Updates on the Future of Scholarly Publishing

kfitz's picture

A couple of interesting things in the inbox today:

First, a story about a new site in the physics world designed to challenge what is seen by some as the in-group exclusivity of the arXiv e-print server. The new site, called viXra, removes any restrictions on the kinds of papers that can be uploaded. Coming from the humanities, where traditional black-box peer review still holds sway, arXiv’s model already seems more or less like radical openness: the first time a scholar uploads a paper in a particular field, he or she needs to obtain the “endorsement” of an already-established scholar; once uploaded, each paper is scanned to make sure it’s not nonsense. But the folks associated with viXra allege that some scholars have been blocked from uploading papers based on the moderators’ sense that their work is too speculative, or that their papers have been “dumped” in the generic “physics” category, where they’re unlikely to be found and read. viXra’s developers make an interesting argument for the necessity of their counter-arXiv; it’ll be fascinating to see how the new site develops.

Second, the folks at Scribd have announced that Harvard University Press is releasing 1000 electronic texts via their site. Ars technica asks whether this is the future of scholarly publishing. The money quote here:

My personal hope is that other cash-strapped publishing houses will bite the bullet, move their entire libraries to digital, and send their authors a complimentary, book-shaped box of tissues to cry into when they contemplate the loss of their name on a hardcover.

I can hardly disagree with that. But I’m not entirely sold on the HUP/Scribd model of the future; we’re still essentially talking about the same system, and the same textual model, just digitally distributed. The future of scholarly publishing, I can only hope, will involve a much more radical rethinking of the role of the press and the form of the text than this model suggests.