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#53008 - 06/04/00 08:30 PM Book publishers using the Web to cut corners
deborah Administrator
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Ching Shih


Registered: 05/27/00
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I saw a short piece in the paper yesterday about a new trend among book publishers for cutting corners. Instead of publishing the bibliography in the book itself, they're placing the bibliography on the web. The specific book cited in the article is Robert Kaplan's scholarly work on the numeral zero, The Nothing That Is, published by Oxford University Press. In the case of this book, there are seventy-eight pages that have been placed on the web instead of being published in the book. On the bibliography page, there's an address for the site at which the information may be found.

The editor-in-chief of MIT Press, Larry Cohen, is quoted in the article as saying, "Certainly we're encouraging our authors to put as much as they can on a Web site to try and clean up the books. Manuscript sizes are getting longer and longer. We've been trying to figure out how to deal with it by separating parts of the book that perhaps a minority of readers would be interested in."

A library science professor is quoted as saying that "it's frightening" and pointing out that "digital material is fugitive, and most Web sites disappear in about eighteen months. It's more than vanity to have a bibliography. It's part of a collaboration that stretches decades and maybe centuries."

My first reaction is that I don't like it. I want the bibliography there in front of me; I want to be able to refer to it if necessary during my reading. I don't think that places me in the minority of readers; I think most people who are bothering to read a scholarly book in the first place care about the credibility and authority of the work. Not everybody has constant, easy, free access to a computer, either. Nor am I one of those people who's dying to read all my books on a monitor instead of a page.

But then I think about the financially overburdened students who are probably the primary consumers of these texts, and who would probably appreciate it if the price of books was not astronomical.

What do you think? Is this an ominous trend or a brilliant idea?

[This message has been edited by deborah (edited June 04, 2000).]

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#53009 - 06/04/00 10:51 PM Re: Book publishers using the Web to cut corners
cat
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/02/00
Posts: 1754
Loc: Northern California

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Well, personally, I'm still upset that almost all publishers have removed the footnotes from the foot of the page and turned them into endnotes. I want everything in front of me, and I am similarly horrified by the idea of bibliographies being removed from books.

The idea does have possibilities, though. Academic books in particular are horribly overpriced. Until a couple of months ago I worked for a scholarly publisher, and I know the price pressure is just going up--as far as I know, it's the rare clothbound scholarly book that costs less than $50 (US dollars) these days. (Even paperbacks, which are more for the student market, are over $20 more often than not.) Most of that is because of the very high quality of the books--production, editing, and so on. And many if not most of these books' bibliographies are crammed with every last thing the author has ever read. If that kind of exhaustive list of every resource in the scholar's field, along with the record of every dusty page in some all-but-inaccessible archive, could be moved to the Web, most readers would not miss it and it would be available to the very few specialists who need that information. I think the success of this idea would depend on retaining a core bibliography, as it were, in the physical book, one that cites the most important and foundational texts/sources to which the book refers. Better yet, include a bibliographical essay. In scholarly books that use Chicago or a similarly detailed citation system, the bibliography just replicates in alphabetical order the information already contained in the notes.

One of my best teachers in grad school reminded us that the purpose of notes and bibliographies is not to rack up points for "scholarship" (though this is often obviously a motivating factor for authors) but to enable interested readers to find the source if they want to. If publishers keep that idea in mind, things should end up OK.

I guess I am confused about one thing here. I do know that there's a direct correspondence between the cost of producing a printed book and its length. It seems to me, however, that moving the bibliography to the Web does not really cut that many costs. After all, it still has to be edited, proofread, and cross- checked with the printed book. You save the cost of paper and some production costs, but you add the cost of coding and programming. Publishers would actually be better served financially by setting contractual length limits on manuscripts and making authors stick to them. At the university press I worked at, it was not uncommon to receive manuscripts that were nightmarishly longer than expected--one came in at 1700+ MS pages. This kind of excessive length costs a lot more than any bibliography, and trimming a bibliography won't make that book cheap to produce, no matter what.

Lucky for me, this post is not a manuscript and I don't have to worry about cost-cutting on it...sorry about the length.

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#53010 - 06/04/00 10:54 PM Re: Book publishers using the Web to cut corners
Angiv
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/00
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Loc: Scotland

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Ominous trend, without a doubt. I'm forever flicking to the bibliography while I read a book, I don't like the idea of having to read it from a monitor, or print it out. Not to mention people who have no access to the internet.

I know that 2 of the above sentences aren't actually sentences and the other one isn't great, but it's 6am and I haven't slept yet. Sorry. I'll try harder next time.

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#53011 - 06/06/00 09:49 AM Re: Book publishers using the Web to cut corners
denise
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Registered: 06/05/00
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Okay, as much as I want my textbooks to be cheaper, this plan is heinous, heinous, heinous. Compare the life-span of a book compared to that of a website. The reliability of text in your hands with that of servers and computers and connections. And what about people who don't have computers? Sure, there are librairies for students, but I shudder at the thought of having to truck to the library (that's probably closed, depending on the school you're at) in the middle of the night when you're working on a paper and need to look something up. Bad idea.
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#53012 - 06/09/00 12:39 AM Re: Book publishers using the Web to cut corners
Rathmel
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/02/00
Posts: 91
Loc: Indiana, USA

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All I can say is, this is crap. Yes, scholarly books cost a lot, but honestly, I don't know many students who actually buy these things. We check 'em out of the library, unless they're absolutely essential to some kind of long-term project (and sometimes not even then...I have had custody of several library books for over a year).

The scholarly me is horrified. How can you publish something that, effectively, doesn't include a list of sources (and I don't mean just the stuff that's cited in the text)?

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#53013 - 12/27/00 01:21 AM Re: Book publishers using the Web to cut corners
cazlee
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Registered: 12/25/00
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As little as I refer to bibliographies myself, I think this trend is depandant upon the permance of websites, a big mistake.
What happens when a publisher merges? Or goes out of business? Who will pay to keep these pages online?

'Oh dear. Now several thousand books are missing a vital piece of infomation that can never be regained (except by applying to the publisher perhaps). whoops'.

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#53014 - 12/28/00 09:59 PM Re: Book publishers using the Web to cut corners
Someone
Ching Shih


Registered: 11/18/00
Posts: 84
Loc: SK, Canada

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I think it's an ominous trend. There are other ways to keep the costs down. If the bibliography is really that long, they could publish it as a separate volume (available at libraries), and just keep the most important resources in a short bibliography in the book itself.
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