As the academic book publishing field is erupting, there have been a couple of very good conferences recently. Besides the “Public Library – HAIP Festival 2012!” Simon describes below, one of them was “Books in Browsers 2012” held at The Internet Archive in San Francisco. There, the famous technology publisher O’Reilly Media introduced its new book publishing platform “Atlas”, which is in beta at the moment as the publisher and a couple of authors are testing it. Introducing Atlas, Adam Witwer (who oversees the publishing services division at O’Reilly Media) said something that is partly true: “We’ve got the tools. Let’s start using them!”

It is true. More and more book publishing platforms are developed. Our own lab, for example, has recently looked into Booktype and Open Monograph Press, and there are many more. But look at this screenshot of the editing interface of Atlas below. Is this really a writing environment for everyone? Do we really have the tools?

atlas_writing_tool

For sure, Atlas is very good an online collaborative writing tool as it is keeping track of your versions. It is also excellent that it comes with four different book layouts, and you don’t have to get lost in InDesign. It nicely converts your text in three different formats (pdf, epub, mobi) using the open source software development environment git. But while this might be good for engineers, I am not sure this is also suits academic writers really, and here is where I disagree with Adam Witwer. We do not have the tools…

At the moment, everyone is looking at the cloud trying to get authors and publishers working on certain platforms. Even when these would be developed a bit more user friendly guiding/locking users in the Apple way… could it be, that the platform idea might be the wrong track? Not only, because academic genres have very different ways of publishing. Also because…

To write and develop ideas and thoughts is a strange thing, and Derrida has said that the concept of writing is what defines the field of a science.

It is a process with a certain weight.  It is a burden. Therefore writing isn’t necessarily and at all times a process you want to do in an environment that already feels public. Digitizing the writing/editing/publishing process should take this a bit more into account. While it is possible to mingle all three in code, to do two steps in one might not be the best digital environment for all of us researchers. Thinking about publishing needs to start with writing, and for a lot of us humans writing is much more than just typing words.

Mercedes Bunz

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