Harvard University Press to Publish Digital Content on Scribd
The Harvard University Press announced recently that it will publish approximately 1000 academic books digitally through Scribd, the world’s largest “social publishing company.” Academic works are often published with ludicrously small printing runs because the main goal is becoming peer-reviewed, rather than read by the larger public.
While putting scholarly work online certainly won’t make it more readable, it may advance the attitude of the academic community to accept the merits of online sources. Most online material is frowned on by the archaic peer-review process, but hopefully if a large (and reputable) publishing house like the Harvard University Press takes the plunge, others will soon follow. Scribd already boasted a collection of digital works published by the MIT Press and the NYU Press. A recent article on ars technica describes the difficulties of online scholarship,
But there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem to moving scholarship online. Scholarly publishers, which are central to the all-important vetting and peer review process, don’t do digital, and they look down on anything published in a digital format. And that attitude pervades the academic community: scholars still pursue the peer-reviewed printed book as the ultimate CV trophy and turn their noses up a digital, giving the publishers little incentive to experiment with digital distribution.
But, as HUP’s tiny little 1,000-book foray into the world of digital possibly indicates, academic publishers may be forced into the arms of digital by the same rapidly changing circumstances that are pushing regular book publishers toward outlets like Scribd.