Archive for September 2009

Brad Scott

What is digital publishing?

Ancient manuscript

I’ve been asked to talk to the MA Publishing students at the University of the Arts in London again. In the past I’ve focussed more on the mechanics of digital publishing, outlining what the process of putting content online looks like and that has gone down very well. This time, though, I’m thinking that it might be interesting to address other angles as well.

One way of coming at it could be by looking at what issues are we trying to solve by making it available digitally in the first place. Of course it’s about protecting revenue streams, and of finding new ones, but there’s also the opportunities to enhance the offering, through linked data, other media, better pedagogical support, and by working with the community of users. Each of these force us to look back at the objectives of the publishing project, perhaps modify them, and assess whether we can get the technology to deliver.

I’m also mindful of the changes in the way that the spaces we work in are being re-described. Not only does “publishing” as an activity now seem to cover a much broader range of people and content than was the case, say thirty years ago, but I know I’ve described myself as an “information professional” on occasion, and we attend trade shows which focus on “Online Information” and “Knowledge Management”. While these labels have their purpose, they’re not synonymous with “publishing”; not all publishing is informational and fact-based. There’s the whole evaluative and narrative side to content as well, and that doesn’t respond to the same kind of digital treatment as patents, dictionaries and pharmaceutical data.

Furthermore, in thinking about the transition from print to online, though the benefits can be considerable, what are we in danger of losing? Is it important? If we wind the clock back a bit further, in previous transitions, be it from manuscript to print, or indeed from oral culture to the written, what was lost then? And, if they might be important, could those features too be reinstated in some form in a digital universe?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you know of some useful materials that I could read around this whole area, please let me know or add a comment.

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