Research Paper: Developing Technologies and Academic Publishing

Like its commercial counterpart academic publishing has evolved over the hundreds of years since the invention of the printing press, and has seen the biggest changes over the last two decades. Taking into account the digital rise of academic publishing and how this has influenced the sales of publishing houses, the studying habits of students and scholars, and the decrease or increase in job prospects the aim of this essay is to determine which areas have been most impacted by the digital revolution.

If we take a brief look at the beginning of academic publishing we can track it’s evolution from the start. One of the most influential events in the history of publishing was the invention of the printing press, Johanes Gutenberg invented his printing press in 1440, and it became the main form of book printing in the world and remained so until the mid-twentieth century. The practice of academic publishing was remarkably unchanged for the first 500 years after the invention of the printing press; the biggest changes have been implemented in the past three decades. Cambridge University Press, for example, produced their first electronic book on CD-ROM in 1996 and in 1997 created Cambridge Journals Online, an online catalogue of e-books provided by CUP.

The official first e-book has been widely disagreed upon, however Michael S Hart has been referred to as the un-official inventor of the e-book after he typed up the United States Declaration of Independence at the University of Illinois and made it a downloadable electronic document. He then went on to create project Gutenberg in 1971, whose philosophy was “To make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search”, by 1987 Hart had added 313 e-books to Project Gutenberg’s collection. The first commercial e-dreading device, the Kindle, was developed and on sale in the US in 2007 and the UK in 2010, and has since become an incredibly popular format for reading. The later release of other e-reading devices such as the Nook and the Kobo has boosted the sale of e-books and implemented huge changes in the publishing industry.

One of the more immediate questions that were raised on the subject is how the digital rise in academic publishing has affected the sales of publishing houses. It has been widely reported that academic publishing, when compared to trade publishing, is greatly advanced in the realm of digital publishing. Richard Mollet, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association said “Academic and professional publishing, which embraced digital platforms over a decade ago, continues to lead the field”. This position is evident from these statistics published by the PA “Academic and professional publishing digital sales doubled from 2007-2010” and “Academic and professional sales amounted to 72% of all digital sales in 2010” . From as early as 2008 academic publishing houses were reporting great progress in the development of their digital sectors, “Nearly 90% of commercial academic publishers have seen growth in e-book sales over the past two years, according to a cross-sector survey released by the Association of Learned Professional and Scholarly Publishers”. With the development of the kindle and other e-reading devices and their rise in popularity, the sales of trade e-books are starting to overtake those of academic e-books. Another news report stated that in 2011 academic publishers sales were declining, “Sales of print books in the academic, specialist and higher education publishing market have slumped in the first half of the year, with one publisher seeing a decline of 22% in print sales”. However publishing houses have commented back, saying that their digital sales make up for the losses, Cambridge University Press’s Sales Director said “In general our sales are positive”.

An area of academic publishing largely affected by the digital revolution is that of academic journals. Academic journals are mostly published by university presses and have, up until the past decade, been published solely in print form. The wide-spread use of the internet and the creation of digital publishing have helped to transform the way scholars and academics publish their work, and at the same time are making it more accessible.

There have been many news reports recently commenting on the increased prices presses are charging universities to have their journals published, “A memo from Harvard Library to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year” (The Guardian, 2012). Not only are universities being charged huge amounts to publish journals but they are also required to pay high subscription prices so that their students can access journals published by other scholars, The Guardian (2012) states that academic publishers are charging universities £200m a year to access scientific journals. The increase of prices has caused many scholars to boycott publishing houses and turn elsewhere to have their work published, this combined with the availability of the internet has created a surge in digital journals posted online for free.

Laasko and Bjork, two scholars from the Hanken School of Economics in Finland, created a study calculating the worldwide publication form of academic journals. They took a “random sampling of journals from the directory of open access journals” and using the “major publication volumes from the years 2000-2011” they calculated the number of academic journals that were published either in print or online. From their study it can be concluded that academic journals’ digital publications have increased in the UK by 35%, not only that but the worldwide percentage increase of total online journals from 2000-2011 is 1066%. Also the research indicates that from the total number of journals published in 2011 only one third of those were available in print.

An additional area of academic publishing that has been affected by recent technological developments is that of students and their studying habits. We created and distributed a questionnaire around the university campus to collect a varied sample of students’ opinions in regards to e-books and tablets. From analysing our research it was discovered that only 40% of the students asked owned a tablet or e-reading device, the general consensus was that tablets were too expensive. The students that did own an e-reading device stated that they mostly used them to read for pleasure; only a small portion used their tablets for conducting research. We also found that 60% of the students asked only downloaded information whilst 40% would print off what they had downloaded. This raises the question of how compatible e-books are to studying, Caro (2009, p6) describes the printed book as a “remarkably versatile and popular piece of technology”, she also states that “people dislike reading large amounts of text online so much that they have been known to buy whole electronic books and then laboriously print them up at home to read”.

The questionnaire results may have given a negative outlook on e-books from the students’ perspective, however after interviewing two of Bath Spa University’s Librarians it has been found that the university is planning on replacing many of the libraries printed books with e-books, as it is much more cost-efficient to mass-produce e-books than the print versions. From the figures provided by Bath Spa University’s library it is apparent that the number of printed books ordered per year by the library has reduced and the number of eBooks offered by the library has increased. Furthermore the annual usage of eBooks in the academic year from 2011-2012 is over 100 times the number of eBooks used in the year 2007-2008. It was also reported that within the different sections of the library, the courses that bought the most e-books and found the most student usage of e-books were those from the Business, Education and Music schools of the University. The section found with highest use of print books was the humanities school.

It is within this portion of our research that there is an inconsistency between the questionnaires by the students and the statistics from the library. The results from the questionnaires showed that the majority of students who owned an e-reader did not use them to study, whilst the library figures indicated that e-books were rising in popularity amongst students, so much so that the library was reducing its print catalogue. It could be argued that whilst students did not use e-readers to study, they may still download e-books from the library catalogue at the university or from their computers at home. The contradiction could also be explained by a non-conclusive questionnaire; for example, the survey could have included a question about downloads not exclusive to an e-reading device or a wider selection of students could have been questioned.

The digital revolution within academic publishing has brought about huge changes to the way the industry works. One of the main areas of change within academic publishing is the huge switchover of academic journals from print to digital; the increase of digital journals allows new forms of research to accelerate findings. Text mining is a new method where computer programmes hunt through databases of plain-text research articles, looking for associations and connections that a person scouring through papers one by one may never notice.

Another large area of growth within the world of academic publishing is that of expanding publishing houses (the likes of Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis),for example CUP have over ten branches situated around the world, creating thousands of new jobs and Taylor and Francis now own five different press companies under the Taylor and Francis Group name. An additional area of growth and an opportunity for new jobs is the involvement of aggregators. Aggregators are online platforms, similar to publishing companies, which specify in the subscription and sales of large quantities of print books and eBooks. Aggregators have both commercial and academic counterparts, selling books and subscriptions to high street booksellers and university libraries alike.

The development of digital technologies, in particular the e-book, has transformed traditional academic publishing and it still continues to change. In this research project we explored many different areas of the industry and we found that one of the biggest areas altered was that of academic journals, which shows an increasing rate of change from print to digital journals. Another area that we found had been affected (although our research suggests it is only a small percentage) by the influx of e-books and e-readers is that of student’s studying habits, as they start to incorporate such technology into their education. Whilst trying to predict the impact that technological developments would have on the future of academic publishing John B Thompson (2008, P331) said that “Even the sceptics were bound to wonder whether the transformation that was revolutionising journal publishing could simply bypass the world of scholarly book publishing and leave it unscathed”. Evidently he was correct, the world of scholarly book publishing has been influenced by the digital revolution in the way of expanding publishing houses and the growth in digital sales affecting those of print. Given these facts it appears that the digital revolution has affected, and continues to change, some aspects of the academic publishing industry more significantly than others.

Eleanor Stores is a BA Publishing Student at Bath Spa University.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s