Communicating Knowledge: Publishing in the 21st Century. Editor: John Feather. Munich: K. G. Saur, 2003.
The significance of the computer-based technology to the publishing industry has been implicit, and sometimes explicit, throughout much of this book. The reader will not have been surprised by this. It is not simply because it is impossible to write a sensible book about any aspect of contemporary society without examining the role of computing. There are special reasons why information and communication technologies are particularly relevant to a study of the publishing industry. Indeed, once we use the terminology of information and communication technology (ICT) rather than simply ‘computing’, that reason becomes immediately apparent. Computers can be used to assist in the management of organizations, and to monitor their financial performance. Computers can store and process statistical data about products, markets and customers. This is true for all businesses. But ICT offers tools specifically designed to be used for many of the activities associated with publishing and the book trade. Computers facilitate the composition of documents, and their storage and transmission. Networks of computers can provide access to these documents. ICT has thus come to occupy a central place in the publishing industry. In this Chapter, we shall examine this more systematically.
At the outset, however, we need to distinguish between various functions of computing in more general terms. The most familiar piece of hardware is, of course, the ubiquitous PC, or Personal Computer, a desktop machine with a suite of software which gives the user access to such functions as word processing and spreadsheets. Since the late 1980s, this has become a standardized piece of equipment in almost universal use throughout the world. Files created on one machine can be read without difficulty on another, because personal computing is dominated by one operating system and, very largely, by one word processing system. Microsoft, the company which owns the rights in these systems, has become one of the largest and wealthiest corporations in the history of the world. The stand-alone computer on the desk, however, is no longer the most common or the most functionally sophisticated of machines, despite its familiarity. Throughout the world, millions of PCs and other computers are linked to telecommunications networks and hence to each other through the Internet. In the 1990s, the ‘network of networks’ became a familiar feature of life throughout the developed world and indeed beyond it. It facilitates virtually instantaneous communication through electronic mail and other messaging systems, and also gives access to the World Wide Web—a development of the mid-1990s—which contains millions of ‘sites’ which are full of information (good, bad and indifferent) and opinion, and can also be used as a system for commercial transactions. Almost every aspect of this has had or will have a direct impact on how publishing works, because the Internet in general, and the Web in particular, is essentially a tool for the dissemination of information. And the dissemination of information—in the broadest sense—is the core business of publishing.
The impact of the changes which have followed from the development of ICT and of the Internet are to be found in many different aspects of the publishing industry. Some are very specific, such as those which are changing the relationships between authors, publishers and readers. Some are creating new forms of publishing and perhaps pushing traditional formats into the background or even off the stage. There are also more generic changes which are having an impact on many businesses, as the Internet is increasingly used as a medium for trade. In this Chapter, we shall examine five key sets of issues as the framework for more systematic account of the complex and rapid developing relationship between publishing of all kinds and ICT systems. These are the:
- Impact of ICT on the print publishing industry;
- Development of electronic publishing;
- Impact of electronic publishing on particular aspects of publishing, such as reference books;
- Economic and business issues which are confronting publishers;
- Cultural, intellectual and social implications for both writers and readers.
ICT and Print Publishing
The whole process of print publishing has been transformed by ICT in a sequence of changes which began more than 20 years ago. We have already noted some of these in previous chapters, but we shall now examine them more systematically. Chronologically, the earliest changes were in the printing industry. Computer-driven typesetting came into experimental use in the 1960s, and by the late 1970s was becoming commonplace. The increase in its use was only partly a direct result of the development of typesetting systems. Almost as important—and inextricably linked to the change—was the growing preference for lithographic printing rather than printing from traditional metal type. The technical details need not detain us, but the consequences were important. Modern lithography requires first the creation of photographic negatives and then of plates from which the matter is printed; it follows therefore that anything which can be photographed can be printed. This is a grossly oversimplified account, but it emphasizes the essential truth. From the 1970s onwards, in all countries with a developed printing industry, traditional printing techniques have been displaced by lithography based on the use of photographically generated plates. Computers can clearly generate output which can be photographed. Once this principle was established, many other things followed.
It is, of course, the essence of computing that once a file has been created it can be amended, revised and copied. In principle, therefore, no material should ever have to be re-keyboarded. The issue which then arises is at what stage the keyboarding takes place and who carries the responsibility for it. Again, there has been significant change over a comparatively short period of time. Authors began to use word processors in the early 1980s, but it was some years before the files which they produced were compatible with the systems used for phototypesetting. By the early 1990s, however, the increasing dominance of Microsoft’s Word software, and its evolution into the norm of word processing, meant that is was practicable to devise systems which publishers and printers could use economically to manipulate authors’ texts. It is now, as we have suggested, common practice for authors to be contracted to submit their work on disk in one of a small number of compatible word processing packages. Some editors will then work only with the electronic file, although others still prefer to work on paper, or to use a paper copy in parallel with the electronic version. In any case, the author’s file is disturbed only when corrections are needed.
This has effectively eliminated major sources of typographical errors in the processes of typesetting and proof correction. It saves time, and hence money. Indeed, it is probably a significant factor in holding down the real costs of book production. This has helped to keep book prices under control, although despite the use of more cost-effective technology retail prices have typically increased at a rate above that of general retail price inflation. There are also, however, other implications, not all as favourable. We have already suggested that one effect of this change has been to shift the balance of responsibility from the publisher to the author in many respects, and especially in ensuring typographical accuracy and consistency. Although good publishers still have their books professionally copy-edited, all but the most assiduous probably spend less time and effort on it than was traditionally the case. Proof-reading has certainly become a cursory activity in some publishing houses, with both authors and editors tending to assume that the bulk of the work has been done at an earlier stage or by someone else. This has obvious dangers, as well as economic benefits.
The process of transition from word-processed file to the appearance of a traditional printed text has also become a less complex matter. A modern word processing package has dozens of fonts, and can generate any type size which is likely to be used in the great majority of books. It can deal with all the variations of the Latin alphabet (accented letters and so on), and it can generate both Cyrillic and Greek, and sometimes Arabic. There is software for many Asiatic scripts, including not only Chinese and Japanese, but also Pali (for certain Indic languages) and Thai. Indeed, computers have vastly eased the problem of producing books in what printers historically called ‘exotic’ scripts, and especially in Chinese with its tens of thousands of characters. Scripts, fonts and sizes, however, are only one contributor to the appearance of the printed page. Layout and design are equally important, and again it is now possible to replicate the traditional appearance of a Western printed book from matter keyboarded in a word processor.
This was not always so. Publishers began to try to exploit the output of word processors (and before that of electric typewriters) at a very early stage in their development. At that stage, the output looked more like typescript than print. From the late 1960s until, in some cases, the early 1980s, there were some publishers, especially of academic monographs, who produced books directly from the copy submitted by authors with no resetting but also with no editing and virtually no design. They looked like what they were: photolithographic reproductions of the output of a typewriter or a daisy-wheel printer. All of this has now vanished. The development of desktop publishing (DTP) systems in the 1980s was the first stage in bridging the gap between the word processor and typesetter. DTP systems are PC-based, but have software which allows the operator to create both typography and layout which looks like a traditional printed book. The systems now used by both publishers and book production companies have effectively restored the traditional appearance of the book. Indeed, they offer a greater range of choice to the designer than was available in many traditional book printing houses 30 or 40 years ago.
For the publisher, the key to full exploitation of the potential of electronic files is to ensure that the files which the author creates are compatible with the systems which will be used after the work is submitted. In practice, transfer from word processed file to computer-driven typesetter is never quite straightforward. From the publisher’s point of view, the easiest way in purely technical terms is to require the author to produce ‘camera-ready copy’ (CRC), but this leaves little room for manoeuvre, and is rarely employed except by the publishers of very short-run academic monographs. CRC is just that: the output from the author’s file can be photographed and turned into printing plates. Even without DTP systems, an aesthetically acceptable output can be achieved. It is perhaps a little more common to ask the author to encode his or her files with the tags and markers that are needed to generate fonts, spaces and so on. More often, however, the mark-up process is done for the publishing house (often by freelances) using some system such as Standardized General Mark-up Language (SGML) which delivers consistency and accuracy. This does, however, require some specialist knowledge and skill, and is probably still beyond most authors’ expertise. In practice, authors’ word-processed files are normally edited and marked up by or for the publisher before the final version is generated for printing.
The generation and editing of author’s text inevitably dominates any discussion of the immediate impact of ICT on print publishing, for it lies at the very heart of the process. Authors work differently, and they relate differently to their editors. It has already been suggested that there has been a consequent shift of responsibility from publisher to author in some critical matters. In business terms, this shift could also be seen as a shift of power from publisher to author. Precisely because authors are expected to do more than was once the case, they are more fully in control of the process of creating their books. They can even have some influence on the physical appearance of their work. Towards the end of this Chapter we shall return to this theme for one last time, as we explore how ICT has empowered authors even more directly, by offering them cheap and robust systems for producing their own books and bypassing at least some parts of the multinational publishing industry.
Electronic publishing has already featured many times in this book, as we have analysed how the modern publishing industry actually works. We shall now examine it more systematically, and try to assess its impact and significance for the industry as a whole. We must begin however—perhaps somewhat belatedly—by trying to offer a definition. Two dictionaries offer us the following:
‘the publishing of books etc. in machine-readable form’,
‘the publication of information on magnetic tape, discs, etc., so that it can be accessed by a computer’.
These definitions differ in one important respect. The first is explicitly concerned with the electronic publication of material which might otherwise have appeared in printed form as ‘books etc.’; the latter refers more generally to ‘information’. In both cases, we must assume that the use of the words ‘publishing’ and ‘publication’ relates to their own definitions of those words and the range of commercial implications which they attach to them. The issue here is not just a matter of semantics. If we regard publishing as being essentially a series of commercial transactions (albeit transactions in which the object of the commerce is intellectual as well as physical property), then much, and perhaps most, of the material covered by the second definition cannot truly be described as publications. The Collins Softback definition could be argued to cover the Internet, and particularly the World Wide Web, where the vast bulk of material is free of charge at the point of access. Such access charges as there may be represent either capital investment by the end-user (hardware and software) or a charge which goes to the access provider rather than the information provider (telecommunications costs). Although the free availability of information on the Web is by no means irrelevant to publishers, as we shall see, we cannot make much sense of electronic publishing in a commercial sense if we broaden the definition to include it. For our present purpose, therefore, we shall confine ourselves to a discussion of those aspects of electronic publishing whose products are objects of commerce as well as carriers of information.
Even this leaves us with a wide range of materials to be covered. It has been argued that electronic publishing should be seen as a whole new industry rather than merely a branch or development of traditional publishing. Certainly from a technological perspective this could be argued to be the case. A brief consideration of the outputs and format of the electronic publishing process will perhaps help to clarify the point. The most familiar physical format is the CD-ROM, an optical disk containing digital data which is read through a computer. The CD can carry anything which can be digitized: text, graphics, still or moving pictures, or sound. Any particular disk may have only one of these (such as sound in the case of the audio CD), or a combination of some or all of them (called multimedia). What appears can be anything from near-broadcast quality video to text which looks like old-fashioned typescript. The other format which we need to consider is that of material accessed online, typically across the Internet. The Internet can transmit anything which a CD can store, as well as having an interactive facility which a CD does not. On the whole, however, at the present stage of development complex material which is accessed online is likely to be of somewhat lesser quality in terms of video and audio than is material accessed on a CD. Moreover, charges are normally incurred (even if not directly by the end-user) for access as well as for the material itself. It is immediately clear that by any traditional definition of publishing, much of what is commercially available on CD can be argued to be outside the domain of the publishing industry; we have already suggested that this is true of the bulk of the material on the World Wide Web and elsewhere on the Internet.
Practice, however, is rapidly overtaking theory in electronic publishing. There is no doubt that many publishers came alarmingly close to missing the boat. While few would have wished to move into the music or computer games industries, the production of multimedia packages in the mid-1990s was a real challenge to what some publishers were doing. The pioneering work in developing multimedia packages outputs came from the software houses rather than the publishing houses, at least in the early years. Only towards the end of the 1990s did some publishers began to catch up, and make important titles available in electronic formats. Publishing on CD-ROM has now become a familiar part of the landscape, and the products are to be seen in both publishers’ catalogues and—perhaps even more significantly—in bookshops.
Online publishing—which some would regard as the purest form of electronic publishing—is still largely confined to products for academic and business users. Electronic journals have already achieved a significant place in the academic world, and are coming to be accepted as one of the normal forms of publication of research. In the business world, where the currency and accuracy of data are critical and costs can be passed on to customers if the data is good enough, many of the traditional financial information services are now available only online. At least one major print publisher of business information has stated publicly that it intends to become entirely electronic in the near future.
The shift from print to electronic publishing which can be seen in some sectors is indeed an important development, to which we shall return. Even so, it does not necessarily and invariably represent the revolutionary change in the publishing process which is sometimes presented. Let us consider some of the key elements in that process in this context.
First, there is the critical issue of the writing and selection of material for publication. From the author’s perspective there are clearly some technical differences. He or she is, by definition, obliged to prepare and submit a file in a specified digital format, but, as we have seen, this has almost become the norm for print publication as well. There are some facilities available to the author which are less readily accessible to the author of a printed work. In dealing with statistical data, for example, the author can create graphic representations as tables, charts and the like, knowing that they will be published in the precise form in which they are compiled. The same applies to the use of colour, normally available on all modern output devices, but often not used in printed scholarly journals. In broad terms, the author’s contribution to an electronic publication is the same as it is to a print publication, and many of the issues which were raised in Chapter Three and Chapter Four are still applicable. Similarly, the selection of material for publication electronically is essentially the same as for printed works. Editors will take account of subject matter, quality, commercial viability, suitability for purpose and so on. As we have seen, some electronic journals have online submission and refereeing as well as online dissemination, but the objectives are the same as with conventional journals. Up to the point at which the material is ready to go into public domain, electronic publishing replicates much of what happens in traditional publishing.
At subsequent stages in the process there are indeed some significant differences. The output may be carefully edited for presentation as well as content, in a process equivalent to that of the design of a printed product, and in the case of a CD, although not an online publication, there is a also a production process analogous to the printing and binding of a book or journal. Advertising, sales and distribution for CDs are also parallel to what is done for books with a similar content and market. Online products are of course different in all of these matters, and it is in that sense that they can perhaps be understood as being more truly electronic publications in every respect.
Drawing parallels with print publishing, and noting continuity as well as change, should not be taken as a denial of the very real ways in which electronic publishing is different. This is true even in terms of content. The example of the author’s ability to generate graphics and to use colour is a specific instance of a general truth: that an electronically published product can take advantage of the whole capacity of a computer. Multimedia publications exemplify this. CD encyclopaedias, for example, can be supported by video and audio material, as well as graphics and photographs. The quality and depth of the product can therefore be greater than that of its print-on-paper predecessor. When we add to the mixture the facility to move from one product to another through electronic links on the Internet, we are clearly dealing with a different kind of publishing.
Electronic publishing is, in the final analysis, simply one more way of putting material into public domain. The real issues, from the publisher’s perspective, are not technical but commercial and professional; they are issues of quality control, design, pricing and sales. Like all publishing, electronic publishing is centrally concerned with content and profit, and format is merely a means to an end.
Electronic formats can, as we have suggested, give the author and the publisher greater freedom in the use, presentation and design of content, especially when the work is published online and can therefore take advantage of links across the Internet and the Web. Electronic documents, however, also have certain other characteristics which have significant implications for publishers. The most important of these is that digital documents can be copied and transmitted with little difficulty. This poses the greatest challenge that copyright law has ever had to face, and raises fundamental issues about whether intellectual property can continue to be protected as it has been inn the past. In turn, this raises questions about the very basis of the economics of commercial publishing. If publishers can no longer be certain that they are buying the sole rights in a work, this will certainly have an impact on the prices which they are prepared to pay. To exacerbate matters, the uncertainty is not one that can be addressed through contracts, and in practice it is barely susceptible to being remedied at law. This matter is of such importance for the future of publishing that we shall return to it in a more general context in Chapter Seven.
Despite the potential difficulties, however, publishers are looking for, and increasingly finding, ways in which they can exploit the benefits of ICT as a carrier of content. Exploitation is not across the board. Electronic publication of fiction is still in its infancy, although a few authors and publishers have experimented with it with some success. There have even been experiments with interactive fiction in which readers can play a part in the development of the plot, or choose alternative plots at various points in the story. Children’s publishers, especially in the young adult market where the customers are so familiar with networked computing, were among the pioneers of electronic publishing, and they are continuing to exploit it. The use of electronic media is argued to have changed children’s books significantly, and to have fragmented what was allegedly an homogenous genre. Whether or not one accepts this perhaps rather esoteric argument, it is unquestionably the case that a new approach is needed by publishers and authors if they are to be successful in developing high-quality, multimedia products for the children’s and youth markets. It is, however, in the academic, professional and reference fields that electronic publishing has so far made its greatest impact, with educational publishing following not far behind.
The Impact of Electronic Publishing
Reference Publishing in Transition
Reference books represent one of the great traditions of the publishing industry. Some titles have a history of a century or more, and have themselves become the subject of scholarly study. The compilation and publishing of great works of reference is, however, an expensive and time-consuming business. The market is specialized, even for general works of reference. Although there has always been a small private market for such works as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and some smaller works (such as the various derivatives of the Oxford English Dictionary) are directed at that market, the most important buyers of reference books are actually libraries. Even in libraries, reference books are treated differently. The ‘reference’ section of a typical public, university or college library consists of books which may not be borrowed. This is partly because many of them are very expensive, but mainly because they are considered to be works which will be consulted briefly by a large number of users, and should therefore be continuously available. Reference publishing is, as a consequence, exceptionally heavily dependent on library budgets, and particularly susceptible to changes in library provision.
One very important development in libraries in the 1990s was the increased reliance on electronic sources of information. Almost all libraries except the very smallest now offer some sort of network access to their users. This can range from full access to the Internet to access to a local area network through which a limited number of selected databases is available. Whatever the specifics, library users have become familiar with electronic sources, and with the idea that they are part of what the library provides. This has had an inevitable impact on the publishers of reference books. The growing expectation of users for the ease of access which electronic sources (theoretically) offer coincided with the need of librarians to restrict expenditure. Publishers have inevitably moved rapidly to the provision of traditional reference materials in the least traditional of formats. Some of the greatest of reference works are now available electronically, either as CDs or online. These include Grove’s Dictionary of Music, and the Oxford English Dictionary. All manner of problems can arise from this, not least for publishers as they feel their way towards economically viable policies on pricing for online products.
At the same time as many key reference products are beginning to be published electronically as well as on paper, a number of major publishers are converting their entire backlists of reference and other academic titles so that they can made available online. There are serious questions over the economic viability of print as a medium for major works of reference in the future. It seems almost certain that the future of reference publishing will be largely electronic. The implications of this are significant for publishers and readers alike. Publishers will need to develop new skills and ensure that they keep abreast of the most rapidly developing technology in history. They will also need to face up to a new kind of competition. Good reference materials will always be expensive to compile, although providing electronic output can make significant inroads into costs of production and distribution. The problem is that publishers may be perceived as putting their priced products in competition with the typically free products available on the Internet. It is true that some are facing this challenge by developing their own presence on the Web and making content available through their own portals and gateways. This is an important and welcome development, but it is does not address the issues which arise out of costs and charges. Publishers will not normally be willing to make material freely available when it has cost them a great deal of money to assemble it. Yet they are competing in a ‘marketplace’ in which uncharged access is currently the normal expectation. The only option left open to them is to compete on the currency and accuracy of the information and the quality of its presentation. The hope is that librarians and library users will recognize the qualitative difference which is on offer, and be prepared to pay for it. It is precisely in this sense that the publishing industry’s traditional concern with content (‘content management’ in contemporary jargon) remains so important, and gives it an edge over potential rivals.
The Scholarly Journal Transformed
It seems likely that reference ‘books’ will normally be electronic by the end of the present decade. It is more than likely that many scholarly journals will beat them to the finishing post, at least in scientific fields.
We have already discussed a number of aspects of the publishing of academic journals, but some of their key features need to be reiterated before we consider the shift to electronic publication:
- These are highly specialized publications. Even those which cover the whole of a broad-based subject (such as the English Historical Review, or the American Journal of Physics) are read almost entirely by academics and other researchers in the field, and very occasionally by undergraduate students. The more specialized journals may have a regular readership measured in scores rather than hundreds;
- A significant proportion of the readers are also contributors to them. This is particularly true of the most specialized; in other words, the smaller the readership, the more likely it is that most readers will be past, current or future authors of papers in the journal;
- Many of the most specialized are issued by commercial publishers who need to make a profit. On the other hand, some journals are published by learned societies and distributed to their members (Publications of the Modern Language Association; Journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry);
- Subscriptions are typically expensive, and have increased at a rate far beyond the rate of general price inflation. This has led to a vicious circle of cancelled subscriptions, which in turn has in some cases led to shorter print runs and even higher prices;
- The principal market is academic and special libraries except for a handful of commercially published journals. This makes the journal publishing sector peculiarly susceptible to university and research agency budgets, which are themselves vulnerable to the vagaries of public sector funding;
- Journal publication is essential to career progression in many academic disciplines, especially in the sciences, and an important contributor to it in almost all subjects;
- Quality control of content is critical to the prestige of a journal. This is assured by a complex system of peer review and refereeing, supported by editorial boards.
In various ways all of these factors have driven academic journals towards electronic publishing. Perhaps the central issue has been that of the rising cost of journals at a time when titles were proliferating and library budgets were at best constant. The academic community was locked into the use of refereed journal publication not only as a means of disseminating the results of research, but also as a critical element in appointment and promotion processes within its own profession. The pressures on libraries—which bear the brunt of the financial burden—were becoming intolerable even 15 years ago, so that finding a way around the commercial publishing system for journals seemed desirable and perhaps essential. This was the impetus for many of the early experiments which explored how an electronic journal might work. Many of the technical problems which were encountered in the 1980s were overcome by the development of the Internet and Web-based interfaces in the mid-1990s. Moreover, academics, and especially scientists, were among the earliest adopters of network technology; indeed, the Internet was largely developed within the scientific community and the Web was specifically designed to serve scientists in the first instance. As long ago as 1990, electronic communication was a fact of academic life.
The journal problem, however, could not be solved by technology alone. Libraries had tried to meet the demands of their users for journals which they could no longer afford to buy by using inter-library lending and document delivery systems of various kinds. Such services had indeed existed since before World War II (for the proliferation of the scientific journal literature has been seen as a problem since at least the 1920s), but their use was growing as fast as the literature itself by the 1970s. Journal articles were typically supplied as photocopies, a service made possible by the ‘fair dealing’ rules which were developed (specifically for this purpose) under the umbrella of existing copyright laws. Libraries saw themselves increasingly as providing access to information rather than simply being storehouses of books and journals. It was a trend which was inevitably strengthened by the introduction of online information services from the late 1970s onwards. Even as scientists were speculating on the possibilities of electronic communications, therefore, libraries were already exploiting such systems as already existed, and were developing strategies to cope with the very problem which the scientists themselves were both creating and addressing.
The missing factor in the equation was the publishers. Some of the learned societies were early enthusiasts for electronic publication, but the commercial publishers showed greater reluctance. It was only towards the very end of the 1990s that the almost universal availability of the Internet in the academic community and the robustness of the Web finally persuaded them that electronic journals were a viable option. What was becoming clear however was that some of the many relationships in academic journal publishing would need to be re-engineered. The sense that authors, editors and readers were part of the same community would certainly have to be maintained. By contrast, the supplier-customer relationship between libraries and publishers needed to undergo significant change, as did that between libraries and end-users. In theory, an online journal can be made available to anyone with access to the Internet. In practice, it remains a product for which a charge normally has to be made. But how that happens has undergone profound change. Instead of subscribing to the journal, a library (or indeed an individual) can pay for the particular article which is wanted without having to acquire several others which may never be read. The conundrum for publishers was how to reconcile charging for access to individual articles with generating a sufficient income stream to support the publication. This could only be achieved by working closely with the academic community.
In general terms, this is indeed what has happened. In the early years of electronic publishing, the enthusiasts sometimes envisioned a future in which journals would be published by academics or their universities, and the traditional publishers would be cut out of the loop altogether. This is, of course, theoretically possible, and indeed such journals have been developed. But there is still a publisher; it is just that it is a different kind of organization, not driven by the need to make a profit. What has actually happened is that the journal publishers (such as Elsevier and Blackwell) who have moved into electronic publishing on a large scale have negotiated agreements with libraries to give access to their users. The immediate future certainly lies in such licensing schemes. A university, or a body acting on behalf of a group of universities (such as all the universities in a country, for example), buys access rights from the publisher. These are typically defined in terms of who may consult the material (members of the university, all registered users of a particular library, or some similar group), and the scheme for charging for use. The latter may be an annual fee or a charge per access. In either case, the role of the subscription agent is also being redefined as the provider of an online portal or content gateway. Electronic publishing of journals is therefore leading a cultural change in the community which the journals serve: academics, librarians and publishers are working closely together to develop the scholarly communication system in a networked environment to their mutual benefit.
Ultimately, however, this will only be successful if the integrity of the system is also preserved. For the academics, this depends on the confidence which they can have in electronic publications both in terms of their long-term future and their control over the quality of the contents. Certainly, there is evidence that it is the libraries, trying to relieve the pressure on their budgets, which are pushing forward on this front against some continuing resistance from the more conservative elements in the scientific community. One solution which has been widely advocated and practised is so-called parallel publishing, in which there is both a printed and an electronic version of the same title, but this can only be an interim measure for it makes little economic or academic sense in the long term. The real solution lies in the creation of robust data archives in which articles can be stored indefinitely. It seems likely that the partnerships between the academic community—represented by its libraries—and publishers will be the only way to achieve a permanent resolution of this issue.
There then remains the critical issue of quality control, and it is here that there are both the greatest fears and the least change. Publishers and editors have emphasized that there is no reason why electronic journals should not be subjected to the same quality controls as their printed predecessors. The functions of the editor, the members of the Editorial Board and the referees remain, and do not have to change simply because the output is in a different format. The changes are really technological rather than conceptual. The whole process of managing the editing and publication of a printed journal can be replicated for electronic journals, while achieving some efficiencies in the process which will contain costs without having an impact on quality. When properly conducted, electronic journals can meet all the traditional criteria for academic success in such matters as peer review, abstracting and citation. The problem is to persuade the user and author community that this is true, and there is evidence that they are not yet wholly convinced. Until universities accept the parity of esteem of electronic and printed journals, particularly for purposes of appointment and promotion (and in the United States for the critical issue of being granted tenure), some academics will hesitate to choose electronic publication. Ultimately, the issue will be resolved by a combination of cultural and economic factors; as print journals become less viable, electronic publication will become more acceptable.
Of course, some printed journals will survive, at least for the time being. Most obviously those published by societies will probably continue in their present form, although gradually it can be expected that they too will be absorbed into the electronic world, if only through the appearance of parallel electronic versions. The journals with the largest circulations, those whose readership crosses the boundaries between subdisciplines and those which publish articles of interest to students, are likely to continue in printed form for longer than those which are more specialized. With their larger circulation they can often manage to maintain more reasonable levels of subscription and thus retain the very circulation which makes lower prices possible; the vicious circle of journal prices has a virtuous counterpart! It is also the case that the humanities and social sciences have been slower to develop electronic journals than have science, medicine and technology-based disciplines like computing itself. But there is now a trend towards the creation of electronic journals for the non-scientific parts of the academic community as well. Even some general interest magazines are beginning to appear in parallel versions, as a number of major newspapers have done for some years. The magazines include such major consumer titles as Newsweek, and political weeklies such as the New Statesmen, as well as slightly more specialized—but still consumer oriented—magazines like Scientific American. The newspapers include most of the world’s major titles such as The New York Times, The Times and Le Monde.
The electronic journal is a major element in the development of digital communications systems in the academic community, but there are others, some of which impinge on the activities of publishers. One of these—little noticed, but becoming important—has direct implications for both printed and electronic journals. One of the methods of communication used by scientists is the so-called pre-print, a separately issued version of a journal article, circulated to the authors’ colleagues before its appearance in the journal itself. Commercially, this was of no significance for the publishers of printed journals; indeed a set of pre-prints (sometimes called offprints or reprints) was often the only material reward which authors received for their paper. Electronic pre-prints began to be developed in early 1990s for papers which subsequently appeared in printed journals; limited circulation in this way simply overcame the inevitable delays in printed publication. The fact that 10 or 20 people received pre-prints did not interfere with the commercial circulation of the journal, for which subscriptions were almost invariably paid by the university or research institute library, not by individuals. Pre-prints, however, have a potentially very significant impact on the economics of electronic journal publishing. If a particular paper has a worldwide audience of say 100 readers (an optimistic estimate in some cases), and half of those have access to a pre-print, there is significant potential for loss of income if there is an access charge for the journal. Some see this is merely another aspect of parallel publishing, but it should more accurately be seen as yet another of the pressures on the journal-publishing industry which will need to find a means of protecting itself. The whole issue, which is far from being resolved, has been forced further up the agenda by the creation of a huge electronic archive of reprints and pre-prints at the US scientific research centre at Los Alamos.
Publishing for Electronic Education
Educational publishing is a lucrative and important branch of the industry. It has traditionally been dominated by a small number of companies. Like academic journal publishing it is subject to many pressures from within its market sector. Curriculum change, at all levels from pre-school to tertiary, has had a major impact on educational publishers who have traditionally invested heavily in a small range of titles which they can expect to exploit for many years to come. During the 1990s, however, the delivery as well as the content of curricula was beginning to change under the impact of networked computing. ICT is both a subject and a tool at every level of education. Once basic skills have been acquired (and they are now acquired very early in life in the developed countries), they can be applied as a tool for further learning in every subject. Moreover, the Internet gives access to a huge range of materials of great educational value, or which can be used for learning purposes. The use of ICT was not, however, the only change in learning delivery in the last decade of the twentieth century. There was an increased emphasis on learning rather then teaching, and on learning through project work rather than through traditional channels of knowledge transfer from teacher to student. The availability of networked information was a part of this, but only a part. Student-centred project-based learning requires access to information resources of all kinds, including printed materials; the traditional textbook has, at best, a small part to play.
Educational publishing has always been an integral part of the education system which it serves. It has been cogently argued that it even helps to determine the agenda of the debate about education as well as being subject to the consequences that may arise from its results. The problem which now confronts the publishers, however, is that of responding to, and participating in, systemic change which is more far reaching than mere curricular change could ever be. This is further compounded by young people’s attitudes to books and reading. Despite the importance of the children’s and young adult book markets, there is some evidence of a decline in book reading especially among teenagers. There is a general perception that the young adult market is in a poor condition as a result; a preference for multimedia and online sources, for both entertainment and information, can reasonably be assumed to underpin this phenomenon. Educational publishers have had to take account of these developments.
The challenges which face the educational publishers are in many ways similar to those which face all STM, academic and professional publishers as their traditional markets become more oriented to ICT products than they are to print. But it is exacerbated in the educational arena by the relatively easy Internet access enjoyed by an increasing number of students at schools, colleges and universities. Teachers themselves, at all levels, are able to compile digital packages of public domain material to support their students’ learning. This can often include means for monitoring student progress and even assessing formal student work. Publishers have been slow to come into this field. The development of NetLibrary in the mid-1990s was perhaps the first significant sign of a shift of attitudes. This pioneering e-book publisher developed an access and charging system similar to that used by publishers of electronic journals and began to market itself to libraries in 1996. In a highly significant development at the turn of the new century, NetLibrary joined forces with the long-established Houghton Mifflin, a major player in educational publishing worldwide, to launch a series of digital textbooks. The outcome remains to be seen. But it is not unreasonable to expect that educational publishing will be another field in which ICT will have a transformational impact over the next decade.
ICT and the Business of Publishing
There is no almost no aspect of business practice which has been unaffected by the developments in ICT in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Even the familiar equipment of the mid-century office—the typewriter and the duplicator—have been largely displaced. At a wholly different level, instantaneous global communications systems have opened up new markets and offered new challenges. With the development of e-commerce, a small business can overcome some of its handicaps in competing with a large business, and specialist businesses which could no longer survive in a conventional environment can flourish as their market expands across the Internet. Publishing is both vulnerable to ICT and in a particularly strong position to respond positively to it. As part of the information industry, publishing can exploit all the facilities which ICT, and particularly the Internet, can offer to those whose professional concern is with the collection, organization and dissemination of information. Electronic publishing of books and journals, and the development of new kinds of multimedia packages for both leisure and education, exemplify this. Publishers can also benefit from the new possibilities which ICT offers to them as businesses, with greater opportunities for market research, sales and stock control, to take but three examples.
One important consequence for the development of ICT has been that the information industry itself has become a more integrated set of activities. The common use of digital networks for both information transfer and business transactions has facilitated the development of standardized systems and encouraged their acceptance. A familiar but very significant example has been the universal adoption of the Standard Book Numbering system. The ISBN and the ISSN are now used by publishers, booksellers and librarians throughout the world as the basis of systems for ordering and monitoring stock. These unique identifiers are a perfect example of which ICT does best: handle and communicate large quantities of alphanumeric data. In another sphere, electronic journal publishing shows us how publishers, authors and librarians can work together for their mutual benefit. An important part of the scientific communication and information system is being changed, and publishers are playing a full and important part in this process. One long-term consequence will perhaps be a recognition that the commonality of interests between the various parties can lead to a greater mutual understanding and closer joint working. Digital publishing initiatives (such as EPIC) suggest that this may be more than a pious hope.
It is not only, however, in journal publishing, or even in STM, academic, professional and other specialized fields, that ICT is changing the publishing industry. Trade publishers find themselves confronted by a powerful competitor for the time and resource available for leisure. This has happened before, and the challenges posed by cinema, radio and television were each confronted in turn, and each eventually turned to the industry’s advantage. Will ICT be different? If we accept that this is a revolutionary change in human communications, then the answer must be ‘yes’. But the changes need not be negative. The more imaginative publishers are already producing multimedia packages, and electronic books and journals as well as conventional printed products. Within the umbrella of the conglomerates, there is scope for real economies of scale, not just in business operations but also in the assemblage of the kind of expertise which is needed to support such activities. Again, there is evidence that this is beginning to happen as publishers develop electronic versions of their backlists and so on.
For the small independent publisher, ICT presents a different kind of challenge. In a sense, it makes it easier for them to compete with the conglomerates. A basic presence on the Web is easy to establish and cheap to maintain. While Websites have by no means replaced conventional marketing tools and techniques, they can offer smaller firms a real possibility of more widespread marketing than was realistic in the past. Within an independent publishing house, ICT can help to run the business more efficiently by providing better and readily accessible information about both stock and accounts. Independent houses are major beneficiaries of relatively cheap and simple DTP systems for book production, and the ease with which authors can submit copy in a machine-readable form.
Authors and Readers
How will all of this effect the primary producers and the ultimate consumers of the publishing industry, the authors and the readers? We have already touched on this to some extent, but the question is an important one and deserves a more systematic consideration.
Those who remember the days of mechanical typewriters know that the process of composing a long and complex text has become immeasurably easier. This is not simply a matter of saving time. A writer can concentrate on content when all the apparatus of word processing is there to help with the details of the presentation. The PC does not forget how paragraphs should be formatted, and it even helps to correct spelling and grammar! In a more profound sense, the electronic submission of copy by authors has put a good deal of power back into their hands. As we have already suggested, there has been a shift of some responsibilities from the publisher—and specifically from the editor—to the author. This has some disadvantages, in that books may be less carefully edited, but the advantages significantly outweigh them. The same trend has perhaps further increased the influence of agents, for they share with the authors the added responsibilities and opportunities which ICT offers.
ICT also opens to authors whole new possibilities for putting their work in circulation. A personal Website can be little more than the electronic equivalent of vanity publishing (although it is probably cheaper and certainly more widely distributed!), but some authors are already experimenting with the use of Internet as a publishing medium which avoids the industry altogether. Stephen King is perhaps the most conspicuous example of this, and although his experiment was not wholly successful, he has at least demonstrated the technical possibilities, as well as the business difficulties.
For readers, too, ICT has significant implications. As we have seen, the author-readers of scientific research literature are an integral part of the electronic publishing process, and will be its beneficiaries once they are convinced of its long-term viability. But, more generally, readers and their expectations are changing. Among younger readers in particular, the printed page is neither the most familiar nor perhaps the most acceptable medium of information and entertainment. There is little point in regretting this fact, and in any case it should not be exaggerated. But it remains the case that future generations will have grown up in a multimedia networked world, in which they will learn, work and relax. There is already an expectation that information is current as well as accurate. It is that expectation, and the ability of ICT to meet it, that underlies the great changes in reference and educational publishing.