Digital scholarship: shifting exigencies

So I've been back and forth on this topic over the last few posts, and now I'm back for more.  As David Blakesley recently put it:

Scholarly presses may be in peril due to diminishing markets, tight
budgets, and over-reliance on the monograph as the signifier of scholar
achievement, but individuals and organizations in rhetoric and
composition can take specific action to ensure that scholarly presses
not only survive momentary crises but also thrive in the years ahead.

In turn, presses themselves also need to adapt to the changing needs of
the multiple constituencies they serve and the new technologies that
enable the democratization of peer review, production, distribution,
and delivery.

I would add that the issue is not only with the monograph but more broadly with journal articles, essay collections, and even some conferences.

One of the primary concerns we consider in rhetorical analysis is exigency. Exigency is clearly a complicated matter with many forces at work in the network of compositional activity. The marketplace creates some of those exigencies and those don't work in the favor of scholarly production. The proportion of authors to readers does work out, especially with increased pressure to publish. Going digital can change some of these costs and moving university presses under library budgets might protect them from some market forces. In addition scholars can take up the interesting strategies Blakesley suggests, which challenge us to take an activist approach in the support of presses. And through activism we can certainly alter some of the exigencies of the market.

As we can imagine from the logic of the long tail, in any given year there will be a few books and articles that come to be considered as "must reads." Most publications however will be read by very few people. Now we might support those lightly read publications by paying for them anyway or talking them up with our library and so on. But we can all only read so much. As long as the audience remains small, the uh… audience will remain small. I discussed this matter last November in terms of research citations.

What happens if we make scholarly publication into a collective enterprise? Obviously we have the technical capacity to collaborate and publish online with either open access or a pay model from micropayments to freemium and so on. Most of the costs associated with online scholarly publication are labor, and social networking, properly handled, can reduce the management costs.  So let's say you had 15-20 active scholars, who saw their work as inter-related. Together, they might publish 15 articles and a couple books each year. The group works as an editorial collective. Honestly you might get more feedback with this model than you get on articles you publish now.

And there are plenty of ways to keep this intellectually honest and fresh with everything from website comments to an external review process. You might have a half-dozen of these collectives then collaborating on another level of organization. In a sense this might be more the way labs work in the sciences. As collectives we could think differently about audiences: communication within the collective, communication with other collectives in our field, communication to our students and others in the humanities, and communication with other publics.

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