Univerity of ChicagoMany in academia are still trogs when it comes to electronic publishing. They may do one or more of the following:

  • Try to minimize the importance of e-pubs–disdaining even reputable peer-reviewed publications if they are only digital. No tenure for you, buddy, if you don’t publish often enough on dead trees.
  • Avoid going digital, even if it might be one way for scholarly journals and other academic publications to reduce costs at a time when too many are trimming back or folding for economic reasons.
  • E-publish badly–for example, without enough interactivity.

With the above thoughts in mind, let’s hope that MediaCommons, from the Institute for the Future of the Book, can help. MediaCommons will offer “electronic ‘monographs'” in the vein of GAM3R 7H30RY, “electronic ‘casebooks’ with many authors writing on the same subject, e-journals on interrelated subjects, electronic reference wikis from credible experts, and e-forums where ideas can blossom and perhaps end up in more formal settings. It will be interesting to see what uses the project makes of the Sophie writing-and-publishing platform, now due “for a soft public launch in September for anyone who wants to download and use it.”

Meanwhile Rice University Press, shut down in ’96, is reincarnating itself as an e-book-and-POD publisher, using the Connexions platform. Will other cash-strapped university presses follow? Excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

Rice University in Houston will today announce plans to relaunch its Rice University Press — a money-losing venture that went out of business 10 years ago — under a new all-digital model. Although the new press will solicit and edit manuscripts the old-fashioned way, it won’t produce traditional books. The publishing house will instead post works online at a new Web site, where people can read a full copy of the book free. They can also order a regular, bound copy from an on-demand printer, at a cost far less than picking up the book in a store.

“Our overriding mission is to make this scholarship available for free,” says Joey King, executive director of Connexions, the Rice Web-publishing platform that will serve as the new press’s backbone. The nonprofit Connexions, founded in 1999 by a Rice engineering professor, offers free downloadable educational course materials on everything from electrical engineering to music theory.

Rice’s move comes as many book publishers struggle to adapt their business models to the Internet. Some university publishers — which operate under particularly tough conditions, since many titles appeal only to niche audiences — have stopped traditional printing altogether in favor of digital, “short-run” printing, says Peter Givler, executive director of the 129-member Association of American University Presses. That means academic publishers can more easily order small quantities of books and not commit to large press runs.

Related: Ars Technia post on MediaCommons–along with some interesting comments, including the inevitable ones on the peer review issue. Also–if:book’s take on the Rice project.