Print and online publishing: The end or the beginning?

By: Courtney Pugh, SAGE Publishing Editor (with input from Lettie Conrad, SAGE Online Product Manager)

With this 100th post to the SAGE Connection blog, there is wisdom to be gained by looking toward both the past and future of publishing. With so many exciting changes occurring each day, we often lose sight on how far we have come.

This year, we celebrate the 45th anniversary of SAGE, and the 555th anniversary of Gutenberg’s Bible printed on a press that allowed re-use and re-arranging, the invention that made the magic of publishing possible. We are only starting to see and comprehend the endless possibilities of connecting users and content with the community of SAGE editors, authors, and societies.

Gutenberg’s invention was an entirely manual process by which an operator placed a mirror image of each letter, rather than words or phrases that were previously difficult to rearrange. 

Today, printing is done through a highly automated and digital process. Many printers are utilizing a digital process, which reduces costs and improves efficiencies.

 In the last decade, the future of print — or its possible demise — has become a commonplace debate. While statistics show that the use of print publications has been on a steady decline, across various segments of publishing there is a surprising amount of information that reveals how print is a vital method – in some cases preferred over the electronic version — for sustained reading or note taking.Bookmark and Share

Faculty often still requires that students cite print publications, not electronic. New custom printing options, which enables cost- and time-efficient options for faculty to compile custom textbooks – comprised of material across multiple publications that are the most pertinent to a given course – redefines the traditional views of printed works. Companies such as Lulu, that allow anyone to publish their own books, prove that the ability to create and interact with readers and researchers is no longer a static process. Finally, “print-on-demand” has revolutionized how publishers put content together and release new products, as well as how users interact with it, leading to what we now know as “Print 2.0.” 

The Internet is still in its infancy compared to the history of print. Publishing online began as an electronic reproduction of the printed page, but now our industry is discovering new ways to redefine our crafts online. Now devices like the iPad and Smartphones open new spaces for users to interact online, introducing yet another evolution for publishing – and perhaps speeding up the shifting sand that has become the Internet’s landscape. 

With content at our fingertips, consumers of all kinds demand greater immediacy in online publishing at little to no cost. As the Internet expands and the methods of content delivery continue to evolve, the opportunities for electronic publishing are innumerable. 

Our cultural immersion with online content raises several questions and challenges for the SAGE community:

E-only holds less value. Many believe that because content is made available on the web, or perhaps only available online, means it is cheaper to produce and therefore should cost less. This, however, is a myth. The costs don’t decrease with the elimination of print. Costs to host and deliver content have increased as the demand for highly developed sites with greater discoverability has increased. The media used for publication is less a factor than the scholarship and research required to develop quality material. In fact, as the drive for interactive content grows, online publishing costs increase.

Version of record. In the past, the printed journal issue or edition of a book represented the sole version of record. Now that journals, books, and other material are published online, sometimes in “ahead-of-print” variations, the concept of one version of record is being challenged. It also raises questions of whether version of record is an appropriate term, where and how it is relied upon in academia, and how to record publishing within these new forms of content.

Citations. The problem with measuring citations, in part relies on the version of record. Industry-wide standards are not yet defined for online publications, in how and which version should be cited. Currently, this issue has been answered by each institution, department, and region, but a need is arising to standardize scholarly citations of online content.

Branding. With more and more users browsing various webpages or jumping into online conversations midstream, the need for a distinct publisher’s portal or journal home page is dwindling. The staggering percentages of users discovering article content via search engines like PubMed and Google challenge us to ensure that branding is successfully retained and visible within  article and chapter pages — essentially, making every piece of research its own home page.

SAGE is leading the way by researching these questions and meeting these challenges, ensuring our authors, editors and societies stay at the forefront of our rapidly changing publishing environment. We welcome your thoughts and ideas for the future of publishing.

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