intensely focused leadership. If a principal investigator cannot provide it, he or she will have to retain a very capable person who can.
If new digital academic resources are going to survive in the increasingly competitive online environment, the academy needs a better understanding of the challenges of managing what are essentially digital publishing enterprises. Leaders and supporters of these projects must orient themselves to an entrepreneurial mindset and embrace principles of effective management. If they are unable to do that, important resources serving smaller scholarly disciplines will disappear, leaving only those projects that are commercially viable.
Kevin M. Guthrie
Kevin M. Guthrie is president of Ithaka, a nonprofit organization with a mission to accelerate the productive uses of information technologies for higher education. From 1995 to 2003, he was the founding president of JSTOR.
The late Jean Baudrillard – postmodern theorist and, in his day, major brand-name cash cow in the world of academic publishing – used to speculate about how technological objects were enacting their revenge upon us. But something else seemed to be happening at the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses, in Montreal late last week.
The audience would wait patiently as someone at the podium typed on a laptop, cuing a video clip appropriate to some theme. And then – nothing. YouTube seemed to be boycotting the proceedings. During another session, the speaker ran through important arguments as supporting evidence was projected, via PowerPoint slides, on a giant screen. But so were periodic bursts of static ... ripples from the cyber-ether ... digital burps. (Which, like the corporal sort, punctuate a lecture in ways that don't improves your concentration.)
It felt less like revenge than aloof indifference to puny human wishes. And don’t think that the humans aren’t noticing. In the course of numerous interviews and off-the-record chats, I got an earful about how people at university presses really feel about their new-media overlords.
Over the past few years, a certain boilerplate rhetoric has emerged about the need for university presses boldly to face the challenges of the information technology -- the better to seize the exciting new opportunities thus created, yadda yadda yadda. But beneath all the digital platitudes, one detects a growing frustration. The tone of discontent is usually pretty muted. Few people want to be known as Luddites. But after a while, they just don’t want to hear about any more “exciting new opportunities” – least of all given the state of one’s budget. The menu of existing options is more than sufficient, thanks very much.
And while the Ithaka Report stirred up a fair bit of discussion when it appeared almost a year ago, an informal survey of AAUP attendees suggests that its affect on the academic-publishing agenda has been very unevenly distributed.
The report urged scholarly publishers and university libraries to work together to resolve the contradictions in the established system for producing and distributing monographs. Why issue a specialized work with a potential audience of hundreds, at most, in an extremely expensive hardback that takes a big bite out of the library’s budget? Would it not make sense to create a new digital publishing platform (basically, JSTOR on steroids) permitting wider circulation of a monograph at much lower cost?
As a conversation-starter in Montreal, I would to ask people how the Ithaka Report had influenced decision-making at their presses over the past year.
Some answered along the following lines: "The Ithaka Report is an incredibly important document that we all discussed when it appeared. [Pause] What was it about, again?”
A few responded that yes, they were now publishing e-books. Some mentioned that they knew that academic titles were now selling in Kindle-ready format.
As for the Ithakan vision of some vast new architecture that would revolutionize the publishing and dissemination of scholarly material ... well, it just did not loom on their horizon. You couldn't blame them. They had more urgent concerns. There is enough to do just getting the books ready for each season’s catalog while trying to squeeze a dollar out of 83 cents.
On the other hand, a portion of the AAUP membership is trying to follow the Ithaka recommendation to cultivate a closer relationship with the librarians on their campuses.
“We started meeting with them a couple of months ago,” said James McCoy, the marketing and sales director for the University of Iowa Press. “Librarians have a sense of how the products we publish are going to be used. In general they tend to be much more in touch than we are with emerging trends in information technology. We’ve become aware of things like the Charleston Conference and have learned a lot by reading Against the Grain.”
McCoy was not the first person in Montreal to cite the annual conference on books and serials acquisition, held in Charleston, S.C, each November. (An informal gathering of librarians and other bookpeople, it is not sponsored an organization.) I had never heard the Charleston Conference mentioned at a previous AAUP meetings, but this time it was mentioned during panels as well as in less formal discussions. The Charlestonian journalAgainst the Grain describes itself as “your key to the latest news about libraries, publishers, book jobbers, and subscription agents.” It, too, was referred to by numerous people in Montreal as a must-read for anyone in academic publishing who wants a glimpse of how their colleagues across campus are discussing the new information tools.
Mark Saunders, director of marketing for the University of Virginia Press, told me that he and his colleagues had been having monthly meetings with UVa’s librarians for “about a year...to talk about sharing hardware and software and to increase awareness of complimentary programs we have underway.” The press and the library also now share an IT person. “This is all happening from the bottom up," he said, "rather than as some kind of high-level initiative.” It was not so much a matter of being inspired by the Ithaka Report itself as “continuing and deepening what we’ve already been doing.”
James Peltz, an acquisitions editor for the State University of New York Press, says that members of the press are meeting with librarians from the SUNY system. He said there was a “five-year plan” to create the SUNY Center for Scholarly Communication.
Not quite clear whether this was an ironic allusion to Soviet economic models or a literal prospect, I later got in touch with Gary Dunham, the executive director for SUNY Press. He passed along a memorandum on the "series of far-reaching organizational changes," beginning this year, that "will incrementally transform the book publisher" into "a digital and print-on-demand publishing research portal tailored to the specific needs of the vast SUNY system and also geared toward disseminating research in targeted fields of research elsewhere." It will do so through "a shared digital platform." This is not just in the spirit of the Ithaka Report, but sounds pretty close to the letter.
Some panels in Montreal addressed ways to promote paper-and-ink books via digital means. A panel on “New Media for Scholarly Publishers” focused on one medium in particular as having important potential: online video. Participants emphasized the decreasing cost of digital movie cameras and editing equipment, the growing distribution of the skills required for using them, and the rapidly expanding segment of the public that regularly watches video on the internet.
This was persuasive in spite of the gremlins. The audience did at least get to see a Princeton University Press clip of Henry Frankfurt discussing the peculiar susceptibilities to bullshit of the highly educated. Panelists and members of the audience suggested that a press could build a “studio” from scratch for under ten thousand dollars. A ready pool of camera operators and video editors is there to be tapped by any university with a radio-television-film program. (And even, I suspect, by schools without one. By now there are probably Amish teenagers who want to direct.)
Two sessions were devoted to “Selling to Libraries,” of which I managed to attend one. An interesting point made in passing was that while university librarians are meticulous about strengthening their collections on the basis of reviews printed in scholarly journals, online reviews such as those at H-NET are having a strong influence on the market.
And if the price of video production is going down, the expense of publishing and mailing each season’s catalogs is headed in the opposite direction. Nor is it clear that such catalogs are especially useful to those in charge of building collections. While reviewers and retailers think in terms of publishing seasons, librarians don’t. (Instead, they find subject listings much more useful.)
Either way, it sounds like a matter of time before printed catalogs begin being phased out in favor of something e-formatted. In fact, the last couple of catalogs from the University of Georgia Press have arrived by email in just such fashion. Such a change can be easily justified (or rationalized, if you prefer) by reference to “green” concerns or economic realities, or both.
Returning home from Montreal to my cubicle, I gazed at the stacks of Fall ‘08 catalogs and wondered if it might be a good idea to box them up for sale to collectors on e-Bay a few years from now.
By the morning of the final day of the conference, it seemed as if there were a disconnection between the question I had been asking everyone (what do you think of the Itkaka Report?) and the discussions during the scheduled panels. At the sessions I attended, the report was never mentioned.
The important exception came a bit later, during lunch, when incoming AAUP president Alex Holzman, director of Temple University Press, cited the Ithaka Report in his first speech to the association. But this was in passing, and his talk did not sound particularly gung-ho about the exciting new opportunities of the digital age.
Rather, he noted the “air of worry over the coming financial year” and stressed the need to defend the particular and irreplaceable role that university presses played in scholarly life. (Holzman also announced that the coming year would see an extensive reappraisal and reform of the association’s committee structure. More on this as it develops.)
Only upon running into Sue Havlish, the marketing director for Vanderbilt University Press, could I start to put the pieces of the conference together. This was the second time I have had the benefit of an audience with Sue at an AAUP conference. The experience is to be recommended. Much that was subtly evaded by others, she nailed down in sentence.
What did she think of the Ithaka Report? Havlish didn’t just answer that question; she helped connect what, to an outsider, looked only like unrelated dots.
The report’s proposal of a comprehensive new publishing platform “is the 800 pound gorilla in the room,” she said. “Nobody wants to look at the gorilla because we’re all scared of it. Some librarians think that putting a text in a repository is ‘publishing’ it. There’s a fear of our role as publishers being subsumed by the libraries.But I still want – and I think most people still want – a book that been edited, that’s been shaped into something and marketed to me by a publisher that I’ve heard of already.”
Havlish discussed how university presses take a manuscript and transform it into a finished product. She started to use the term “value added” before catching herself. She refused to use management-speak. The issues could be better expressed in ordinary language.
“We’re afraid that people are going to forget that there’s a difference between publishing something and just printing it,” she told me. “You need somebody to separate the wheat from the chaff, because it’s the wheat you want.”
And then she put her own critique in context: “Of course everything I’m saying may be go with being able to remember a time when gas was at 98 cents a gallon.”
Quite so, given the ripple effects of fuel prices on production and distribution costs for non-digital books. (Now there’s a hideous expression.) Many changes in the relationship between technology and publishing are going to be decided, not through visionary planning, but by bottom lines.
“With the economy shaping up as it seems to be,” Havlish said, “we’re going to see a 15 year leap in publishing in the next two years.” This was not- - as it once might have seemed -- a profession of optimism.
Lynn Worsham, editor of JAC, a quarterly journal of rhetoric, writing, culture, and politics, recently wrote a helpful essay offering suggestions to professors to help them navigate the peer review process and have articles published in their field. It was so helpful, in fact, that I passed it out to our students who are thinking about one day entering into the disciplinary conversation. However, what I found missing from it was what we professors would like to see from editors and peer reviewers. As we are expected to follow some written and unwritten rules, editors and readers should be reminded of a few ideas, as well.
First, most professors I talk to about this issue complain a good deal about the amount of time it takes for them to hear back from editors and readers. Many of us know that the problem often lies in the hands of the peer reviewers, as we have been readers at one time or another ourselves. However, when we are the readers, we seem to forget about the professors at the other end of the submission process, so it only bothers us when we are the ones doing the submitting. There are times, though, where editors and readers are simply not holding up their end of the bargain by returning a decision in a timely fashion. If professors wait over a year for a response, their progress toward tenure is severely affected, especially if they actually honor some journals’ requests for not submitting the same article to various journals simultaneously.
What can make this matter even worse is when professors have to keep track of which journals have responded to the articles they’ve submitted so that they can remind the editor of the submissions. I have encountered and heard stories of editors simply ignoring e-mail queries about where one’s manuscript is in the process. Time that we have to take to investigate where we stand in the process is time away from the research we should be doing to keep up with our discipline.
Next, editors should also follow the rules that they set for us writers. For those journals that still require hard copies of submissions, a self-addressed stamped envelope is almost always requested (and should be sent anyway, as most professors know, though some choose to ignore that knowledge). However, I have had several journals send rejection notices via e-mail and keep the stamped envelope. This practice is a minor inconvenience, of course, especially for those of us who do not have to pay our own postage. However, for graduate students and part-time faculty, those mailing expenses can add up, and every stamp that is not used simply adds to the cost of submission. Just as professors’ not numbering pages correctly or not quite following the correct formatting is a reflection of their inattention to details, editors’ not following their own rules reflects poorly on the journal and its staff.
The last and most important issue when it comes to editors’ and readers’ responses to professors, though, is the tone of the response. Those of us who are engaged in academic discourse know that readers will disagree with our arguments, and we know that editors will decide, for whatever reason, that our submissions should not be published in their journals. However, that does not give them license to insult either our work or us. In speaking to friends and colleagues, we all have horror stories about responses from editors and readers that are nothing more than ad hominem attacks or a dismissal of ideas because of the readers’ particular view of a work.
This type of response can be especially problematic for graduate students and professors just beginning in a field. When I was in graduate school, I submitted an essay on Edith Wharton to a journal. The essay was the best one I had ever written, as far as I could tell, and I was eager to begin participating in what I hoped would be my future discipline. I attended a college, though, where professors never discussed publishing, so I had no knowledge of it before I entered graduate school. Not surprisingly, the journal turned down the essay and rightly so, as it was certainly not the caliber of writing that editors should expect. However, the response has stuck with me for years, as the reader simply wrote, “This is a good essay, for an undergraduate.” When I tell that to most people, they are surprised that I stayed in the profession and that I ever submitted anything again.
As professors we are not afraid of a healthy debate about ideas, and we seek honest feedback on our work. However, insults, whether directed at those ideas or at us personally, have no place in the critical debate. We would never allow our students to write essays using some of the responses I have seen from readers, nor would we write those comments on our students’ papers. Instead, we would tell them to focus on the ideas of the critics, as we focus on the ideas our students present in their essays. We put aside our personal feelings about the students and try to truly engage the ideas in and of themselves.
What professors truly want is constructive feedback that will make them better writers, thinkers and researchers. If, especially in our early days, we have somehow overlooked a seminal work (or a work that a reader at least believes is seminal), or have faulty logic, then, please, tell us so, but do so in an effort to make us and, therefore, the discipline, stronger.
I have had several wonderful editors help me take an article that was not fully formed and change it into one that they and I could be proud of, simply by asking a few questions or making one or two truly helpful suggestions. One editor simply suggested looking at two or three sources; only one of them turned out to be helpful, but that one led me to turn a few-page opinion piece into a full-length article that went beyond a scope I could have imagined. When I submitted a book manuscript to a university press, I received a rejection letter that was a page and a half long, and, to be honest, it stung. However, after reflecting on the comments, I revised the manuscript, adding enough material to lengthen it by a third, then had another press pick it up.
We do not expect to be coddled, but we do expect to be treated decently and to have our efforts dealt with respectfully. In the same way that editors and readers wish to be treated as professionals who have guidelines that writers should follow, so, too, do professors wish to be treated as ones who are trying to make a contribution to our disciplines.
Kevin Brown is an associate professor of English at Lee University. His forthcoming book, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels (Kennesaw State University Press), will be published this year.
In the January issue of The Journal of Scholarly Publishing, Lindsay Waters, an executive editor at Harvard University Press, tries to imagine a world in which "the well-wrought, slowly gestated essay" has replaced the monograph as the gold standard for scholarship in the humanities.
Some of his argument seems familiar. For one thing, Waters tried out an earlier version as a keynote address to the Council of Editors of Learned Journals when they met at MLA in 2007, where I heard it. For another thing, one idea in it came from me: the daydream of a world in which people would be penalized for publishing too much and too early in their careers. This is among the most cherished of my crackpot ideas. By now Waters has doubtless been subjected to some variation of it at lunch, probably more than once.
Of course there would be occasions when some wunderkind had so many ideas that brisk and frequent publication became a matter of urgent necessity. But that would be rare. A strictly enforced set of proscriptions would add excitement to things. Picking up a book or journal, you would know that it had involved some risk. Scholars might begin to publish pseudonymously, if they felt it was absolutely urgent to get a piece of research out. The spirit of adventure would probably be good for people's prose as well.
Well, someone has to draw up the floor plans for utopia. I found the page proofs of Waters's article while trying to clear my desktop before the start of the new administration. (Emphasis on "trying.") The title of the essay is "Slow Writing; or, Getting Off the Book Standard: What Can Journal Editors Do?" Another version ran as a Views piece here at Inside Higher Edlast year -- and if you missed it, as I did at the time, I'd recommend a look.
The alternative to utopia is not pretty, but a lot more probable.
The fundamental problem with the approach that Waters takes in his essay -- and in his little book Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship (University of Chicago Press, 2004) -- is that it overlooks the essentially compulsive nature of the human urge to produce and accumulate garbage. Waters seems to assume that the production of badly written monographs is an unfortunate failing of the system that could be fixed if different standards were adopted. But this is wrong.
The system works just fine. Unreadable works are unreadable precisely because nobody was ever supposed to read them in the first place. Communication is not the point; accumulation is. The producer of text accumulates credit for publication, while the glory of an ambitious research collection is that it is complete, whether or not any given work is used. The beauty of e-publishing is that it reduces the amount of physical space required to store all the unread material.
As it happens, all of this was predicted almost 50 years ago by Hal Draper, a figure best known (at least among people who know this kind of thing) for numerous definitive works in the field of Marxology. Draper also translated literary works by Goethe and Heinrich Heine, and wrote a widely circulated book about the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley. I've heard that when the Sixties catchphrase "Don't trust anyone over the age of thirty" first caught on in Berkeley, people sometimes added "except for Hal Draper."
Draper's day job was as an acquisitions librarian at the University of California at Berkeley. His experience inspired him to write a short story called "MS Fnd in a Lbry," first published in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy in 1961 and currently available online.
The anthropologist from Andromeda who narrates this piece of library-science fiction reconstructs the efforts of civilization to handle the accumulation of books generated as it spread throughout the galaxy. Libraries the size of a solar system were not enough to handle the human urge to churn out books. After billions of years of accumulation, a technological breakthrough allowed all of the material to be stored, in subatomic format, in a single drawer. Not to give too much away, but it isn't always easy to remember where you filed things.
Mark Twain once observed that “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Twain may not have been referring to what scholars assume humanities publishers want out of the peer-review process, but he probably would have appreciated the application.
According to the troubling “Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion” (2007), monograph publishing in the arts and humanities remains the key to the city of Academe. Moreover, in spite of plunging sales and soaring costs, monographs remain central to the mission of university presses and vital to the careers of scholars. In the monograph publishing equation, scholars play dual, crucial roles: they both write manuscripts and judge the value of others’ manuscripts. Reviewing manuscripts can benefit scholars and bring them into a respected circle. It can also inadvertently become detrimental to one’s career. Both roles demand academic rigor and a commitment to objectivity.
While the demonstration of academic rigor and objectivity is demanded of the author, it unfortunately at times collapses on the side of the reviewer. I’m not sure why this happens, but I know that it does. And when it does, the process gets dicey for publisher, author, and reviewer alike. Interestingly, while authors and publishers likely see the problem especially clearly, reviewers often seem alarmingly unaware of the stakes. In their role as peer reviewers, scholars might profit from knowing the publisher’s unspoken expectations and objectives; such knowledge might help them avoid the potential fallout from missing those expectations.
Keeping in mind that university presses publish roughly 10,000 new books annually, and assuming that they publish only 1 out of every 10 manuscripts, that means university presses are filtering 100,000 manuscripts per year. Of those, probably 15,000–20,000 get sent out for peer review. Granted, reviewing a manuscript for a university press is tantamount to taking a vow of poverty, but it will be part of your career either as an author or a reviewer. Odds are pretty good that you will, at some point, be asked to review a manuscript. Odds are even better that you will not tackle the assignment in the same way as others, with the same skills, or with the same assumptions about what the publisher wants.
Most publishers do provide — or should provide — readers with guidelines for evaluating a manuscript. Generally publishers want feedback about originality, documentation, how the work interacts with scholarship, suitability for classroom use, etc. This article will not revisit those issues. Here I’d like to dig a little deeper to reveal what I look for in the review process that scholars may think they know, but which “ain’t so.” By becoming aware of what publishers want (and don’t want), you might improve the value of your evaluation for all parties. Ultimately, a well-executed review should fulfill the professed scholarly allegiance to objectivity and academic rigor. Equally important, an ineffective review not only fails to give me what I want and need, it could jeopardize your future professional relationships with both publishers and other scholars.
Reviewers, even those who follow our guidelines, may think that they’re giving me what I want, but they often wind up submitting something else. Here are a few of the more egregious disconnects.
The New York Times book review. The request to peer review a manuscript is not the same as the request to review a book. Evaluating a manuscript’s merits and recommending or not recommending publication may seem like a book review, but it’s not. A scholarly book review unpacks a book’s argument, sets it in the context of similar works, and assesses the book’s value in that scholarly discussion. The book reviewer thus must assay a fixed object and place it in the scholarly grid of information. While the evaluation of a manuscript may (perhaps even should) include some of these elements, reviewing an unpublished manuscript is a fundamentally different process. Most obviously, an unpublished manuscript is still pliable: a case can be argued more strongly, a thesis written more clearly, and conclusions can sharpened to further advance understanding. The genre of the manuscript in hand should also be weighed: If the volume is designed as a course text, it should not be evaluated in the same way as a revised dissertation. Less obviously, reviewers often forget –– or take perverse pleasure in knowing –– that the career and future of a scholar hinge on the successful publication of a book manuscript. The published monograph can be the signal event in a professor’s career. Don’t get me wrong: the responsible reviewer should not take this last circumstance too lightly in either direction. This poses no ethical dilemma but a heuristic decision. You must be both responsible and decisive in either recommending or not recommending publication, and you must be able to articulate the “why or why not” behind either. In other words, as a first step in evaluating a manuscript, you should apply the same academic rigor and objectivity to assessing a manuscript as you would in writing your own book. Then look over your shoulder and remember that the review –– for good or ill –– may have consequences for your own career.
The "why-didn’t-you-write-a-different-book?" review. Really. It may not happen regularly but it occurs enough to be a vexing problem: A reviewer evaluates a manuscript as if it were written on a topic other than what the author has claimed. Many an editor has secured two reviewers who seem to be evaluating two different manuscripts. What is happening? Often one reviewer is evaluating an imaginary document other than the one that was written. For example, consider a manuscript examining the sociopolitical motives behind the burning of witches in 15th-century Europe. The author might have given only a passing nod to the economic and political history of firewood and forestry in 15th-century Europe. As one might imagine, a reviewer with expertise in late medieval firewood and forestry might perceive the lack of a discussion of the latter unforgivable. Piqued by the oversight the reviewer contends that the author has missed the whole point and takes the author to task for having discussed neither the history of the woodcutters’ guild nor the origins of German hardwoods. And while that may be a fine book, it’s not the manuscript the reviewer was asked to review and clearly not the book the author wished to write. Admittedly other causes can stand behind such a misreading: The author may have written unclearly in the first place. If that’s the case, then the book’s lack of an identifiable or a convincing thesis should be noted as a legitimate shortcoming. You should posit why the thesis fails or is indiscernible. But that’s not the same as peremptorily deciding that the manuscript should be about another subject and reviewing it accordingly.
A second, familiar permutation of misreading a manuscript takes place when the reviewer puts the manuscript back in its manila folder, pours a glass of Merlot, and discusses instead the reviewer’s own work, which by the way, should have been cited in the manuscript. This might be precipitated by ego, or it might be triggered by the failure to have actually read the manuscript. Lack of expertise might figure here as well. The outcome, however, is the same: I am left holding a feckless review that says more about you than the manuscript. As you submit the report, you may be pondering how good it feels to have corrected a major shortcoming of the manuscript, but I’m thinking it “ain’t so.” A review that so wildly misses the point forces me into an untenable position. What do I do with a vacuous review? The review has become part of the record. Sharing the review with the author risks a confrontation if not a lawsuit. Not submitting the review risks alienating you or violating procedures for handling manuscripts. Then there’s the question, should I recruit a new reviewer or just scratch the project? The next step toward writing a successful review is reviewing the manuscript sent.
The slashing review. And then there’s the slashing review. Clearly, more than a few peer reviewers regard the evaluation as an opportunity, to paraphrase Mencken, “to raise the black flag and begin slitting throats.” Regrettably, such actions come off more like Freddie Krueger than H.L. Mencken. Some seem to assault a manuscript gleefully: Brandishing their own cleverness and wit, they slash through the pages, intent not on evaluating the manuscript but on demonstrating their prowess. While everyone loves a black flag –– and Mencken –– the purpose of a peer review is neither to slit the throat of the manuscript’s author nor parade the reviewer’s rapier wit.
First, that kind of criticism proves helpful neither to the author nor ultimately to you, and, again, such actions push me into a dark corner. How do I return a manuscript stained with the author’s own blood? How do I say “thanks”? The slashing technique is misguided, but its creator clearly possesses an eye for weaknesses in the manuscript that might have be turned toward a more constructive reading. That would have actually helped. But the damage is done, and not just to the author and publisher. The slasher’s review –– and any inappropriate review –– will probably receive its own asterisk in the file: “Don’t ask Professor X to review manuscripts.” When paired with the “why-didn’t-you-write-a-different-book? review, the slasher’s review is a show-stopper. Then there’s the question, even in a double-blind arrangement, will I be able to protect your identity? Remember: in Academe only two degrees, not six, separate the author from the reviewer. Overspecialization means everyone knows everyone else. The short-term delight in savaging a manuscript will be hard to remember when the only person qualified to review your next book on woodcutter guilds in late medieval Germany is the individual whose manuscript you just shredded.
The intellectual comb over. Perhaps the most frustrating review and most impervious to fixing is the non-review, the intellectual comb over. This ploy simultaneously fails to review the manuscript and tries to cover up the failure by posing as an astute and perceptive scholarly assessment. While one might guess that this conceit occurs most frequently in negative evaluations, that is not the case. Reviews become even more problematic when they recommend publication without having exercised the kind of scholarly judgment and objectivity demanded by the evaluation process. The comb over is characterized by vague, unsubstantiated recommendations: tell-tale phrases like “needs to tighten up argument,” “could use some reorganizing,” “should consider restructuring argument,” “needs to add signposts,” or “needs to flesh-out this point” appear throughout. Add a long strand of so-called essential bibliographic references and a few names in the field, and voilà: A bogus review thinly conceals what might be (mis)interpreted as either laziness or incompetence. While all of these recommendations may indirectly address valid complaints, they are so vague as to be useless. Publishers — and authors –– need concrete, specific advice and the rationale behind it. I desire — indeed require — in the peer-review process the same academic objectivity and scrutiny that is demanded of scholarly writing itself.
I’ve read too many unhelpful reviews, plenty of valuable reviews, and a few stellar ones. The stellar ones remind me that the art of peer reviewing a manuscript remains one of the hallmarks of scholarship. Academics, especially humanists, often speak of themselves as being in “the guild.” If ever there was a time for a member to mentor a fellow-guild member, it’s in the peer-review evaluation. Here the craftsman or grandmaster can instruct the apprentice in the fine art of scholarship. And though the instruction may or may not result in publication, the report should emulate the twin standards of the guild: academic rigor and objectivity. Applying these standards to the peer-review process not only ensures a quality review; it keeps you in good stead with your peers. I also won’t file your name under “Don’t ask Professor X to review manuscripts,” which, on the one hand, may sound like a relief, but on the other, it places you and maybe your career on the periphery of a vital scholarly circle.
Patrick H. Alexander
Patrick H. Alexander is associate director and editor-in-chief of the Pennsylvania State University Press.
Fewer university presses than in recent years had booths at Book Expo America, the annual trade show for the publishing industry, held last weekend at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. Then again, the whole event seemed smaller than it has in some while.
There were nowhere near so many piles of potential best-sellers available as buzz-generating freebies. What piles there were tended to be smaller, and guarded by publicists. The usual mountains of swag (promotional t-shirts, book bags, coffee cups, and knicknacks) were rarer still. Nor were many people dressed in novelty garb working the aisles. I saw Elvis near the escalator, wandering lonely as a cloud, and crossed paths with a couple of rather lackadaisical pirates.
This is how you know it's a recession. Even the rent-a-pirates seem cautious.
Yet with surprising consistency, the mood around the university-press tables seemed ... well, let's not say "upbeat" exactly (that would be pushing it) but at least marked by a certain spirit of Stoic determination. Scholarly publishing has been in crisis mode for years; the global economic downturn seems just more of the same old same-old. Like the song says, "Been down so long, it looks like up to me."
Behemoth trade presses are driven to find the next Da Vinci Code or Oprah Book Club selection -- just to cover the expenses incurred by all the other prospective blockbusters that flopped.
While the scale was much smaller, there was definitely a trend in that direction for a while with some university presses. The right topical book, published at just the right moment, might be a way to break out of the specialist niche and into the commercial big time.
But like trying to pay the mortgage at the roulette wheel, this approach has not, for the most part, proven viable. Over the weekend year, just one university-press publicist volunteered the hope that a given title might land its author on "The Daily Show" -- and then, only wistfully. The reality principle is back in charge now, at least for a while.
So this year, instead of asking about possible breakthrough books, I decided to query people at the booths about something else. Not long ago, the University of Michigan Press announced it would shift most of its monograph publishing to digital format. I wondered how this example was shaping the plans at other academic presses. Were they preparing to make the same leap? Was the economy giving them a rough push into the future?
After all, publishing an academic book is an expensive and not wonderfully profitable exercise. The print runs for most scholarly titles are so small that no economies of scale apply. Copies then often sit in warehouses -- another expense eating away at any possible return on the investment. Wouldn't switching over to digital publishing make sense? Indeed, isn't it just a matter of time?
It all sounds so obvious, so clear-cut. Or so I assumed at first while wandering the aisles of the exhibit hall -- pausing long enough to watch, through the transparent walls of the Espresso Book Machine as it converted a digital file into a print-on-demand volume. This took about five minutes, after which the machine spat out a paperback like a sandwich from an automat. It was literally warm (if not hot) off the press.
But discussions with people at the university-press booths soon disabused me of my assumptions about how the economy was influencing the march towards digital publishing.
Mark Saunders, the electronic imprint manager at the University of Virginia Press, said that e-books were now part of its output. But that his colleagues felt they had "just gotten a handle" on the issue of rights in digital publishing. The option of publishing titles exclusively in e-book format is not on the table. "We're approaching it in the spirit of hybridity," he said. ""We want to be able to offer our books in different flavors," he said.
Any notion that that the recession has rendered print-and-ink publishing too expensive is just wrong. On the contrary, the economic pinch means that lots of old-fashioned printers are willing to make a bargain. "On any book you need to print more than 500 copies of," Saunders said, "offset printing is still a very good option."
Shifting to digital is not the quick, smooth, cost-free move that it's sometime made out to be. For one thing, it's necessary to invest considerable time and resources into figuring out just what your options are. For small presses, it can simply make more sense to stick with what you have a track record doing.
Steven Yates, marketing director at the University Press of Mississippi, told me that the press is "looking for someone to handle digital content management" -- but that even doing that much "would be easier if cash flow were not a problem."
The same sentiment came through when I spoke to Debora Diehl, exhibits manager at the University of Kentucky Press. For now, she said, it made sense to "stick to the tried and true" because "money is just not available" to undertake much experimentation.
It's commonly assumed that e-books won't incur the same down-the-pike expenses that bound volumes do -- in particular, the cost of warehousing them. Server space isn't free, however. And it's worth keeping in mind the comment of one representative of a mid-sized university press who asked not to be identified.
"We have two guys working in our warehouse," this person told me. "The payroll for both of them costs less than hiring another IT person."
Everyone had heard about Michigan's switch to publishing monographs in digital format, of course. But are other scholarly publishers taking this as a model to which to aspire? I found no evidence that they were. Even presses that have made already made a significant commitment to e-publishing are proceeding carefully.
"We're selling e-books," said Colleen Lanick, the publicist for MIT Press, "and continuing to experiment with digital publishing, but I wouldn't say it is the economy that's driving it." Instead, much of the push has come from the press's own authors and public. Many of its titles concern technology -- and as a matter of course, authors "want their stuff online," says Lanick.
By chance, sitting right near my elbow I type up my notes from the weekend, there is a new MIT volume called Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in a Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes by Elizabeth Losh. Three chapters of it are available at the MIT Press site. Well, of course. Making scholarship available in digital form "is a question of how people want to get their books," says Lanick, "not of the expense of production."
At the same time, it clearly makes some difference whether or not a press has already invested in the resources required for digital publishing. Michael McCullough, books sales manager at Duke University Press, said that they were starting to sell e-books to consumers via Amazon as well as to academic libraries. McCullough attributes Duke's ability to expand its digital offerings to the infrastructure it built up to handle its stable of scholarly journals. "We were able to move into e-books," he said, "because of the journals -- it's generally accepted that journals are way ahead in this area."
Meanwhile, Harvard University Press is preparing to launch a new monograph series in digital format. Edited by Peter N. Miller, the dean of the Bard Graduate Center, the series is called Cultural Histories of the Material World. Daniel Lee, the press's director of digital content development, says the first volumes should be available in 2010. Titles in the series will thereby also become available in hard copies, through short-run printing and print-on-demand.
Many people take it for granted that the economic downturn amounts to a a tipping point in e-publishing, at least for scholarly presses, and perhaps especially for them.But even the publishers moving steadily deeper into the digital terrain are doing so watchfully.
The expression "tipping point" (with its implication of "point of no return") hardly seems to apply, to judge by this year's Book Expo. A more fitting term might be the one used by Ellen Trachtenberg, a publicist for the University of Pennsylvania Press. "We're at a tension point," she told me. "We don't have any e-books, but our board of trustees is keen on doing them, so we are looking into it."
And I suspect there are plenty of presses where discussion sometimes runs along the lines that Yates reports often happens at the University Press of Mississippi.
When the editors are going over an intensely specialized manuscript, he says, they will sometimes say, "This is a great book that should be published in digital format only -- and by somebody else."
Publishing -- especially university press publishing -- is a tough business. Recently, many presses have come under greater financial pressure or the threat of being closed completely. Much of this is due to the downturn in the economy, which strains state budgets and makes so-called ancillary operations like scholarly publishing expendable.
Some in university presses view this as a time to rally around the book as the focal point of scholarship and academic publishing. Part of the argument revolves around university presses as purveyors of hard ideas — ideas that push culture forward. Intellectual rigor, the hallmark of any good university or college, is also the driving force in university press publishing. This rigor is best reflected in full-length discussion of particular subjects.
Whatever the merits of books, this argument neglects to address fully the current financial and technological challenges. Disruptive technologies -- the Internet and digital information networks -- have made the printed book less important. Information gatherers have found an abundance of material on their desktops. More important, the psychology of getting information is driven by quick searching and the generation of instantaneous results. Trying to change users’ actions under continual technology improvements is futile.
Expanding university press publishing into the areas that are driving the current educational and research enterprises -- science, engineering, technology, etc. -- is definitely an option that must be explored. In fact, these disciplines were on the forefront of ushering in new forms of communication highlighted by arXiv, an e-print service in the fields of physics, mathematics, non-linear science, computer science, quantitative biology and statistics. University presses, except for the few Überpresses whose reputation transcends their parent universities, must also be concerned with aligning their interests with the strengths of their home institutions. By doing so, they become a vital tool in branding and marketing. Forays into tertiary fields are not strategic or sensible.
While moving into STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) publishing and producing cutting-edge textbooks – another idea of those who favor a continued emphasis on books -- would improve presses’ financial performances and provide them greater credibility, ready capital is not available to presses. Parent institutions or foundations would have to pump millions into the scholarly publishing business to jump start these programs. Commercial publishers have much deeper pockets and can offer richer services to their authors.
I had a recent conversation with a prominent engineering dean. He wanted to know why I was visiting, since his faculty was intent on getting published in Elsevier journals. I wasn’t the least bit surprised, but did mention perhaps some of his faculty might write “little books” on very narrow subjects. Basically, these books would be an extension of an existing journal article or an adaptation of class notes with the purpose of covering a topic, but keeping in line with the way faculty communicate in those fields. He thought the idea might work, but reminded me that his faculty was immersed in teaching and research, so that finding spare time for an endeavor that had negligible tenure impact would be hard.
University presses must move away from focusing on books or any one method of distribution. While I was at Purdue University Press we published a book entitled 100 Years of Change in the Distribution of Common Indiana Weeds (the title came with a free CD for easy searching). Weeds found their way across the state along highways and railroads — distribution networks. Likewise current scholarly information is a product of the channels available, including libraries, digital repositories, wikis, blogs, and social networks. The absolute growth in digital resources impacts the creation of information as well as the completed work. A scholarly monograph might be the end product, but we must realize that the pathway itself has hard information that scholars want to access, too.
University presses must become part of the new information infrastructure of the university. Presses must partner with departments, centers, and scholars to publish groundbreaking materials. University presses need to be good listeners. The university press editorial board, if made up of a diverse cross-section of faculty members, is a way to initiate this process. At board meetings, interactions have led to the discovery of programs that are being run independently at various schools that could be made much more vital through cooperative efforts.
I do not doubt that the book will continue to exist as a part of the scholarly enterprise. When television disrupted radio, radio survived. When the Internet disrupted television, television survived. When digital networks disrupted libraries, libraries have survived. All of the survivors have had to adjust to the new reality. Digital device are disrupting the traditional book. University presses have to show how vital they can be to their parent universities’ strategic direction. Traditional books cannot drive the answer any longer.
Thomas Bacher is director of the University of Akron Press.