|The University of Minnesota Press announces an initiative to transcend the traditional publishing model to make shorter, idea-driven works accessible to the public. Photo via Flickr.|
BY DANIELLE KASPRZAK
Associate editor, University of Minnesota Press
In 2014, the University of Minnesota Press will launch its Forerunners series, which marks our foray into gray literature publishing. Other university presses have recently (or not so recently) begun publishing short digital works. Most of these are focused on books already published—taking sections out that may appeal to a wider audience, trying to solicit attention for backlist titles. At Minnesota, our goal is to move beyond that model and really focus on the fresh ideas that often don’t have a traditional publishing outlet.
These days, scholars are working out their ideas in tons of nontraditional formats—Twitter conversations, long Facebook posts (and the inevitable comments), long-form blog posts, etc. One of the problems with these nontraditional formats is their ephemeral nature. It’s hard to track tweets from even a week ago, let alone months ago. And, of course, there’s the 140-character limit. Although Facebook allows longer posts and comments, readers can be hindered by privacy settings that allow friends but not others to comment or even read the post. And just like Twitter, it’s difficult if not impossible to search for past posts. Blogs offer an unlimited word count opportunity—you can have a longer post and solicit longer comments—but for whatever reason, folks don’t seem to be commenting at the rate they do on Twitter or Facebook.
Some of the most innovative, interesting, and risky ideas I’ve seen circulating on Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere are not being represented in traditional scholarly publishing. I work in scholarly publishing; I’m fully aware of how long it can take to get ideas out there. Books take a long time to write and to publish. Journal articles and essays in edited collections are shorter, but we all know how long it can take those to come out. The ideas being explored in nontraditional formats may not lend themselves to these more traditional publishing models anyway.
That’s where Forerunners comes in. We’re not looking to republish the introduction to a book we published seven years ago in hopes of generating interest in our backlist—we’re looking to advance current conversations in scholarly publishing. Our goal is to maintain some of the informality and innovation of the ephemeral nature of things like Twitter conversations, Facebook posts, blog posts, and even conference plenaries. But, to make sure others can get involved in the conversation, too. (Because we all know how fruitless it is to search Facebook for a post you kind of remember from eight months ago.)
Forerunners will publish timely, innovative works of between 15,000 and 25,000 words, written for a broader audience of serious readers. These could be original writing or adapted from more ephemeral conversations already happening. We’re leveraging agile publishing tools and ebook technology to make works available quickly and widely at an affordable price. This means ebooks available from all the major retailers, like Amazon, as well as print-on-demand editions for those who still prefer a more tactile reading experience. And, I’m talking a few months from submission to publication—not a few years, which would be the typical timeline for a scholarly monograph. You submit your work in January; we have it out in April.
We’ll still be doing a formal peer review, you’ll still be working with an acquisitions editor to develop the work, and the works will still receive professional copyediting and proofreading. These are crucial pieces to scholarly publishing that often get ignored when talking about open-access scholarship, self-publishing, etc. (For an excellent introduction to what university presses do, check out my colleague Jason Weidemann’s post.) And if the Forerunner later develops into a full-length book, there’s an option for you to publish it with us.
Okay, so what does this mean for the future of scholarly communication? I can’t say whether tenure committees will accept an ebook with a POD edition. I truly believe that scholarly monographs, journal articles, and edited collections have a rightful and valuable place in scholarship and the academy. But there needs to be an avenue for shorter, idea-driven works that should be readily accessible by scholars, students, and the general public. And that’s where Forerunners comes in.
For more thoughts on the future of scholarly communication, visit this transcript of University of Minnesota Press director Doug Armato's talk delivered in September 2013 at "The Future of Academic Scholarship and Publishing" conference at Indiana University.