Scholarly Publications: Thoughtfully Transitioning from Print to Digital Format

ERICA OSWALD

As I read Michael Clarke’s “The Costs of Print” and Alan Rauch’s “Hindsight Toward a Digital Future,” I was intrigued that each author’s voice so clearly communicated his vocation. Clarke, the tech-savvy publishing professional, speaks comfortably about the changes in innovation. Rauch, a humanities scholar, educator, and author, speaks about the changes in technology as if somewhat mystified. Though their commentary differs, I noticed several similarities, as well as complementary tendencies. When migrating from print to electronic periodicals, a collaborative team of tech-savvy and tech-apprehensive people would implement new systems and procedures more effectively than a group of like-minded people.

Clarke is focused on bringing digital science- and technology-related scholarly journals to life. He understands the business and predicts with relative certainty that it’s just a matter of time until scholarly journals will cease to be printed.[1] His arguments focus on the cost of paper, storage needs, and the importance of investing in the parts of publishing that have a chance of producing a return on investment (ROI). As a businessman, it makes sense for him to focus on the ROI of these publishing endeavors.

Rauch acknowledges early on in his essay that that we seem to be moving toward digitized scholarly journals: “It would be foolhardy not to take advantage of digital innovation, yet it is unwise recklessly to adopt practices that have implications that we don’t fully understand.”[2] Though he understands what the future holds, Rauch seems ambivalent in coming to terms with what these changes will mean to him and his work. His concerns are around scholarly tradition, quality control, and the perplexing issue of longevity of data storage.

In my previous career as a corporate marketing-communications specialist in a high-technology company, we used the Innovation Adoption Lifecycle to understand how various technology users respond to innovation.[3]

Innovation Adoption Lifecycle

Based on the figure, I would submit that tech-savvy Clarke falls in either the “Innovator” or “Early Adopter” category. Rauch, on the other hand, admits having “difficulty enough in finding time to teach and write, much less tinker with the operations of . . . academic publishing.”[4] I might put him in the “Late Majority” category.

Our culture prizes those who lead in innovation, yet I believe people in each group bring value to the process of change. The creative innovators hatch ideas and invite people to try their prototypes. Early adopters quickly see the value in the new idea, offer suggestions for improvement, and influence others to try it. The largest numbers of people make up the early majority and late majority groups. This hefty surge of people investing in the innovation is what allows the innovation to become profitable (through sales offsetting research and development costs) and indicates mainstream success. The final group, the laggards, will not adopt the new innovation until they are certain that the “bugs have been worked out.” The people in this group tend to be risk- and change averse and place a strong value on tradition.[5]

While the term “laggard” sounds unflattering, this group may be on to something. Traditions are born when things are tried, found successful, repeated, and refined over time. As Rauch points out, “against the rather staid history of the academic journal, as initiated more than 300 years ago by Henry Oldenburg for the Royal Society, we now face revolutionary changes in a world of scholarly publishing that, if not static, seemed rather set in its ways.”[6] Perhaps scholarly publishing has not changed very much because it works.

Scholarly publishing has also relied on the careful efforts of editors, which has helped produce excellence in scholarly journals. As Meghan Davy, reporter and editor at the Lakeshore Weekly spoke to our class, she noted that writing for the web is more informal that writing for printed publication.[7] It seems writing has become less formal, perhaps due to the popularity of email, texting, and other social media. Communication has never been so quick-paced, a phenomenon that has led to typing fingers moving faster than the user’s brain. Proofreading has become vitally important since automatic spell checkers do not always read our minds accurately. Typo disclaimers in the signature field of email sent over mobile devices, though entertaining, illustrate that people realize how easily these mistakes can occur.[8] To be sure, digitizing scholarly journals is not synonymous with sending emails or writing for the web. I make the comparison to illustrate the continued importance of quality and accuracy checks during the proofing process of documents being distributed electronically. The role of the editor will continue to be vital as editors enforce the rules governing scope and process flow of the actual content. Equally important are matters of proofing, enforcing house style, and maintaining consistency throughout the publication or website.

Once the editing staff has procedures in place to ensure digital content quality, one can look to the clear benefits of electronic distribution of information. Printing and shipping take time; once electronic materials are prepared, electronic distribution can be instantaneous. Also, ideas are not just shared through the written word. Audio recordings, elaborate graphics, podcasts, videos and links to other related resources are available via electronic distribution sources. These choices are advantageous in education, since written text is not the best way for everyone to learn new information.

Digital delivery also removes barriers around using color in publications. The reader can choose to print and can then determine if paying for color printing makes sense. Shifting the responsibility of printing to the reader has additional benefits. Print customization could mean choosing to print in different font size or letter type (important for less youthful eyes), and the reader could choose which materials are worth printing at all.

Moving from print to digital publication provides opportunities for change, and some areas of digital publishing are not yet standardized (and may never be). Formatting of information is one such example. Books have been formatted in a similar fashion for hundreds of years, but moving to a digital format presents more possibilities. For instance, digital books can be viewed as pages of a book and can be advanced using arrows to “turn” the page. Other documents are formatted so the reader scrolls down. If a document is lengthy, scrolling may present issues in citing passages. Digitally published documents with numbered paragraphs assist in citation and in understanding current location within a document. Through collaboration, this is something that may someday be standardized, which might help readers improve reading efficiency.

Lastly, digital publications differentiate themselves in how “open” their information is. Some publications are “open access,” while others require payment or membership to gain access. Since it is very easy to share digital information, developing and communicating “Conditions of Use” is critical. These are weighty issues that must be decided in the process of digitizing scholarly publications.

How can we make the transition to digitized publications easier for those who might be less inclined to embrace technological innovations? Rauch’s idea to hold meetings and colloquia makes sense, especially as face-to-face conferences are normal communication vehicles for industry professionals, and these events help to strengthen collaborative bonds among attendees. It would make sense to include information technology specialists, journal editors from all academic disciplines, and an industry specialist such as Mike Clarke. In such an environment, laggards would have an opportunity to ask questions and make sure processes would be in place for quality assurance. Those who have published electronic journals for a while could greatly shorten the learning curve for others while continuing to define and improve best practices in digital scholarly publishing.

NOTES

[1]. Michael Clarke, “The Costs of Print,” The Scholarly Kitchen (blog), December 7, 2011, http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2011/12/07/the-costs-of-print/.

[2]. Alan Rauch, “The Scholarly Journal: Hindsight toward a Digital Future,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 42, no. 1 (2010): 56, http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.stthomas.edu/10.3138/jsp.42.1.45.

[3]. Morgan Gerard, “Innovation & Early Adopters: Beyond the Bell Curve,” Noodleplay (blog), Accessed February 24, 2015, http://www.ideacouture.com/blog/innovation-early-adopters-beyond-the-bell-curve/.

[4]. Rauch, “The Scholarly Journal,” 64.

[5]. “Diffusion of Innovations,” Wikipedia, last modified February 14, 2015, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations.

[6]. Rauch, “The Scholarly Journal,” 56

[7]. Davy, Meghan, (Reporter/Editor, Lakeshore Weekly), in-class discussion, February, 2015.

[8] Jodi Schneider’s blog provides an entertaining collection of “excuse my typo” signature lines. My favorites include: “Typed with thumbs,” “Erroneous words are a feature, not a typo,” and “Warning: I either dictated this to my device, or I typed it clumsily. Expect typos and weirdness.” Jodi Schneider, “’Excuse my signature’ lines, a collection,” jodischneider.com/blog reading, technology, stray thoughts (blog), July 16, 2012. http://jodischneider.com/blog/2012/07/16/excuse-my-typo-signature-lines-a-collection/

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clarke, Michael. “The Costs of Print.” The Scholarly Kitchen (blog). December 7, 2011. http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2011/12/07/the-costs-of-print/.

“Diffusion of Innovations,” Wikipedia. February 14, 2015. Accessed February 24, 2015.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations.

Gerard, Morgan. “Innovation & Early Adopters: Beyond the Bell Curve.” Noodleplay (blog). Accessed February 24, 2015. http://www.ideacouture.com/blog/innovation-early-adopters-beyond-the-bell-curve/.

Rauch, Alan. “The Scholarly Journal: Hindsight toward a Digital Future.” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 42, no. 1 (2010): 56-65. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.stthomas.edu/10.3138/jsp.42.1.45.

Schneider, Jodi. “’Excuse my signature’ lines, a collection.” jodischneider.com/blog reading, technology, stray thoughts (blog). July 16, 2012. http://jodischneider.com/blog/2012/07/16/excuse-my-typo-signature-lines-a-collection/

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4 Comments

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  1. Erica,
    Your post does such a great job highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of print and digital publications. I’m supposed to be of the generation that welcomes digitalized books and other media, but I have such a difficult time staring at a screen for long periods of time; my eyes just can’t handle it. You note that digitalized publications may present issues in citation if the document is lengthy and the reader must “scroll” through pages rather than “flip” to a particular page (as they would in print). For me, this scrolling feature also makes it easier to skim through a text rather than read and process the text in its entirety. While skimming is certainly possible in print publications, I think that the computer mouse functions and the arrow keys on the keyboard make it easier for readers to simply skim for the information that they need. I’m not sure if this is a positive or negative aspect of digital publication. Perhaps it’s both. Skimming certainly helps a reader determine if the work is worth reading, but skimming can also discourage actual reading.
    I also appreciated your closing paragraph. Expanding the printed world into the digital world seems to also expand the kinds of jobs that are needed. Information technology specialist, graphic designers, software engineers, etc. now find a market in publishing. Again, this can be both positive and negative: the jobs that are created for the move to the digital form also eliminate the number of jobs that were needed for the printed form.
    Thanks for your post, Erica!

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  2. Victoria Pyron Tankersley March 5, 2015 — 10:57 pm

    Erica,

    This is a great exploration of two different perspectives toward scholarly editing. In regards to our conversation with Meghan Davey, I feel as though there is definitely a tendency to be less formal on the internet– since information is quickly being added and can be changed. I also feel like the role of the editor, then, becomes vitally important, since many authors may be tempted to write less formally. I think the goal of online editors, then, is to enforce the same level of high-standard writing as print does. I think this leads us to– like Shakespeare Quarterly– develop very tight systems on online publishing, where comments are elicited from certain groups of people and edited heavily.

    It is difficult to navigate open access in terms of payments, as well. It seems as though the goal is to have an open, accessible conversation, but then how do we recompense authors and editors for their time and work? Who will be funding this online, open-access work, and how can we create a system where it is still accessible but also self-sustaining? These questions, I think, call us to look more deeply into the economic issues than we previously have before.

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  3. Wow, you really changed your post a lot; I enjoy how you tightened and focused everything. I also like your focus on the collaborative process with not just scholars of different backgrounds but between innovators and those who struggle with technology or do not have the time to incorporate new technology.

    You make a good argument for the use of new media in the mention of the multiple uses and forms of it. Because of its multiple uses, this means that there are multiple ways to get the formula right and have journals find what works for them as digital publishers, instead of looking for one perfect way to use technology. This addresses one of my concerns with holding onto tradition; we could be holding onto it because it’s what works, but we could also be holding onto it because there does not appear to be a feasible way to publish electronically. However, whether or not the “kinks” entirely get worked out, because there are various ways to work with digital media and hold conferences to learn ways to adapt, publishing journals digitally seems more plausible.

    It is also nice to see how you fit the role of the editor into this process of digital publishing, because it is important to have more than instantaneous information that is spell-and grammar-checked. This is not to say that a “gate-keeper” is needed for information, but similar to how we use traditions because they work, we have editors because they work to improve and prepare projects to ensure that an author’s work is the best it can be. Hopefully this is a thing that stays in the process of digital publishing.

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  4. Erica, your blog post helped me to identify myself as an “early majority adopter” when it comes to innovation. The “Innovation Adoption Lifecycle” was a helpful visual for me in illustrating this concept. Being an early adopter of technology might be helpful in my house where I am learning to use the new gadgets we adopt, but it may not be ideal for publishers in the world of the scholarly journal. I think there is a danger for these publishers to adopt too early, especially when it comes to online publishing options. Although open access seems to be a great trade off, there is a danger in losing some of the integrity, typesetting, and editing that go along with the printed form. However, I recognize the difficulty in knowing when (and if) to adopt. Scholarly publishers must not take the “laggard” approach and find themselves at an economic disadvantage in the future.

    There are many advantages, as you point out, to the electronic form. These include the use of color, multi-media opportunities, and other “scrolling” customizations. I agree with your opinion: “…this group may be on to something. Traditions are born when things are tried, found successful, repeated, and refined over time.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with waiting until the “bugs” are worked out. Knowing if and when to jump in will be a difficult decision, but scholarly publishers need to watch fellow publishers and the newly adopted innovations carefully to avoid becoming the “laggards” left behind.

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