The future of scholarship? Harvard goes digital with Scribd

17 07 2009

Today, with the announcement that Harvard University Press will publish 1,000 digitized books on Scribd, the academic world took one more step in its glacially slow march into the digital age.

Over ten years ago, when I first started my graduate work in the humanities, there was already much talk of the looming crisis in academic publishing. Print runs for academic works written by even major scholars in a given discipline are pitifully small—1,000 would be considered decent-sized. The work of junior faculty, who are trying to publish to beef up a CV, means that the runs are smaller still.

It’s very hard to make money on such small print runs, which result in books with sky-high cover prices and limited availability. All of this has made it harder for scholars to publish and harder for non-specialists to justify the effort and expense of obtaining good, scholarly work. In sum, the present situation benefits nobody—scholars, the public, or the financially strapped publishing houses.

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