Friday, September 14, 2007

Books and University Presses

It's worthwhile noting two strong pieces publishing within the past 24 hours, regarding books in the humanities and the role of the university press:

From The Valve (a collaborative blog for the academic literary community), Verneglorifying, which calls for a Web based resource on the order of Wikipedia to develop better, more accurate translations of works published in other languages. It's an interesting problem.

From today's Inside Higher Ed, a very strong piece about university presses, Ronald Reagan vs. University Presses. A quote gives a taste of the difficult situation:

A number of savvy administrators and press directors have decided to reach for the digital lifeboat, despite the considerable risks involved. MIT Press is perhaps the best-known, but many others, including Michigan, are propounding coherent visions of the digital future. Sadly, even at the prototype stage some of these efforts have been hampered by the host institutions’ continued insistence on the presses’ self-sustenance. After all, a digital book is no more likely to make money than its print analog. Indeed, because of high opportunity costs and the difficulty of establishing the intellectual and professional legitimacy of digital publications, most early-stage efforts will be lucky to break even. The result is an odd paradox: despite the fact that everyone agrees in principle on the promise of digital media, university presses are not on the whole being equipped to move decisively into the digital domain. This was perhaps the main finding of the Ithaka report, and one of the reasons why press directors and university administrators have damned the report with faint praise, by lauding its clear assessment of the problem while, by implication, lamenting its failure to propose a practical solution.

Note that the Ithaka folks are giving an opening keynote at the sixth annual NFAIS Humanities Roundtable. The venue is New York City and the date is Monday, October 22, 2007.

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