Thursday, October 29, 2009

Here's how academic presses could make my life more convenient.

I've heard recommendations, here and there, that professors assign more academic monographs to help sustain the academic publishing market. That's well and good for graduate classes, although I'm a little amused by the idea that the faltering academic publishing market is going to be saved by the flowing coffers of graduate students. And sure, maybe you could assign a monograph or two in an advanced undergraduate course -- I remember people doing that at my undergraduate institution.

But my existing need is not for a way to assign more monographs to students. Monographs are easy and, compared to science textbooks (or a Kindle loaded with e-books), cheap. It's also pretty easy to assign many journal articles, thanks to Project Muse and JSTOR -- you can just link from the course web site.

It's book chapters that are annoying to assign. They always mean time spent copying and/or scanning, and the end result is a poor-quality facsimile.

I would like it if all the university presses got together and offered high-quality pdfs* of individual book chapters for sale (cheap), iTunes-style. I say this not because it would save the academic publishing market but because it would make my life more convenient. I could assign a chapter from a book, the students would pay $.99 (or whatever), the publisher would see a tiny amount of money, and students get a readable, easy-to-access copy. I am sure there are big holes in this plan that would make it unprofitable for publishers. I don't know if everybody wins in this scenario, but I sure do.

*I know that a lot of people would say that pdfs are a mere vestige of print culture and should be done away with as the universe moves toward a dynamic e-book model. To me, the fact that pdfs are a vestige of print culture is precisely the advantage. You can print them, and then read them! On paper! They display correctly every time! Pdfs are the mp3s of text.

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