Changing the Way We Make Books

Editoria is quite simply a project that aims to change the way we make scholarly books. The digital publishing revolution has brought us many things—quick, easy access to scholarship, enhanced discoverability, accessibility for the print-disabled, to name but a few of them.  But one of the things that it has not brought us is an efficient way to produce books and collaborate with others in their production. The tools that we currently use have their roots in desktop publishing systems that were developed during the desktop computer revolution of the 1980s, and have more in common with print-based workflows than the modern, single-source, digital workflows that characterize web publishing.

While many of us are perfectly comfortable performing other tasks in web applications that were exclusively the domain of desktop software a decade ago, the tools for book-making have not evolved to the point of providing web-based mechanisms to enable effective collaboration.  The desktop publishing paradigm that only allows one person at a time to work on a book and hampers automation of production tasks such as EPUB and PDF output continues to be the dominant paradigm for scholarly book production.

Part of this is due to the complexity of scholarly books.  Scholarly books are formidable knowledge vessels that have evolved a unique structure that has accounted for their popularity as a format.  Some of the characteristics of scholarly non-fiction that we have had to think about how to handle in developing Editoria are:

  • Length.  Scholarly books are long, often 400 printed pages or more.  This length can make them difficult to engage with on-screen for extended periods of time.  This means that any interface for editing, writing, or collaborating on books online needs an architecture that supports a more segmented view of the book, such as a table of contents.
  • Illustrations.  Scholarly books often contain large numbers of tables, figures, and other illustrations.
  • Foot and back notes.  Many monographs also contain large numbers of notes and citations many of which reference materials outside of the book.  In a fully networked environment these can add tremendous value if they are handled properly.
  • Indices, bibliographies, and other elements.  Depending upon the book, there may be many other elements, including conceptual indices that simply make a work of scholarly non-fiction better.

We feel that tackling the complexity of books is both important and necessary.  As cost pressures on university presses, library publishers, and other non-profit publishing organizations increase, we see the ability to produce books quickly, elegantly, and inexpensively using shared infrastructure as a critical ingredient to our success in the coming years.  I’ll be discussing shared infrastructure with on a panel organized by my colleague Neil Blair Christensen, Director of Digital Business Development at UC Press, with my fellow panelists Kristen Ratan, from the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation, Alec Smecher, from the Public Knowledge Project, and  Martin Eve, from the Open Library of the Humanities, next week in Philadelphia at the Association of American University Presses annual meeting.  To learn more about Editoria subscribe to our email list.


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