A few years ago I began to ponder the condition and fate of the university press world. This culminated in an article I wrote for the Journal of Electronic Publishing called “The Wisdom of Oz: The Role of the University Press in Scholarly Communications.” After I wrote that essay, I began to look around for some means of improving the fortunes of the press world and hit on the idea of creating a comprehensive online catalog for all university press titles, a catalog that could serve as a marketing tool, e-commerce site, and source of bibliographical data for other projects whose aims were not so plainly economic.
It was my good fortune to receive the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which underwrote a feasibility study that I wrote under the sponsorship of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE). That study was submitted to MITE and Mellon several months ago. As it delved into the specific offerings of vendors and included some confidential information, it was not suitable for publication. Subsequently, I edited the document into a longish essay, which includes a summary of a survey of about 30 university presses. That abridged document is now available online at Scribd and at MITE’s own Web site .
The project is now moving forward. A prototype is being built (the URL will be published shortly), and several presses have already sent in data feeds for their titles. (Any not-for-profit academic publisher that wishes to participate in the project should contact me offline, and not just presses affiliated with universities. For-profit scholarly publishers may be invited to participate at a later time.)
The catalog will launch into a very different world from the one that existed at the time of its conception. There was no Kindle or iPhone at that time, nor were many scholarly publishers looking beyond the dissemination of PDFs intended to be printed out and read at the edge of the network. Google had not yet begun its mass digitization project, nor had anyone even hinted that Google would shortly become, through Google Editions, a central player in the publishing landscape.
If so much can change in 4-5 years, why would we not expect that comparable changes are afoot even now? On the Scholarly Kitchen blog a month ago, I referred to this as “the Google decade.” The moderator silently and innocently changed “decade” to “decades,” but, no, decade is what I meant. Google (and Amazon, Apple, and any other “hot” company right now) has no more claim on the future of scholarly communications than AOL had even a few years ago. We should not expect that Amazon can do it better always, whatever “it” is.
Comments on the catalog project would be much appreciated.