It seems that this blog is becoming the official website for Quantum Foundations job announcements. Sadly, in the current climate this still means that I don’t have to bug you with job adverts too often. In any case, there are two postdocs available via the PIAF (Perimeter Institute — Australia Foundations) partnership, which look like a pretty sweet deal for any finishing postdocs/grad students in Foundations. They involve spending 9 months of the year in Sydney and 3 months here in Waterloo. Theoretically, this means that you could completely avoid experiencing winter for the three years of the postdoc. The job ad is posted here and the deadline is 7th December 2007.
Archive for November 2007
The first response to my enquiry from the post on Traditional vs. Online Publishing comes from Jennifer Howard who is an Associate Editor for Physical Sciences at Chicago University press. The response comes in two parts, the first addressing the general issue of whether it is better to publish traditionally or online and the second addressing the specific questions that I asked. Here’s a quote from the first part:
The University of Chicago Press is a non-profit publisher, although we are one of the largest university publishers today . Our primary mission (carefully monitored by the University of which we are a part) is to help disseminate scholarly information. If a given work is already successfully distributed on the internet, my feeling is that a printed book is often not needed. For the prospective author considering whether to post or publish, however, there are a few issues to take into account:
1.) A print book is often better than an online publication when it’s longer than 100 pages. Most people don’t want to read an entire book online, though shorter snippets are usually fine. Most of our external reviewers, for example, decline the opportunity to read the electronic version of a manuscript, asking instead for a hard copy.
2.) A book, published by a university press, has a reputation and vetting process behind it. External experts from the author’s own field review and recommend improvements to the text prepublication. There are also copyeditors correcting typos and checking references. You know something about the quality of what you read or assign in class.
3.) As you mention on your blog, a book has the publisher’s advertising and marketing support behind it.
4.) For more established scientists, a book can be a capstone on a prestigious career. [I confess, I do not usually encourage younger scientists to write books--their case for tenure could be harmed if they are writing books rather than publishing original research articles. If a younger scientist has already written the bulk of the manuscript or feels strongly about publishing a book, however, I will consider it with the same care I would give to a more senior author.]
5.) A book also has a publisher working to secure its translation into other languages, something that is rare for online publications unless you have enterprising volunteers.
6.) A book has permanence–you can always access it, it’s not going to be taken offline or moved when the author goes to another university, gets bored with hosting a website, etc… Books are registered with the Library of Congress, for example, and can sit on the shelf until they are needed.
These are some good points about the benefits of traditional publishing, many of which I missed in my original post. There are a few things I disagree on though:
- Firstly, if an online manuscript is popular and successful then I think that is exactly when it might be a good idea to publish it as a book, rather than just having the electronic version. Even if they have access to something online, people still want hard copies, and I think the interest generated by the electronic version would actually increase the sales of the book, particularly if the price is not set too high.
- I’m not sure about the comment about young scientists writing books in point 4. I guess it is good advice in most of Physics, particularly in fast-moving, popular areas of research in which people are primarily judged by publications and citations. However, in less mainstream areas, such as the foundations of physics, having a longer-form to set out your ideas coherently can be a big advantage. Also, what about fields in which it is common practice to publish your Ph.D. thesis as a monograph? The point is just that the validity of this advice is heavily subject-dependent.
- Point 6 is quite relevant at the moment, but I think it will disappear in the long term. Part of the reason for asking about repositories like arXiv, Connexions and Open Courseware is just that they are supposed to be more permanent than the author’s own website. Eventually, I imagine they will be integrated into the doi system, and that the Library of Congress might want to include them in its catalogues. I agree that the current systems for collating and cataloguing online academic texts are rather haphazard, so this might be a reason to go the traditional route for now.
For the second part of the response, I’ll respond to the responses in a bit more detail:
As some of your commentators suggested would be the case, I cannot claim any of the below responses to be Press policy. Hopefully, they give you a sense of my practices as an editor.
Yes, I would consider a manuscript that has been previously posted on the internet. This isn’t all that unusual and can provide an author with useful feedback.
I do not receive a lot of requests from authors to leave manuscripts online–most are glad to encourage readers to turn to the printed book, given the work they have put into writing the project. There are cases in which our authors have maintained online manuscripts, however, even after publication of their book. If you look at our list prices for these books, you will see why a lot of people are happy to buy them outright.
Well, the fact that leaving something online is an option with Chicago is definitely a plus point. Personally, I think we’ll see an increasing number of authors wanting to do this as a more internet-savvy generation begins to write books. Attitudes to Intellectual Property are changing, so I think academic authors will eventually become less concerned about whether or not people buy the hard copy book.
On posting with other sites. At this point, I haven’t considered this–noone has asked me for the opportunity. To be honest, we would probably have to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis in conversation with the author.
ArXiv.org– I believe a few of our authors probably post early drafts on ArXiv.org for feedback. Most ArXiv readers, however, are more interested in early news of new research. Because books are more often summations of existing literature–for the reference of researchers or for students in courses, I think these drafts are less often consulted at ArXiv. Some of your readers may have additional insight on this.
I know of at least one case of a book on arXiv, which I have mentioned previously on this blog. That’s the recent translation of the 1927 Solvay proceedings by Bacciagaluppi and Valentini (not exactly early news of new research!). Personally, I found the arXiv version enormously helpful.
I don’t think the question of what most arXiv readers currently use it for is particularly relevant. The arXiv can cater to niche audiences as well as mainstream ones. It is pretty flexible, so they could introduce new categories for books if there is the demand. Part of the reason for posting something there would be to have more permanence than you would get on your own website.
On licensing and rights. The licenses you list below can be good, usually if the author does not intend to publish with a publisher. The author at least establishes her or his ownership of the material, though with the internet, any right restrictions that exist in the contract are, in reality, somewhat illusory. Anyone across the world can pick up the material from the web, and it becomes quite difficult to track someone who is using the material in a way that is restricted, moreso to prosecute illegal use.
Agreed. I’m actually imagining that most authors using these licenses would not want many restrictions on how the material is used, particularly with regard to making copies and using the material in lectures. I still think you should ALWAYS explicitly license an electronic book in some way, because it makes it clear to the reader what the allowed usage is and avoids legal ambiguities. I imagine that the license would only be enforced in cases of extreme violation, e.g. if someone is exploiting the work for commercial gain without permission.
Any publisher will need the exclusive right to publish the print book. If one of the licenses below prevented that, we could be in a situation where a fly-by-night operation without a vetting process could publish a version of the book that looks like ours and takes advantage of our reputation and promotion efforts. This, without securing expert review and subsequent revisions or doing the kind of careful copyediting that transforms a manuscript into a published book. This would be harmful to a publisher’s good reputation and ultimately to our books and authors. I would not decline a book because it was licensed under one of these licenses, but we would have to find a way for the Press to be the sole publisher of the material.
This is more or less the answer I expected and is fair enough in the current IP climate. However, some of the licenses I mentioned would definitely be ruled out by this, e.g. I don’t believe the GNU license has provision to distinguish a published version from an electronic version. Probably, one of the Creative Commons licenses allows for this, but I’d have to look into the details to determine which one.
Lately I’ve been thinking about a few ideas for books that I might want to write at some point in the near future. However, that is not the topic of this post. Instead, I want to talk about how one should go about publishing an academic book in the post-internet age.
As an example, consider a book that arises from a lecture course. A prof teaches the same course for a few years, using feedback from the students to find out which explanations work well and which ones need to be improved. After a while s/he has established a good set of lecture notes, which might be worth making available to the wider community in book form.
These days, the lecture notes often appear online in various forms, either on the lecturer’s own website or on repositories such as MIT Open Courseware, Connexions, etc. One major advantage of this is that feedback can be obtained from an even larger pool of readers whilst the notes are still being written. However, it is actually quite a bad idea to just put lecture notes up on your own website without any form of explicit license, despite the fact that this is quite common practice in academia at the moment. You might intend the notes to be freely available, copyable and modifiable, but unless there is a specific license to this effect then standard copyright law still applies to them (at least in the US). If you later decide to publish a book based on the notes via a traditional academic publisher then they may demand that you remove the electronic version from your website after publication, forcing your future students in this subject to buy a copy of the book from them, often at an inflated price. You can avoid this by making sure you license your notes under a license that explicitly grants copying rights, such as a Creative Commons license, the GNU Free Documentation license or the Open Course license. However, if you do this then a traditional publisher may simply refuse to publish your work as a matter of policy.
My initial response to this problem is so what? After all, if the notes are widely available on the internet then why do I need to bother with a traditional publisher at all? If there is demand for a hard-copy version then it can always be made available on a self-publication service like Lulu. However, there are still a couple of reasons why you might want to publish your book via a traditional academic publisher in addition to making it available online. The first is that the academic publishers have a much better ability to promote your book than you do. If you want it to appear in university libraries, which are the main customers for academic texts, then it is still pretty much essential to publish it in the traditional way way. The second reason is the prestige attached to having a book published via a traditional academic publisher is far greater than just putting something on the net. Unlike online materials, having a traditionally published book is actually worth something on your CV, which is not a small concern for a young academic who is still trying to establish a reputation and secure a faculty position.
With this in mind, it is worth considering what the policy of the major academic publishers is on these issues. It is difficult to find out from their websites, so I recently sent out the following email to a some of them in order to test the waters. In coming weeks I will let you know their responses, and we will see which of them is most flexible towards online availability of materials.
I am collecting information on the policy of academic publishers towards publishing works based on materials that have already appeared online. I would be grateful if you could provide answers to the following questions. Responses may be quoted on my blog http://mattleifer.wordpress.com
Would you consider publishing a book which had already appeared online on a website or blog maintained by the author?
Would you require the electronic version of the book to be removed from the author’s site after publication?
Would you consider publishing a book which had already appeared on a website that is not maintained by the author, such as MIT Open Courseware (http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm), LearningSpace (http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/) or Connexions (http://cnx.org/)?
Would you allow an electronic version of the book to be uploaded to a preprint server, such as www.arxiv.org?
Would you consider publishing a book if the electronic version had been licensed under one of the Creative Commons licenses (http://creativecommons.org/about/license/) and, if so, which ones would be acceptable?
Would you consider publishing a book if the electronic version had been licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/fdl.html)?
Would you consider publishing a book if the electronic version had been licensed under the Open Course License (http://www.opencourse.info/license/)?
Here is the list of publishers I have sent this email to so far. If you would like to see any other publishers included then please let me know.
- Oxford University Press
- Cambridge University Press
- Princeton University Press
- Harvard University Press
- MIT Press
- University of California University Press
- University of Chicago Press
- Institute of Physics
Other Academic Publishers
- World Scientific