Thursday, June 26, 2008

The price of scholarly publishing

by J J Cohen

A friend who is also a senior colleague -- and is someone who has reshaped the medieval studies scholarly publishing landscape -- recently sent me an email that included this query:
[Publisher X] has asked me whether I'd be willing to start a new medieval print
(and on-line) journal. They've also asked if you'd be interested in joining
me. My first question (aside form the ludicrous exhaustion of editing) is
whether we NEED another journal or whether others perceive such a need. Do
you have any initial responses?
My answer was rapid, because the issue is one I ponder frequently:
"Reason not the need" would be my first response (isn't there always room for something new?), BUT my second is that if I ever did get involved with a new journal, I'm pretty sure I'd want it to be Open Access and web based. One thing that gets my goat about humanities journals (and humanities publishing more generally) is the large profit margin companies have for publishing them, and the fact that little or none of this comes back to the editors or the contributors.

I think I'm done with publishing $90 books, and I also am not really sure I'd want to edit a journal that costs $200 per year for a subscription.

So, although I do like the idea ... I do have hesitations.
Does anyone else find it galling to have corporations enjoy such profits on scholarship, while also rendering much of it inaccessible via high prices and stingy access policies? Am I just being grouchy?


Anonymous said...

It's not only price and access that's galling, it's also the question of significance/prestige--that is, somehow if you publish in a journal like that, even if it has no history, because it has the prestige of being attached to a publishing house, it automatically means more than (say) publishing in an open access, web effort journal that is run by volunteer scholars and is free to all comers--especially and precisely to the younger scholars who need to publish in certain places to impress their colleagues for tenure. This creates a disincentive to people who want to create an open access alternative, since they know ahead of time that their efforts will never be taken so seriously as those backed by a for-profit press.

Eileen Joy said...

JJC: you are not just being grouchy and I have written about this here numerous times. BABEL has plans to launch a completely open-access and online journal in spring 2010, and I am lucky because my university has decided to support this venture [with release time, a grad. assistant, and even a budget line] and to let the issue of "profit" develop over time. The first issue is going to represent medievalists and early modernists in dialogue with each other over the question of the post/human and Craig Dionne has already agreed to co-edit that issue with me. I am going to spend a good chunk of spring 2009 assembling an editorial board and contributors for the first issue. As to what the journal will look/feel like more specifically, go here:

As to whether or not we need another journal, while academic publishing in general could be said to be saturated with too many journals, all competing for smaller and smaller sub-audiences, I do not think this is the case at all in medieval studies, and further, there is a huge gaping need for a medieval studies journal that would address what I would call premodern cultural studies in a forum that would be fully integrated with contemporary cultural and other theoretical studies [where, for example, medievalists and modernists would "talk" face-to-face]. The time is ripe for such a journal, and also for refashioning what we think a journal should be, and yes, it should be free, it should be open-access, easy to get to, and I would also argue: digestible, tasty, provocative, artistic, intelligent, "plugged in," and daring. There will never be any harm in having a plethora of such journals, as long as some [or many] of us are willing to commit our labors to them and to help them thrive, so as to ensure a greater democratization of intellectual thought, so that we can better guarantee Derrida's vision of a "university without condition," in which the university which would house such journals would

“remain an ultimate place of critical resistance—and more than critical—to all the powers of dogmatic and unjust appropriation”
and further, would constitute

“the principal right to say everything, even if it be under the heading of fiction and the experimentation of knowledge, and the right to say it publicly, to publish it.”

I would also love to see the inauguration of a virtual chapbook or academic "novella" series--a special publishing venue for academic work that is "bigger" than an article and "smaller" than a book: these could be made available online and also printed as small and well-designed chapbooks that could be purchased as part of a subscription series, and they could be connected to, say, the BABEL journal [and if I can help it, will be]. What if we dared to take, say, the marketing and design and web savvy of an outfit like McSweeny's and married it to a new publishing venue for medieval studies? Now, that would be something.

Matthew Gabriele said...

FWIW, I think an open-access web journal would be most welcome, so long as it were in "medieval studies" and welcomed cross-disciplinary work. I'd certainly read it.

I also think a new book series would be welcome too, if they agreed to publish in paperback...

Karl Steel said...

That would be something, EJ.

I have here in my hands the Brooklyn College library brochure "What is Open Access," which--hilariously?--doesn't seem to be available online. It provides a few URLs, once of which is a website that links to much: Peter Suber's Blog for current developments in OA, here.

Nicola's baby, Glossator, is OA, as suits the topic of the journal.

And, as has been said before, if we're publishing only for tenure, only to build up our CV, then the only value in what we do is our personal/institutional security, whereas OA allows scholarship to do what it should do: be disseminated. It has the side benefit of improving the have-not libraries and thus, in a small way, increasing social egalitarianism.

Eileen Joy said...

I'm afraid I could write on this thread all day, so why oh why, JJC, did you start this? But all kidding aside:

as to profit-driven publishers who take on academic book series and journals and make them affordable only to institutions [which institutions are themselves being squeezed more and more, budget-wise, by state legislatures who want institutions of higher education to be more self-sufficient or tuition- or endowment-drive, etc.] and who don't always return any of those profits to authors and editors and reviewers, it has to be admitted, too, however, that they often take upon themselves a labor that universities cannot afford to undertake [or support financially] and thereby provide homes for work that otherwise would not see the light of day. So, there's that little, um, fact. And I'm thinking that the profit margins are somewhat slim for some publishers, which would explain how many titles comes out in one year from some of them, with very little marketing support for those same titles, nor are they kept "in print," on a back-list, etc. So, there's profit, but it has to be constantly regenerated again and again under a law of diminishing returns and if anyone has any kind of head for economics [and I like to think that I do] this is not good for the *long*-term prospects of academic publishing. This doesn't mean I like the present state of affairs of corporately sponsored academic publishing: I decidedly do not.

For the possible successful *future* of academic publishing [especially in marginalized fields such as medieval studies], you need a combination of guild-like volunteer editors, patron publishers, an audience avid for the work being produced--and might I add, work that will generate excitement, or at least, inspire admiration for its high levels of scholarship, and if we're lucky, its beauty? The great thing about online, open-access publishing [and the same can be said of digital film] is that it, somewhat, evacuates the need for patrons with really deep pockets who are willing to spend and spend without big returns because it is virtuous to do so. None of this eliminates the necessity of time, however: even with digital, open-access publishing, time is an issue, as the physical labor of doing all this has to be done by professors and students who, increasingly, find that they have more chores to undertake and for less profit, but it is easier to ask for release time than for an annual printing/marketing budget!

Conde Nast publishes "The New Yorker," not because it is profitable, but because it is their "jewel in the crown"--it's virtuous, but not profitable. But increasingly, even magazines like "Vogue" and "Traveler" are less profitable than they used to be. So, publishing all over is in a kind of crisis. My sister's partner, Amy Austin, is the publisher of "The City Paper" in Washington, DC--a paper that used to be one of the high-water marks of independent papers in the country, but I could tell some horror stories about what has been happening with them over the past 2-3 years, and whether or not "The City Paper" will endure and in what fashion is a big question mark. We find ourselves, right now, confronted with a glut of information in all forms, with less and less of it making a profit. It seems to me, that in a climate such as this, one of two things could/might happen:

1. things will go on as they are now, with even more and more sites of information processing/presentation developing and everyone getting used to the fact that they never *really* know what is going on or only sticking to a few tried-and-true sources, which sources themselves will always be compromised by a continual revolving door of owners,


2. [fill in the blank here: write the future]

Mary Kate Hurley said...

As someone entering the field, and trying madly to negotiate the relationship between online media and "scholarly work" this is a question also near and, if not dear, at least familiar to my addled thought patterns.

It seems to me that a part of what's at stake is precisely what Karl's pointing out:

And, as has been said before, if we're publishing only for tenure, only to build up our CV, then the only value in what we do is our personal/institutional security, whereas OA allows scholarship to do what it should do: be disseminated. It has the side benefit of improving the have-not libraries and thus, in a small way, increasing social egalitarianism.

There's a risk here that's more -- well -- risky the further down the academic hierarchy you are. The problem, of course, is that we've built up an entire system of credentialing that promotes a culture in which generosity is seriously lacking -- sharing one's work is only profitable when done in very specific forums -- Speculum, Exemplaria, JMEMS, Anglo-Saxon England, etc. Disseminating ones work in open-access, in a culture like this, is very much looked down upon in one's student-hood, because of the what-if factor of how your work might be used. The what-if of being "scooped".

That's the paranoia that choice A in Eileen's multiple choice question of the future of academic publishing creates. What needs to happen -- urgently -- is precisely what I'm seeing in this thread. Scholars who are older in the yards of academe not only identifying this structure as problematic, but considering other options, rather than settling for the status quo. It's also going to take some courage on the part of scholars at all stages of their careers, and generosity in citations, and as Eileen points out, serious commitment to creating serious media in an Open Access format.

If we are to imagine this future for academic publishing in an OA format -- the publishing of work that will generate excitement, or at least, inspire admiration for its high levels of scholarship, and if we're lucky, its beauty? -- I think we have to take Karl's analysis seriously. Scholarship must also be disseminated. And I'd say not just among scholars. If we're only talking to ourselves - the Ivory Tower, the Academy, the Field -- then it's only so much noise. That's not to say that specialized academic work isn't necessary -- but rather, it shouldn't be exclusive in the audience to which it is open. (analysis of the kinds of exclusions that are present online is another story, one I don't think I'm capable of telling.)

That's what makes the BABEL journal so exciting, Eileen. It's hopeful. And it makes me hopeful.

JJC, I just want to point out one more time that you've proven in this post -- and repeatedly here on ITM -- that you're one of the scholars who will make it possible for that future to be imagined. The same can be said for Eileen, Karl, Nicola with his Glossator, and many of past and future commenters on topics like this. I keep getting something my great-grandmother said stuck in my head: "you have to be somebody to help somebody." But with the right kind of community of academics, maybe we can build a version of academic publishing -- and maybe even academic discourse -- that isn't so vertical. Maybe we can create a new network we could call the Academy.

[that ended up longer than I thought -- apologies for loose ends and incoherence]

Mary Kate Hurley said...

quick addendum -- I didn't mean to be exhaustive in my list of academic journals (which were, of course, all medieval!). I just went for the big names I happen to remember after a long morning of revision.

Mary Kate Hurley said...

how many post-scripts are too many?
I realized, on the walk back to Wake library from Reynolda Village (it's a little under a mile, so lots of time to think) -- I may have been too negative. After all, I owe a lot to the generosity of my professors and colleagues -- not least of all the time and energy my undergrad profs put into turning me into a graduate student.

So lack of generosity was meant to apply to publishing only. Just in case it wasn't clear.

Karl Steel said...

Damn blogger is eating my responses.

Scholars who are older in the yards of academe

I can't help but hear "You! You kids! Get out of my yard!"

"Oh, let's go. That Old Man Cohen never lets us have any fun."

But, yes, senior scholars are needed to have OA options taken seriously (as thus to respond to Servetus's comment). At the OA presentation I saw in May at BC's faculty day, a librarian spoke about ENTIRE editorial boards decamping from journals to protest subscription charges (which were sometimes upwards of $30,000) and setting up shop elsewhere in a new OA journal that just so happened to have the same editorial board as the recently denuded, no longer prestigious 'traditional' for-profit journal. The stakes aren't as high for medievalists as they are for scientists, but it would be a hoot to see such a thing happen...

As for the what-if of being "scooped," I know we've had this conversation before, so, to repeat, c'mon! Unless you're a paranoiac who visits the library only at, say, 2am, someone's always going to know what you're up to. If only a few people know, the chances of getting 'scooped' are probably pretty good. After all, seminars are the worst (as grad students can end up doing a lot of work for their professors); most conference sessions have fewer than 10 people attending (and most presenters are graduate students or junior scholars from whom no one will ever hear again); and, hell, most journals, especially if they're not online or online only behind some nasty subscription service, are read by next to no one.

If we're worried about being scooped, we want to get to a critical mass of eyes: hundreds, at least. We sort of have that here, at ITM. We could have it if conference sessions were podcasted (at least! My brother sends me links to HIS conference presentations, e.g., here for a model of what we might do, but a Kzoo or Babel channel on Youtube would be just as good!). After all, where's the first place people look in doing research? The Intertubes. Well, here we are. I suppose someone COULD start ripping off, say, Eileen, but I just don't see it being done successfully....

Matthew Gabriele said...

If we're worried about being scooped, we want to get to a critical mass of eyes: hundreds, at least. We sort of have that here, at ITM. We could have it if conference sessions were podcasted (at least! My brother sends me links to HIS conference presentations, e.g., here for a model of what we might do, but a Kzoo or Babel channel on Youtube would be just as good!). After all, where's the first place people look in doing research? The Intertubes. Well, here we are. I suppose someone COULD start ripping off, say, Eileen, but I just don't see it being done successfully....

Well, why can't we podcast conference sessions? It's a great idea. I've started doing it here. All you need is an iPod and a $50-60 microphone.

Eileen Joy said...

This is a great comment thread, and first, I want to echo something Karl argues: you really can't "scoop" or "imitate" someone else's work at the same level that person would do it on his or her own. I also think that scholarship has changed so much that the idea of someone else "getting there" first ahead of you is less of a threat/fear than it used to be. I mean, if someone else beats me to a particularly obscure passage in a particular manuscript in the secret archives of a library in Italy, then so be it: there will always be warriors vying in that game, as well as to be the first person to take someone else's cool theory and "apply" it to a medieval text. Now, start inventing your own theories, your own style, your own peculiar way of looking at the Middle Ages and its texts, and you're pretty much safe on that one. Imitators will only be . . . just that.

But what I *really* want to comment on here is Mary Kate's [but also Karl's] gesturing toward the idea of a scholarship that would be open, democratic, pluralistic, available, and non-hierarchical. Two wonderful books on this subject, both suggested to me by Michael O'Rourke and Noreen Giffney, are:

Simon Wortham, REHTHINKING THE UNIVERSITY: LEVERAGE AND DECONSTRUCTION [Manchester UP, 1999], and especially for our discussion here, Chapter 4, "Multiple submissions and little scrolls of parchment: censorship, knowledge and the academy"


Noreen also shared with me the very provocative essay,

Roderick A. Ferguson, "Administering Sexuality; or, The Will to Institutionality," RADICAL HISTORY REVIEW, Issue 100 [Winter 2008]

These are important citations in the sense that much of what we are talking about here is inexorably bound up, not just with persons but with *instituitons* and we need to work--and hard--on creating counter-institutional spaces. Does it not ever strike anyone as bizarre that, while our theoretical work is aimed at dismantling every social, cultural, historical category imaginable, that that same work proceeds within institutions that themselves are practically impervious to critique and/or progressive change? So much of what Mary Kate has had to worry about as a graduate student is a direct result of that.

As to having "somebodies" who can help make change happen--yes, thank goodness for that, for JJC, and others like him [I am decidedly not in this category], but let's try to remember, too, that you can take a whole group of nobodies, and by completely ignoring or bypassing or politely stepping around or *whatever* the somebodies, that amazing things can happen. The sad thing is, most of us are too intimidated to even try, let alone lead such a charge [or stealth movement or underground or avant-garde or call it what you will]. Since we're not heart surgeons, no one will get hurt.

Eileen Joy said...

And Matthew: thanks for the link to your podcast feed, which is now on my iTunes library page. BABEL has been wanting to podcast our conference sessions for a while now, but I sometimes feel a lot of resistance on the part of discussants who are uncomfortable with the idea. Starting this year, though, we are just going to do it. Thanks for doing it, also. I think it's an important tool for disseminating the work we do in our field to a larger audience.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

A rich discussion.

My guess is that the future of scholarly publishing is electronic and Open Access. The day will come -- and it won't be too long relatively speaking (it may be ten years from now) when hardcopy publication in a numinous journal that few people check out of the research library will cease to be the gold standard for essay publication (think of how many people were new to email just ten years ago). In the meantime, it really is up to us to create these new fora (including blogs) and to value them as they come into being.

I do think we need to be canny as well about how we sell these new fora to our colleagues, who still think of the internet as the great expanse of uncredentialed information that takes no labor to disseminate. When I invent my Open Access journal -- and I with some colleagues may, because my own library is encouraging GW's new Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute to do so -- it will have an incredibly boring title, because only dull titles radiate gravitas. It will also feature work by some geezers of the kind described by Mary Kate, but it will intermingle it with lesser known and important to hear and emergent voices.

It will also smack down the new BABEL journal and leave it crying on the ground.

No, not really: it will see itself as part of a conversation that should not and cannot be contained within borders -- that is, it will co-publish and co-sponsor and not insist on being a solitary imprimatur like traditional journals do. Hopefully many of these communal efforts will involve nonmedieval fora (and I am imagining that the BABEL journal will be exemplary at this as well).

Eileen Joy said...

Ooooo . . . smackdown challenge.

Anonymous said...

No doubt there will be more and more online publishing. But free open access? Or perhaps increasingly expensive pay per view? It does have to pay for itself somehow, doesn't it? And if it's going to be reliable in any scholarly sort of way, it has to be refereed and all that. It can't just make itself happen.

I hardly think any publisher, whether university press or otherwise, is getting rich off of academic publications. Most just barely manage to survive at all, and are desperate for subsidies from universities, the NEH, etc. Remember how few copies our books sell compared to any form of commercial publishing, and that's really not because of the price, it's because there are precious few people on the planet who would buy a book on some arcane aspect of medieval French literature (or whatever). I also hate publishing $90 books, but it's pretty hard to see any other option. I console myself with the thought that libraries do buy them, and therefore people can access them.

Let's hear it for libraries and inter-library loan networks. People who want to do research should not be forced to do it online.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

People who want to do research should not be forced to do it online.

It's funny, Anonymous: I believe we're at a tipping point, where many more people will soon be saying "People who want to do research should not be forced to do it offline."

The material archive will never vanish of course ... but I do believe that the expectation will "soon" be that important materials can be accessed electronically.

Related: I don't think that (say) Notre Dame University Press is making gobs of money. They also sell reasonably priced books. D. S. Brewer may not be either, despite their unreasonably priced volumes. But I do believe that big houses like Routledge, Palgrave, Houghton Mifflin make a considerable profit that does not go back into more good things for scholarship.

Eileen Joy said...

To Anonymous: I have always been very sensitive to the economics of academic publishing [whether the context of a university or more commercial press] and was trying to get at the issues you raise here in my second set of comments here on this thread. I have never been naive about economics and worked in the corporate business world [as an expense/travel accountant, among other things] for many years before going back to graduate school.

In general, I'm not sure that scholarly publishing can ever be profitable [except in those rare cases when a Richard Dawkins or a Martha Nussbaum or a Norman Cantor write a book that is field-specific but pitched at the general reading public and it finds a large-ish audience], but the question might be: how can it be more sustainable? Part of this, at some level, is going to have to do with what a university *thinks* and *believes* it is in the "business" of doing, intellectual work/property-wise. Obviously, in business and science fields, there are all sorts of partnerships that can be forged that can bring funding into a university [but which can also compromise the research, sometimes ind deleterious fashion, but it can also be mutually profitable and beneficial], but this is much harder to accomplish in the humanities.

Simply put, digital publishing allows more room for more publications for less money, and the quality of those publications does not have to be degraded. Whether or not every journal, say, in the academic humanities should have to "pay for itself"--I mean, this is, on one level, an absurd thing to expect in the context of an institution which is supposedly dedicated to fostering & supporting intellectual and scholarly exchange as well as the advancement of knowledge [even when the knowledge field in question might have only five practitioners!]. So, we have to be reasonable [and smart] about what it costs to run a journal, but the idea that a journal in, say, Iberian studies, should "pay for itself" just doesn't entirely jibe with the fact that such a journal is situated in a non-profit public institution called a university.

You can't have everything you want--that is obvious, and no, as Anonymous points out, no one in academic publishing is really making a profit at the expense of editors and authors [if anything, they are undertaking the often heroic effort of helping good work come to light], but I've always been intrigued [or amused? or miffed?] at the idea that an academic journal must "pay for itself," when all of the labor that the editor-professors, blind reviewers, grad. assistants, etc. is often way under-compensated [at least, in terms of hard dollars]--this labor is undertaken, frankly, as both a virtue and because it gains one valuable cultural capital [which may or may not ultimately translate into real dollars]. The real issue, monetarily, is not the "cost" of the editing/writing labor [which could never really be adequately compensated], so much as for the marketing, printing, subscription services, dissemination, etc. And these are precisely the items that became less "heavy" and "immovable" and "too costly" with the advent of online, open-access publishing [which is not to say "space" is not a consideration: server space is not free, web-page design is not free, etc.]. And perhaps, there *can* be some kind of reasonable pay-for-view pricing structure established whereby online journals are *practically* free but can still generate some kind of revenue that would be equal to the lesser operating costs.

But we find ourselves today, nevertheless, in the unenviable position of often having to "get" external funds to support our research, of proving that our journals can "pay for themselves" [which means: "break even," not generate a profit . . . but still], and of demonstrating what my university likes to call "learning outcomes." It's like applying math to literature and somehow, it doesn't look right.

theswain said...

Some great comments, and I'll chime in with my .01.

My first online, open access journal lived 14 years ago and died 12 years ago, and was of such little note (in spite of submissions from all over the world) that it didn't even make it into the Way Back Machine!

The second one I've been involved with is about to turn 10, we formed our original board in the Autumn of 1998, and thank God Issue 11 is about to be released to the world after a host of fits and stops. But its undergone many of the same pains and agonies that longer run, more respected journals have undergone.

Is a new journal needed? Well I think that depends on the audience you are trying to address and what you see your purpose as being. There are certainly niche's to fill with enough people working there to fill consistently with good material. The BABEL journal for example. But there are other niches that are saturated. So WHAT KIND of journal focused on what (or totally unfocused, just general medieval) is being conceived.

I can only chime in and state the obvious: if you do this thing, free and open access is a must! And regrettably, most publishers are not going to be willing to support such a venture: they're a business and need to make money somehow. A university may, as in Eileen's case, give active support, or as in HA's case, passive support (Memorial University provides web space and server support, though they also often mess us up as has happened the last 2 weeks). So I think things are at odds there: free and open access and connected with a publisher do not seem like a good marriage.

Re: the issue of prestige, one hopes that those working on it and the quality of what's published in it will provide the needed prestige. And longevity. Off to walk pugs now!

Karl Steel said...

I don't have anything to add here, now, except to note that this conversation is one that comes around frequently: again, I direct our attention to John Holbo, as I have before.

My primary reason for commenting is to thank Matthew Gabriel for his podcasts. Would that I had checked the thread 45 minutes ago, before I starting doing dishes. (Given my commitment to opensource software (again, it's not just political; it's fun to tinker with, and I will, warning, advertise a particular set of machines), I'd like to see podcasting done without the benefit of Ipods, Itunes, and other proprietary stuff. Me? I downloaded EVERY episode of your "medieval texts" series using rhythmbox. Publishing them using something like this might be an option....)

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Nice to see the swarming around this topic.

The Open Humanities Press seems important to mention here, as a kind of "best of" humanities collective committed to open access. I am not clear on what work the impressive editorial advisory board actually does besides admitting journals into the collective, but the principle of creating such collectives seems central, just as the big full text databases condition to a significant degree what people read.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Oh, and I meant to say also, following the direction of MKH's thoughts on the academy and Dan Remein's recent post about the bodily mattering of books, that the whole move to open access is obviously also in a bigger way about widening space for fashioning of the *forms* of academic work. At least that's what I want it to be! Just as moving from one house to another allows for previously unforseen creative rearrangements.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks for that very useful link, Nicola.

As Eileen says, there is nothing free about Open Access. I wouldn't even think of initiating a journal if I wasn't fortunate enough to have a library interested in the idea and willing to offer the support necessary to produce the thing and put it up on the web.

Lastly, I really do not want to rule out the profit motive, even when profits are slight: Palgrave publishes the New Middle Ages not out of altruism, but because they reap monetary rewards from doing so. Not huge rewards, but not insubstantial ones either. The same is true for all commercial (as opposed to nonprofit) presses. That's why so many scientists have rebelled against having their journals published by corporate presses: the profit motive interferes with the desire to publish new knowledge widely.

Anonymous said...

JJC said: I believe we're at a tipping point, where many more people will soon be saying "People who want to do research should not be forced to do it offline."

That may be true. But I don't welcome it. I hate it, in fact. How many times have I tried to access something only to be told that I have to download the new version of Adobe, which I can't do because I'm going through a university server that doesn't let me download anything. Or other problems of that kind. I don't have an iPod. I don't even know what one is. I've tried clicking on 'podcast' and 'rss' links but was just bewildered by what then appeared, realised I did not have the right equipment or software or whatever to access it, and gave up.

Books, however, are reliable. You can order them through ILL if your library doesn't have them. When they arrive, you can read them without needing some kind of expensive equipment. You don't have to be in your office to read them and can take them elsewhere. I know, I'm fighting a losing battle. But please remember that not everyone finds the electronic world all that easy to deal with. Yes, I do sometimes read this blog. But it's the only one I have ever read and I would hate to think that I had to devote lord knows how many hours a week to checking through a bunch of blogs in order to stay abreast of my field.

Matthew Gabriele said...

Anonymous said:

Yes, I do sometimes read this blog. But it's the only one I have ever read and I would hate to think that I had to devote lord knows how many hours a week to checking through a bunch of blogs in order to stay abreast of my field.

But is that really any different from checking a bunch of journals (many of which are going online and becoming prohibitively expensive at the same time) to stay abreast of your field? It's just another kind of scholarship, isn't it?

Eileen Joy said...

I guess what I ultimately want is a kind of middle ground between the books and hard-copy journals that Anonymous would be loathe to part with and the new scholarly media [including weblogs and e-books and e-journals and podcasts, etc.]. That's partly why I highlighted McSweeny's in my first set of comments here: in literary publishing, anyway, Dave Eggers and his crew have pulled off a marvelous feat: they have an amazing webzine and they also produce a journal and book series that pushes the envelope of beautiful and even old-fashioned book-making. Is anyone here familiar with the literary journal? They come in different shapes and formats: one issue was a cigar box with removable contents. They also have a DVD journal [with films, music, etc.] called "Wolphin" and a regular arts & culture magazine [printed] called "The Believer." Anyway, as crazy as it may sound, they are somewhat a model for me: a beautiful marriage between old-fashioned bookmaking and even the "art of the book," zine production, and web-based e-productions.

Karl Steel said...

Is anyone here familiar with the literary journal?

I have 3, 4, and 5 (original printings), and vols 1-3 of Wholphin. Also, there's this, from an epic summer of silliness.

Eileen Joy said...

Karl: I love your letter to McSweeny's. I don't suppose your "I hate everything" radio show ever happened?

Karl Steel said...

My portion of this conversation is now safely cordoned off in parens: (Oh! I'd forgotten about that one ("Spliff: A Playlet" is probably my favorite, probably because I've been reading Ring Lardner's nonsense plays lately). And, no, the radio program never happened.)

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Anonymous: thank you for choosing us as the blog you read. That means a lot to me.

Nic D'Alessio said...

I'm fairly faithful reader of this blog, but have yet to comment. So here goes...

This is a remarkable and very rich thread! I find the topic particularly interesting not only as someone just entering the field, but as someone who has (and is) thinking seriously about editorial employment in academic publishing (I guess I'm masochist). I guess I don't have too much to add, but a few simple (maybe obvious) points.

1. One problem with the appearance of new journals, whether by print or through online subscription, is the few libraries can afford it. As I'm sure most know, budget lines for journals are completely separate from books, such that it's easier to get a library to purchase a book than a subscription. The latter, besides being costly, requires, if printed, a space commitment in the dwindling sizes of our libraries. Off-site shelving has become a necessity these days.

2. Desclaimer: I fully support OA, but.... Limitations of space also can be a good thing. One benefit of the subscription services is often access to entire publishers journals, access that would be impossible in the days of 1:1 journal subscriptions. Also, remember when there were only a few basic journal databases (e.g., Project Muse, JSTOR)? The proliferation of newer databases was the result of too many presses feeling as if they were being "scooped" out of revenue by, eg., JHU, who runs Project Muse. So, now we have Duke, Sage, Routledge, et al with their own subscription services.

3. At several institutions and within different academic fields, I've also been "talked to" about what's reputable and what's not. I agree that such policing rhetorics are, at best, problematic and, at worst, absurd. But again, this seems to be a structural problem, for all the reasons that Mary Kate and others have stated.

Moreover, there seems to be constitutive to being more "conservative" if your a major "respected" journal. Here I'm thinking about Speculum, or other "important" society journals. Nor do I think this is limited to such venues, for the more a journal's reputation grows the more often it seems to become of i judged to be intellectually "conservative"; somehow it's not on the pulse of what's happening. Similarly, when one's article appears in such a journal one not only receives the accompanying structurated prestige but also one recognizes one's "method," e.g., to have arrived. I always thought that curious, since once a method or movement declares its arrival in a field central venue, it seems to simultaneously declare its passing as something novel. We've seen/heard this debate, e.g., with respect to queer theory.

I think newness is always welcome, but I also think we need to question or think about what that newness "is." More bluntly put, what's trying to be accomplished? How does this particular matrix move in that direction?

4. Take the example of musicology (one of the degree hates I've worn, other is theology/philosophy). The field's "flagship" journal -- this language always bothered me, whereby both the journal's and its sponsoring society's reputations function dialectically -- (Journal of the American Musicological Society; JAMS) appeared and served to help legitimate its field during a post-war cultural moment, when so many of the leading musicologists were displaced Germans (sounds similar to medieval studies). Anyway, for most of its history JAMS published average-sized articles (~25pp or less). Then, at some point in the '80s, the article sizes increased exponentially. Now, an average JAMS article is something like 60-70pp, with hundreds of footnotes!

I produce this example because I think it says something not merely field specific but broader about intellectual anxieties. As fields increasingly see themselves as marginal, they often seem to imagine themselves as otherwise. That is, they seem to engage in a necessary fiction of their importance and vitality. In my above example, this occurs through an increased appearance and sense of scientificity.

I suppose I'm pondering not just the economics of publishing but also its psychoanalytics: its anxieties, disavowals, projections.

Okay, so I'll stop. I hope these random thoughts aren't too diffuse.

Eileen Joy said...

Nunzio: thanks so much for your comments here; I think they are immensely helpful in the context of this conversation. This is what makes a weblog so valuable, especially when numerous persons who don't agree on every point can have an extended conversation. Since I am in the process of putting together a new journal and, to be honest, have not worked out all the angles, you have given me much food for thought, especially as regards how "prestige" is accorded and also your important challenge for us to really think hard about what we mean when we invoke terms like "new" and "avant-garde." Also, since you have worn many disciplinary hats, I think you have a more broad angle of vision than some on the question. I, too, have worn many hats, academically, but also professionally [I worked in the business world for many years before going back to grad. school and was also in the fine arts milieu for most of the 1980s and early 1990s].

In some respects, your commentary here actually invigorates my thinking [and hope] for a new journal in medieval studies that could, somehow, break the mold of creeping "conservatism," as you put it, as well as be sensitive to all of the space/money considerations that university libraries have these days. Also, there is the question of longevity: they key would be to never fully "arrive," somehow [which is partly what I am hoping for BABEL more broadly, as an organization]. You can have a beautiful experiment that goes on for a few years and then fails to "solidify" into something permanent-conservative and that can still be called, afterwards/belatedly, "field-changing." If we were willing to commit more of our resources [and not monetarily, but physical-psychic labor-wise] to risky experimental adventures in scholarship/publishing/teaching, what we "make" will endure in its own way, and in its own "time." That's where I place my bets.

Nic D'Alessio said...

Eileen: Thanks so much for your response, and I completely agree with you! I, too, would place my hope in a non-determinate form of intellection "to come." My comments (and pardon the typos) were certainly not meant to imply, and nor did I take you as inferring from them, that I'm reluctant/skeptical about OA or a new journal. I think your comment about longevity is directly on point: we need to think deeply about how what it means to make an impact in our fields. Again, you nicely point out how making an impact is not necessarily coexstensive with solidifying.

Disciplines necessarily constitute themselves through exclusionary acts of endorsement, whereby certain objects and specific knowledges are deemed appropriate. To borrow from Paul Strohm's "Coronation as Legible Practice," we might say that "disciplinary boundaries result from phobic incapacity for disorder." But, as Strohm's extension of John Mowitt's work on "antidisciplinarity" suggests, there is always a "remainder, a residue of phenomena unvoiced or uncommented upon." This, I think, speaks to issue of why "new" journals (or other publishing ventures) will always already be needed: no discipline, however much it might dream otherwise, can account for or accommodate all things. I find this to be an immensely hopeful situation because not only it allows for new scholarly ventures and forays but also it necessitates a certain disciplinary humility. Obviously such humility isn't always achieved happily, but there is a feeling of "letting be" that a discipline's practioners need to cultivate.

Lastly, a word on books. I think you earlier post about chapbooks and such is a really great idea, and I take that along with JJC's comments on the astronomical prices of scholarly books today. I generally think that UPenn is publishing really fantastic books that are, when compared to Palgrave, Cambridge, or Oxford, are surprisingly "affordable" hardbacks. But my concern right now is the sheer absence of a paperback series in medieval/early modern studies (lately I've been using the terminology of "comparative premodern studies"). This is especially noteworthy in the wake of Minnesota dropping its "Medieval Cultures" series. Minnesota seems to be putting alot of their efforts into their new "Posthumanities" series, which looks to be a really great place for new theoretical work. I'm also more than fairly certain that Stanford dropped its "Figurae" series as well.

True, as Elieen knows well, Ohio UP has announced two new series, one on textual/MS studies and another on medieval stuff, but they publish mostly hardcovers at a moderately expensive cost. Fordham UP has also been increasing its profile dramatically of late, so their might also be possibilities there.

Actually, something I've been pondering for a while is how the prestige a press is often, if not imesurablely, tied to its acquisitions editor(s). A case in point is the dramatic change in Fordham UP's profile after hiring Helen Tartar form Stanford, whose departure is a particularly complicated set of developments, I'm told. Still, how often have we seen a press go from publishing the best work in medieval studies to all of sudden drying up? Didn't something like this happen to Wisconsin back in the 80s or so?

So, I guess what I advocate for are all the benefits and needs of OA, the necessity of a new paperback series, and acknowledging that subscription services have some benefits.


Eileen Joy said...

Nunzio writes,

"Disciplines necessarily constitute themselves through exclusionary acts of endorsement, whereby certain objects and specific knowledges are deemed appropriate,"

and this makes me think of one of my favorite quotations from Foucault, which I have invoked on more than one occasion as an epigraph in my published work [this is from his "Discourse on Language"]:

"A discipline is not the sum total of all the truths that may be uttered concerning something; it is not even the total of all that may be accepted, by virtue of some principle of coherence and systematization, concerning some given fact or proposition. . . . Within its own limits, every discipline recognizes true and false propositions, but it repulses a whole teratology of learning."

And it is to this "whole teratology" of learning that I would like to see a new journal in our field address itself, especially under thew rubric of what Nunzio is calling "comparative premodern studies" and that I have been calling "premodern cultural studies." I am also all behind the idea of a series that would produce affordable paperbacks [and hence, as Nunzio rightly intuits, the idea of a BABEL scholarly "novella" series]. We can do both--I really believe that.