The Digital Scholar is a book I’ve been intending to read for quite some time. It’s also fittingly an instance of Bloomsbury Academic’s particular approach to digitally enhanced publishing. The digitally enhanced book is accessible through a webpage with four tabs, each with distinct functionality:
- An overview of the book, bibliographical/publication information, table of contents and a link to the author’s blog
- An opportunity to read the book online, with the different sections also accessible through the table of contents in the tab above. Interestingly the chapters have embedded hyperlinks as well.
- A reviews section, which invites contributions: “If you see a review we’ve missed or if you’d like to review the book yourself please don’t hesitate to contact us“
- An additional resources section which it’s necessary to sign up and log in to access.
The obvious question here is: what’s the business model? Is the whole thing sustainable or just an interesting experiment by a publisher flush with Harry Potter money?
The Article of the Future project run by Elsevier lists its features as following:
- Redesigned article presentation for excellent on-line readability and seamless navigation
- Discipline-specific content, format, and tools adjusted to the author and user needs and workflow
- Enriched article content with features such as the Protein Viewer, Genome Viewer and Google Maps
- Enables authors to put their article in the context of other research such as Genbank and Protein Data Bank
Take a look at the video here. In essence it represents a new kind of ‘value-added’ deal by the publisher with regards to both authors and readers. Authors gain greater exposure, a better opportunity to show case work, higher levels of communication, a richer and extended research, an increased likelihood of use and citation. Readers save time, are able to interact with and use the content to explore subjects in more detail (leading to greater insights), are able to work more efficiently because many of the tasks related to their reading are built into the interface in a way which wasn’t previously the case. Or at least these are the claims in principle.
There’s a business management prototype of the article of the future available online here. Unlike traditional forms of publishing where the linkage to the broader context of research are, at most, pointers in the bibliography (i.e. the context is expunged from the final artifact) the ‘article of the future’ incorporates that broader context, in terms of the practical needs of the researcher, into its interface. Leave aside the controversy surrounding the company, I can’t help but find this hugely exciting. Just a shame about the political economy underlying it.
Still it points to something intriguing about how the crisis of academic publishing might lead to innovation – now that digital technology has rendered the distributive function of scholarly publishers fairly trivial, all that’s left is artificially imposing scarcity (by putting things behind pay walls), credentialization (prestigious publishers –> prestigious publications –> prestigious careers) and adding value to the publication. The fact that the first remaining function is rapidly eroding whatever goodwill scholarly publishers enjoyed and the second remaining function doesn’t permit of any development (and might possibly decline with time, as the academic career structure changes) it puts greatest stress on the third remaining function for strategy: how can publishers add value to publications in innovative ways that ensure their continued legitimacy in the process of research communication?
The other case studies I’m going to be working on in the next couple of days: