Publishing originally digital scholarship at the University of Virginia

  1. 1. John Unsworth

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Graduate School of Library and Information Science - University of Virginia

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Driven by the ubiquity of the World-Wide Web and by an interest in the
computer as a research tool for the humanities, scholars are producing
originally digital publications with increasing frequency. These are not
E-books, not digital derivatives of print publications, and because they
don't fit the traditional production, distribution, or economic practices
of university-press publishing, they pose a new challenge to scholarly
publishing. Moreover, because university presses are not capitalized, they
are not in a position to experiment while continuing their full
book-publishing programs. As a result, very few presses have any
experience in publishing originally digital scholarship, there is very
little information available to help presses decide when or how to get
involved, and most originally digital scholarship is produced without the
benefit of the editorial, design, marketing, and cost-recovery services
that a press can offer.

Over the past eight years, the Institute for Advanced Technology has
produced originally digital scholarly work in a number of different
disciplines: some of these projects are currently being used to investigate
the issues involved in collecting and preserving originally digital
scholarly work, under a collaboration between the University of Virginia's
Digital Library Research and Development Group and the Institute for
Advanced Technology in the Humanities, funded last year for three years by
the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. John Unsworth, Director of the Institute
for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, in collaboration with Nancy
Essig, Director of the University Press of Virginia, has secured support
from the office of the President of the University of Virginia, and has
applied for new external support (to be announced in December 2000) that
would allow the Press to establish an electronic imprint under which to
experiment with these and other scholarly projects from universities across
the country (and around the world), in order to explore what electronic
publishing can mean and to investigate a range of strategies and options
for cost recovery in the publishing of originally digital scholarship in
the humanities.

The goals of this project are:

To select and publish scholarly work of the highest standard
To find innovative ways to apply the traditional publishing skills
of editing, design, and marketing to new media
To analyze the initial conditions for each publication (the nature
of its publishable products, the cost of its production, the size of its
audience, etc.)
To develop for each project a publishing plan and a business
strategy designed (with those initial conditions in mind) to maximize
distribution while recovering the unfunded costs of producing the scholarly
To document and analyze the success or failure of each of these
plans, and to publish that information and analysis for the benefit of
other academic publishers, policy-makers, and authors.

An electronic imprint at the University Press of Virginia has the
opportunity to experiment with a range of very different scholarly
products, and can therefore develop a number of different publishing plans
and business models for originally digital scholarly publications. One
might well ask whether it wouldn't make more sense to develop one basic
business strategy, and then apply it to a wide range of scholarly projects
with minor alterations for each project. We believe it is possible that
such a prototype would emerge from the experiments we propose, but we also
know that the range of initial conditions (costs of production, audience,
marketable byproducts, etc.) varies widely for these originally digital
scholarly publications. Perhaps what should emerge is not one, but two, or
three, or four such prototypes: if we begin by trying to make each case fit
a standard solution, we would doubtless find that this solution works in
some cases--but we would not then find the solution that works for the
other cases. In short, while we do not anticipate that a very large number
of business strategies will be required, we doubt that one size fits all.

The experiment we propose will combine the traditional activities of
publishing (list-building, evaluation, shaping, and promotion) with
technological innovation, to produce publications that exceed the
capabilities of print while retaining the core values of scholarship. In
any trial or experiment, one has to know at the outset what are the
criteria by which success or failure will be measured, and what outcomes
are expected. Some that we know will be important include:
Intellectual Criteria: An electronic imprint at the University
Press of Virginia must contribute to realizing the core objective of the
Press, namely to "advance the intellectual interests not only of the
University of Virginia, but of institutions of higher learning throughout
the state." The imprint can do this in at least three ways:
Dissemination: An electronic imprint should seek to deliver the
goods it produces as inexpensively--and thereby, as widely--as
possible. If it is possible to do so and recover costs, the ideal
situation will be for the online form of the scholarly publication to be
free to its users.

Experimentation: Since electronic publishing is still in its
infancy, an electronic imprint should--within the limits of
cost-recovery--not only accept but embrace change, experimentation, and
even instructive failures. This plan will offer an opportunity for
authors, project developers, and publishing staff to work together in new
ways and to consider together what publishing originally digital
scholarship means.

Education: Inasmuch as the medium of digital information is a
matter of theoretical and historical research and instruction in other
parts of the University, an electronic imprint should strive to enhance and
extend in practical ways in those educational and research programs, and in
particular Media Studies.

Economic criteria: Given the outlook for future State subsidy of
scholarly publishing, an electronic imprint should aim to recover its own
costs and the unfunded costs of producing the scholarly work it publishes,
though (see Dissemination, above) it should not expect to profit much
beyond that.

Service to Scholarly Publishing: As noted above, an important
outcome of this project, during its initial phase, will be the
documentation and analysis of initial fiscal conditions, business
strategies, and income results. This documentation and analysis will be of
use not only to the imprint itself, as a tool for assessment and planning,
but also to other university presses trying to engage in electronic
scholarly publishing without undue risk.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at New York University

New York, NY, United States

July 13, 2001 - July 16, 2001

94 works by 167 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (21), ALLC/EADH (28), ACH/ALLC (13)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC