walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

this isn't going to go over well

I've been reading the Journal of Electronic Publishing, and I haven't laughed this much since, oh, the last time I was reading stuff over at Cafe Press that you can find by searching on keywords like asperger's.

I'm _pretty_ sure Katharine Wittenberg wrote this seriously, but I swear it reads like the people at Onion decided to take on academic:

"This R&D group will look and behave more like a research lab than a production operation. They will be directed to work with authors to develop new kinds of publications in a select number of fields that complement the areas of strength within a press’s host university. This group will play a critical role in helping the university press devise new models of scholarly publishing that will strengthen the press’s identity as a center of innovation."

I LOVE University Presses. Seriously. I'm happy to pay way more for a University Press book than an otherwise substitutable Big 6 book, because I believe the University Press offerings represent a better risk. But in absolutely no universe that I can imagine do university presses have an "identity as a center of innovation". It is to laugh.

Really, really hard.

Also, Wittenberg's theory about how R&D works in the corporate world is a complete and utter crock of shit. And given that she used to run the electronic publishing effort at Columbia U, and her departure and the program shutting down coincided, I have to suspect some really thorough-going incompetence. (They've since outsourced a bunch of stuff to, I kid you not, _Perseus_. I guess if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Geez.) Honestly? This article makes typical ebook coverage look _brilliantly insightful_.

Lest someone come along and say, hey, aren't you being a little harsh on Ms. Wittenberg, here's what you can read over at Columbia University Press:


"The Press announced a plan to close its warehouse facility in Irvington, NY in the summer of 2009 and outsource its fulfillment operations to Perseus Distribution, a division of Perseus Book Group. This restructuring is part of an overall effort to improve print economics while facilitating electronic delivery.

The collaboration with Perseus will strengthen the print program of the Press and allow it to accelerate growth of digital offerings—not previously available through its operations—for its eleven distribution partners, particularly for short run digital printing, print on demand, and a suite of delivery services for electronic books in multiple formats. Columbia University Press will continue to concentrate on growing its core publishing operations including its recently launched Columbia Business School Publishing imprint, making them available in multiple formats."

I've been around when a division was supposed to produce something, and the day came and went and they didn't deliver, so the company had to go outside and buy it instead. And this looks a whole lot like that happened to Columbia University Press in the wake of EPIC and Wittenberg.

I can't _wait_ to read the next set of brilliant ideas about how to save university publishing. I would say I'm serious about this, but honestly, I've had to do a lot of deep breathing just to read the particularly hilarious bits out loud to R.

ETA: I think that EPIC got shut down during the general collapse of the economy in 2008, but Columbia University Press couldn't get around the knotty problem of needing to provide digital publication services. They probably fired up a laptop, and googled around and found this:


Must have felt like every one of their prayers had been answered. Hope it works out for them; seems more likely to do so than anything involving their former director of epic.
Tags: academic publishing, e-book coverage
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