London Day 5: Digital Monographs

A display of Harry Potter books at Bloomsbury Publishing
A display of Harry Potter and other books published by Bloomsbury.

Today was devoted to exploring how digital technology is transforming the world of book publishing, and potentially the book itself. Much of what we see currently in eBooks is an electronic version of the print text, but Anthony Watkinson gave some examples of “Book 3.0,” or texts that are starting include features enabled by the web, such as embedded multimedia content. Online platforms may even change how strictly text-based monographs are written, as interest in discovering and accessing content by chapter may not only require providing rich metadata at the chapter level, but also authors and publishers to make sure each chapter of a scholarly book can be read as a standalone unit.

Next, Ruth Jones from the distributor Ingram discussed how digital technologies are transforming book distribution, for example, allowing dynamic, location-based print-on-demand services, new subscription models, and the ability to create “new” monographs from combining multiple sources. (Copyright clearance, as ever, remains a concern here.)

After this, we headed to Bloomsbury Publishing, best known for publishing the Harry Potter series, to talk to some of their staff about their various digital initiatives, including Drama Online and the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. This last intrigued me, as I’ve been reading a lot about the use of social media in academia as a potential substitute for (at least some part of) traditional publishing. This is not that. Rather, it’s an attempt to use social media, as well as online freemium content and in-person learning events and conferences, to build and energize a community around a still-traditionally published reference resource. This is much like the model behind how2become.com that we learned about earlier, with additional resources devoted to building an online community for users. Bloomsbury also uses a sort of gamification, a rewards points system to further encourage purchases and the creation of user-generated content. Users gain a certain number of points for various activities, for example, making a comment on a blog. Points can eventually be traded in for free books or discounts on services.

I’m not sure whether any of this could translate into the world of scholarly publishing, particularly given several recent discussions about how academic motivations for creating content are so strongly tied to, and tend to be limited to, those activities that support career advancement, but there are ideas here worth pondering.

The day ended early, so I spent the rest of it exploring more of the British Museum. I got through the Egyptian sculpture gallery, as well as a bit of Assyrian and Greek sculpture, before closing time. Alas, at this pace, I do not think I will make it through all I want to see before we leave.

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London Day 5: Digital Monographs

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