News that the University of Michigan Press will publish primarily electronically, rather than in print form, is not particularly interesting in the “book v. e-book” sense. The print monograph is cooked, just like printed daily journalism is cooked. University presses may have a chance to evolve and save themselves; that’s what the U of M is trying to do. Newspapers may just die off, in a cultural version of Colony Collapse Disorder.
My take on the news from Ann Arbor is that it’s a healthy sign for a university press to recognize that it’s part of the university’s information and knowledge ecology. I doubt that it is an accident that the U of M is making this move only a few years after the university was one of the first to sign up for what was then the Google Print project.
For many, many decades, the university-as-publisher fought a conceptual war with the university-as-consumer. The university press and the university library occupied different physical domains, were managed by distinct hierarchies, had distinct “business” models, and often saw their missions in conflicting terms.
Conflicts were not always fought out in the open, but conflicts were certainly there. By necessity as much as by ideology, they seem to be receding. Librarianship long ago ceased to focus primarily on conserving and sharing the printed book. Photocopying largely put an end to that premise. Today, librarianship is all about access to knowledge. From what I can tell, the U of M move confirms that publishers are moving in that direction as well. And don’t forget the University of Michigan’s institutional repository, Deep Blue. It is important to think about publishing, librarianship, and open access as parts of an institutional knowledge ecology. The university is a knowledge commons.
Meanwhile, in a related move having to do with the ecology of university-based knowledge, last week the MIT faculty unanimously adopted an open access policy. The entire faculty! Unanimously! Fantastic.