Scholarly Publishing 2.0: The Wrath of Khan

Scholarly presses and u presses in particular have at least two great (macro) strategies open to them to change the game in their favor. One, I'll call the Wrath of Khan strategy (discussed herein), and the other is exploring beneficial network effects and that thing called scale of partnering on non-core infrastructural needs and services and on delivering core and neo-core D2C products and services (elsewhere discussed, though touched on herein). Both strategies are enabled by the web, but herein, we'll just consider the Wrath of Khan strategy in broad strokes (not examine its wiring).

The Wrath of Khan Strategy

Pretty simple: in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the first one), Kirk defeats Khan in a final battle between two space ships. How? Kirk, or really Spock, realizes that Khan is stuck in the past; his reality is defined by his "life on Earth" and ancient history where battles ranged across a physical landscape -- defined in terms of longitude and latitude, 2D. Space is 3D. In fact, from any point in space, your options are global. Yes, not unlike the web. Kirk wins by "turning around, vertically," rising up and then dropping back down -- which is far more detail than you need, but you get the point; or, you get enough of the point to smile politely, mumble "Geek," and let me continue to say: The future and the web enables 3D publishing products and services for u presses. To which, you might say: Why do I say this and what does that mean, Geek? For starters, we can consider OA.

(c) Paramount Pictures
OA & 3D

Recently, "access" to research/scholarly written output has been a hot topic in scholarly communications; specifically, Open Access or OA. Discussions around OA often center on the "pay wall" and on which side of the pay wall things reside. Two dimensions. Binary opposition; physical landscape of u presses to date: "pay-per-view" to the left of them and "OA" to the right of them. ...Rode the one hundred. OA is about "access," as is implied in the name, and yet access isn't "understanding." Therefore, OA would leave positioning on "understanding" wide open to u presses, and delivering understanding is, for my money and for most people's money, far more valuable than simply granting access (and is largely what publishers do, when they make thinking into a book; so, it's a core competency). However, if you think of summarizing and abstracting or distilling out the essence of arguments (and/or applying them to current events), i.e., derivative, tangential, inspired-by works for new age groups, new occasions, and new markets or modes & nodes of access, as resting above or below primary works of scholarship (the outputs from research), you can see these transformative acts as opening up a 3D space in which to operate and develop new products or create new value far above and far beyond scholarship. The research is foundational; but, if you take it as what is given or as a leaping off point, what can be made of it from there? Or, what else can researchers be tasked to do with their thinking for us as a society?

The 800-kg. Stakeholder in the Room

Am I the only one that has found the "OA" moniker just a little awkward? Maybe after explaining it to friends and having them say: "You mean 'public.'" "Yeah, isn't that just 'public access,' like public media; free for everyone in the country or online: smart-stuff produced by noble, dedicated people for the general good?" Yes, I've had to admit on many occasions that we've had a word for this kind of thing, for decades, and it's public access -- like public access tv of old, but different. Really different. Yet, we don't seem to call it that, and we don't tend to hear the public interest much represented in these discussions, beyond our imagining that everyone is better off if scholars have access to scholarship for their work, and if students have access to it too for their work, without paying for it ...and the public should have access too. Is this the best we can do for the public? Given all our access to the best minds and current thinking in the world? If serving them and raising their understanding were the goals, is access the best that any of us can do?

Speaking for John Q. Public

I am an evil capitalist, by training and inclination; but, speaking for John Q. Public, I could see wanting a little more. Were I JQP, I'd want works that are built on top of (3D) this research and these nuanced intra-dsciplinary arguments, to teach our kids and lead intelligent debate in the public sphere -- actively -- not just on a shelf, and not just in classrooms and academic conferences, and not just for those who are motivated to access and take part (i.e., the 'converted'). For my money, I'd want media that undertakes and completes the higher-order communications objective or raising "understanding" in the country and the world (www) by direct actions and interventions of publishers and editors; that complicates and disseminates what they are given. More plainly put, I'd want content generated for me and mine: where I want it and in forms that I want to access when I feel like accessing it.
I just downloaded an info-graphic from NPR, related to a video I saw, elsewhere on NPR, for a band they talked about on Morning Edition three weeks ago that I'm currently streaming in a podcast from my phone in my pocket.
25 years ago, that's an ambulatory schizophrenic talking. Now, what we "see" synthesized on or download/stream from NPR is taken in stride. What comes next?

If u presses are allowed to continue to stretch beyond traditional academic functions of effecting scholar-to-scholar communications and minting coins for tenure accounting, to the higher-order cultural global value of advancing public understanding directly, actively (as engaged participant agents; i.e., co-creators and engaging readers to be the same), they may continue to discover and build new forms, new models, and vistas for that thing called publishing that used to require glue and sutures.


More media - maybe presses working together can field a networked online news magazine, blog, or other digital 'source' that applies the best thinking and the best writing by the best minds to current events. There's an app in that.

More popular - maybe the web is license to make scholarly research and conclusions OA; but then, maybe it's also mandate to do more besides to create new, expanded, premium/trade derivative titles/value.

More public - maybe there's room for something transformative, synthetic, and diversely engaging like NPR/PBS (i.e., public programming). SPOILER ALERT: Take multimedia mixed with digital delivery, evolve it, and whether paid for or free or both, we may see emergent roles née editors functioning not unlike producers. ...if we're fortunate.

More funding - to the enabling crowds of scholars and libraries add: everybody in the country. Network effects apply to funding global/public projects. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." (That's Spock and/or Kirk, depending on which reel and/or timeline you're in.) Maybe public-centric programming and/or centralized functions of any kind will win the hearts and pocketbooks of more hearts and pocketbooks. Centralized, concentrated presence in space often results in increased [critical] mass and with it an enhanced attractive force of gravity.

More SALES - u presses have unique products and unique, premium markets of consumers, yet they rely on third-party strategies, leaving customers to navigate the wilds of maddeningly crowded third-party vendor sites to find their content, and worse: abandoning the best behavioral, conversational, and market-intelligence gathering (data resulting from said navigating) and chances to engage and collaborate with the world of interested consumers to said third-parties. They could capitalize more on and deliver more value to consumers based on what they have to offer with a networked D2C all u press site.

The 3D and Wrath of Khan analogy and attendant e.g.s are only delivered mildly tongue in cheek; they are in earnest framed around freemium and premium thinking that the u press network should feel leave to "go digital" not only in form but also in function, and such new functions could be at the title/book/project level or at the institutional level of the u press/u press network itself, to continue to invigorate and to explore the multiple ways the united federation of u presses can generate and receive value in society. ...to boldly go where no one has gone before.

A collective presence on the web furthers such new revenue and new value generating interests and building one or more virtual networks to effect such a presence (or presences) is a smuggled presumption herein. In other words, and to be clear, having a unified u press presence on the web will be beneficial to all presses and align with both enhanced sales and content development goals. As far as funding the societal enterprise of making the most of university-based textual ideation transfer goes, this certainly applies: We don't need a university press; we need all of them. However, such a centralized presence or space (the final frontier) does more: as an umbrella, it will allow presses to "get vertical" to create new, living value for the public and for scholars, on top of the world-class scholarship that they already deliver, it will explode the sales and marketing potential for their rare and wonderful products and services therefrom derived (in ways Joe Esposito regularly brilliantly describes and more), and throughout it will enable u presses's own "research" and development of this expanding new space between authors and readers, to continue to refine, experiment with, and improve the ways in which we access and reach ideas and the ways in which these ideas reach us to the greater benefit of our collective understanding.