Tag Archives: publishing

Global Perspectives on Digital History

Today, my colleagues Peter Haber, Jan Hodel, and I (along with the indispensable help of Dan Ludington) are pleased to announce the launch of Global Perspectives on Digital History, the latest of the PressForward publications from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

Like Digital Humanities Now, Global Perspectives on Digital History aggregates and selects material from our Compendium of the Global Perspectives, drawing from hundreds of venues where high-quality scholarship is likely to appear, including the personal websites of scholars, institutional sites, blogs, and other feeds. It also seeks to discover new material by monitoring Twitter (someone else is going to have to do that for me given my aversion to the whole Twitterverse) and other social media for stories discussed by the community, and by continuously scanning the broader web through generalized and specialized search engines.

Unlike Digital Humanities Now, Global Perspectives on Digital History is focused more on history, rather than on digital humanities in general. This is not to say we won’t be bringing in content from other digital humanities disciplines that seems relevant to our readers’ interests in digital history. But, as much as possible, we will remain more tightly focused on a single discipline. The other big difference in approach with the first of the PressForward publications is that Global Perspectives on Digital History is a multi-lingual publication. Our initial languages are English, German, and French, but we expect to expand soon into other languages. The only thing holding us back at present is a lack of editors to help with the scanning of content in those other languages.

At present we are using the GoogleTranslate plug in for translation. If you have any experience with this plug in you know it is wholly insufficient for what we are about. Over the coming year, we will be exploring other options for machine translation of our content and hope to learn some things worth knowing through that exploration.

Like Digital Humanities Now, we will also be moving toward some traditional publication of content that appears on our site. Whether we use the model currently in use at Digital Humanities Now or something else, still remains to be seen. We are going to watch the development of the open peer review process carefully before deciding on our approach.

At present, we are splitting our coverage of digital history from around the globe between longer “think pieces” that we are tagging as “editor’s choice” content, and briefer entries we are tagging as “short takes.” We suspect we will expand into reviews and other content from around the globe that examines digital history sometime in the near future.

For now, please visit the site and be sure to let us know what you think.


The Perfect Storm Gathers Strength

It’s not really news that electronic publishing is wrecking havoc on the traditional publishing industry. In fact, it’s such old news, that I feel a little funny even writing a post about epublishing. But this past weekend, it became clear to me just how doomed academic publishers are.

What happened to finally convince me that it’s time for university presses and other publishers of the conventional academic monograph to give up completely on the analog book as a source of revenue (or more likely a source of losses these days)? Recently, I wrote about the publication of Hacking the Academy (edited by my colleagues Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt). In that post, I mused about wishing for an epub version of the book so I could read it on my iPad and presto!, Mark Sample made one and posted it up for me and anyone else who wanted it.

How could it be so simple, I wondered?

Anyone who knows me knows that of all the key staffers at CHNM, my tech skills probably rate at the bottom of the heap. I can write some wicked html (does anyone still do that?) and know just enough php and MySQL to be dangerous. And I can make PhotoShop do everything I want it to (which isn’t all that much). Other than that, I’m pretty sad when it comes to real tech skills. For instance, I can’t remember the last time I actually saw the command line on my laptop screen.

So I approached the whole question of how to create an ebook with some real trepidation. It must be difficult, at least for people like me with not much in the way of serious tech skills. Or so I thought.

Instead, it turned out to be shockingly easy to create an epub that looked very good when ported over to my iPad. It was so easy, that it became clear to me just how liitle I need a press to publish my work. Of course, I’m not the only one who has come to this revelation–in fact, I’m coming to it pretty late in the game. But the very fact that I could go from knowing nothing to publishing a nice looking ebook in about three hours shows just how low the bar has gotten when it comes to publishing one’s work in a format now widely accepted in the marketplace.

How did I do it? I downloaded the free program Sigil and started copying and pasting text into it. Because Sigil uses a WYSIWYG editor, it couldn’t be much easier to use. My test case was ten entries from this blog, which I simply copied into the editing window and in minutes I had created a book from my posts. The book had chapters, a table of contents, and page numbers, all at the click of a mouse. Adding an image to the cover turned out to be more difficult than I thought–remember, limited tech skills–but I’ve seen how it’s done and am confident that with another hour or so on my hands, I can do it. The final product needs some cleaning up and I’ll probably end up changing the fonts, but if I weren’t picky about the look and feel, I could publish it online right now.

If I can create a book in under three hours from text I’d already written, imagine what this means for the scholarly endeavor. We all know how it used to work. A scholar completes the research and writing of a book, sends proposals around to appropriate presses, one of them issues a preliminary contract and sends the book out to readers, the readers report in, the editorial board decides whether or not to publish the book, if the answer is yes, the book goes into production (and maybe still editing) and about a year or even two years after the scholar mailed out his or her proposals to publishers, a book appears at last. Journal editors receive free copies which they dutifully farm out to reviewers, who take their sweet time writing their reviews, which then appear sometime (we hope) within a year of the date of publication of the book.

Now imagine an alternate universe where the scholar completes the research and writing of a book, identifies two to four experts in the field, sends them the manuscript for review, gets feedback, makes any suggested changes he/she feels are warranted, maybe hires a grad student in the English department to read the whole thing for typos and syntax problems, then ports the text over into a ebook creator like Sigil, fusses with the formatting for a few weeks, and publishes the book on his/her website, and via various platforms such as iBooks, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, etc. Journal editors are notified of the publication of the new ebook and then send links to reviewers, requesting formal reviews. But the author also receives reviews over the transom on his/her website and so the process of peer review begins much more quickly.

Oh, and any profit from the sale of the work goes to the author, not the press. In the case of my first book, I’m guessing that might have added up to $500, i.e., $1 per book sold, but that’s still $500. And as a recent article in the Washington Post pointed out, some authors who follow my second model, cutting out the presses, are making a very good living writing and self-publishing.

But what about the peer review process you are wondering? In an interview I did back in 2008 with our Provost, Peter Stearns, a man who knows a thing or two about peer review, Stearns argued that peer review does not have to take place prior to publication to qualify as peer review. I agree with Stearns on this issue, because, it seems to me, what matters is the quality of the work and the quality of the peer review, not the order that these two things happen.

But no matter. The forces of disintermediation are already more powerful than the inertial forces holding the remnants of the scholarly printing industry together. And, like Shiva, they will blast the world asunder sooner rather than later. Now that I know how to publish an ebook, I no longer fear that perfect storm.


Digital Replacements?

The latest edition of Digital Campus is now up and ready for your listening pleasure. On the podcast, Dan, Tom, and I (along with irregulars Amanda French and Bryan Alexander) discuss a variety of possible digital replacements for things we hold near and dear such as textbooks, university presses, and even — shudder — Facebook. I tried to convince everyone that Facebook was doomed and that that long awaited IPO from Facebook should happen sooner rather than later, but I’m afraid none of the others on the podcast were buying what I was selling. Do you agree with me (of course you do) or with them? Listen, decide, and leave a comment on the DC website explaining why I was right all along.