Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, March 01, 2008

OA and the differences between journal culture and book culture

Michael Jensen, Open Access, re Journals vs. Books, Publishing Frontier, February 29, 2008.  Excerpt:

While not as extreme as Snow’s “two cultures” of sciences and humanities, the distinctions between the two cultures of books and journals became clear [in my earlier job as the first electronic publisher at a major university press]....

What I learned, in short, and necessarily bluntly:

Journals are about throughput. Books are about craftsmanship.

This is not to demean either publishing variant — they both serve key scholarly needs. But in much of the discussions on these topics, too often “open access” is thought to mean the same thing for every kind of document. Non-publishers in particular often presume that the same rules apply to encyclopedias as apply to monographs, as apply to journal articles. But in publishing, at least, it’s not the case....

Each book was a child, nurtured in its embryonic and infant stages, eventually dressed up really nicely as a toddler, and sent out into the world once grown-up.

The acquiring editor had a vested parental interest in ensuring that this special, wonderful thing would get the life it deserved. He or she pressured the Marketing department for appropriate promotion. She or he pressured Production to make sure it was designed appropriately for the content. It was a unique, special, rich, complex, discipline-affecting work of staggering value, at least within a tiny slice of academia. The editors were proud to have acquired it. They wanted to reach the people who would be moved by it. As a consequence, each book was a polished gem.

Journals, however, were all about throughput, driven by the schedule of subscription: every quarter, or every month, the articles were bullied out of editors, who bullied their writers and their reviewers for material. And the articles came through the pipe....

These two cultures may explain why, at least to my mind, journals were among the first to “go digital.” It made eminent sense: it’s easier to “digitize” the throughput process than the nurturance process.

Journals were already template-based (essentially, CSS-ready). Journals publishers were already greatly focused on automating processes. Economies of scale could make journals production and throughput much more efficient....

Libraries, who are also about throughput (and organization) of products, are an ideal partner for journals production. I’m not so sanguine about libraries being ideal partners for production of the “special.” They didn’t evolve that way, nor are they optimally staffed for the sort of specific promotion, marketing, and outreach required for each unique book-length publication.

How publishers make things “open access” depends on technical infrastructure, and publication content types, and available skill sets and online savvy. But it also depends on the nature of the product....

Comment.  Jensen is a pioneer of OA book publishing.  Under his leadership, the National Academies Press has been publishing dual (OA and non-OA) editions of all its research monographs since 1994.  He has also written frequently about the NAP's experience that the OA editions increased the net sales of the print editions.  See, for example, his articles on this from 2001, 2005, and 2007.