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18
arches
summer
2012
media
by Hans Ostrom
Few parts of culture have been affected more
by digital technology than publishing. Major
traditional publishers still control much of
the market for books, but the rise of e-books,
print-on-demand, and the Leviathan known
as Amazon.com have altered the world of let-
ters as much as the Gutenberg Revolution did
some 600 years ago.
Not surprisingly, this digital revolution has
also affected academic publishing, but several
Puget Sound faculty members have greeted
the latitude created by new technology as an
opportunity, not a problem.
When Andrew Gardner, associate profes-
sor of comparative sociology, was assembling
a collection of migrant narratives gathered
from men and women who work in Qatar,
the e-book format seemed advantageous in a
variety of ways. (The collection,
Constructing
Qatar: Migrant Narratives from the Margins of
the Global System,
will be available later this
summer.)
“One of the primary motivations for pub-
lishing this text electronically was the poten-
tial for global dissemination,” said Gardner, an
anthropologist. “We believe that the e-book
format will allow us to reach components of
our intended audience that would otherwise
be poorly served by a traditional academic
publisher.”
Gardner and Autumn Watts, a professor
from Cornell, oversaw a small group of stu-
dent-researchers, who recorded the narratives.
Gardner and Watts hope the inexpensive
e-book format will help the book find its way
to readers in countries that export labor to
Qatar and other wealthy Gulf states.
One strength of traditional academic pub-
lishing is diligence: Proposals and manuscripts
get sent for review to experts in the field. This
peer-review process is often anonymous and
guides the acquisition of projects and the edit-
ing of books and articles by the presses and
journals themselves.
The traditional way is not without its
drawbacks, however. Peer reviewers often don’t
meet deadlines, and sometimes professional
jealousy intrudes on objectivity. Also, espe-
cially with budget cuts at private and public
universities with presses, academic publish-
ers have become more cautious about what
and how much they publish. And, as Gardner
notes, academic books are expensive and often
don’t reach nations with few bookstores and
limited access to libraries.
Early on in the project, Gardner and Watts
discovered that academic publishing’s tradi-
tional ways would be too narrow for what they
wanted to achieve. “In our conversations with
[academic] publishers, it was evident that this
book would be difficult to review—there is no
analysis presented in the book, and it is not
a traditional ethnography in any sense of the
word. The manuscript seemed an odd fit for
most of the publishers we approached.”
Jeff Matthews, professor of business and
leadership and director of the Business Lead-
ership Program, recently decided to explore
print-on-demand as the means to publish
Blacksheep Leadership: A Story About a Leader-
ship Challenge and the Nature of Transforma-
tional Leadership
(reviewed next page).
Matthews saw the nontraditional means
of publication as good entrepreneurial expe-
rience. “Marketing the book will also finally
push me into the world of social media—Face-
book, Twitter, and blogging,” he added. “And
I knew I could get the book to market more
quickly than traditional publishing would.”
Matthews worked with the print-on-
demand company, Lightning Source, after
getting several recommendations. When some-
one purchases the book on Amazon.com (for
example), Lightning Source prints the book
and fulfills the order. In traditional academic
publishing, a set number of books is printed
and sold, and second printings or editions
aren’t guaranteed. In effect, print-on-demand
books remain “in print” indefinitely.
‘The strict, regimented, slow (and occasionally unfair) process of
peer-review academic publishing should not be the only
way for scholars to test their ideas.’
Going public
Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis