Report From Between

As I noted before, we had an unwelcome influx of water in the storage area of the garage where our Stuff is waiting. We think we’ve identified the source, and we’ve taken care of the wet books. We’ve been sorting books into “Glasgow” and “Storage” categories, except that in the middle of the night I realized that we have already assigned just about as many books to “Glasgow” as I had in my Seabury office, and we don’t know how big the office will be, and there is approxiamtely zero room for books in the flat. Ergo, we will probably have to perform another sorting of the books into the categories “Essential” and “Manageable-without.”
This brings to the fore a very prominent aspect of the digital transition in publishing: while “nothing can replace the tangible, sensuous qualities of a book,” there’s a physical limit to the quantity of books that most people can (or should) take on. I have hardly bought any books at all for several years, and we’ve had to cut our library by a third already (and quite possibly more when Margaret moves to Glasgow next year). Print publishers have effectively eliminated me as a customer, because I can’t carry their products around any more. Contrariwise, if I could buy good, usable electronic versions of the books on my list, my eligibility as a consumer would know no practical limits (storage being elastic if not yet infinite).
It appears to me that the non-digitally-hip print publishers operate on the assumption that their customers will have functionally unlimited storage space, an assumption that places severe limits on their market. Even among academics and book-reliant professionals, more and more have to deal with smaller living space and greater mobility — both circumstances militating against the expansive acquisition of published works. Imagine, though, the possibility that a reasonably-priced edition of a big, fat book were available in a PDF-like format, with no DRM restrictions; while some copies would absolutely certainly be shared illegally, the number of viable customers would also increase markedly.
I expect that publishers even in the digital dimension will try to perpetuate the limitations that define physical-dimension publishing — alas, in so doing, they defer the arrival of a vigorous digital marketplace (that will overtake us all willy-nilly) and exchange long-term pounds for short-term pence.
(These observations apply generally as well to some of the projects described in IHE’s article on “Digital — and Financially Viable” ventures. The Stanford Encyclopedia seems to be on a sounder track, and TLG on a path calculated to keep would-be classicists at an arm’s length.)

6 thoughts on “Report From Between

  1. Don’t forget that offering academic volumes in digital format would also drastically reduce overhead and production costs, thus enabling a publisher to provide an otherwise exorbitantly priced book at a reasonable rate, while actually increasing profit margins. The reason I don’t buy Brill volumes isn’t space (at the moment) but the fact that I don’t have $150 to give for one book. I do have $20 though, and if I could get Brill books for $20/pdf book, I might actually pry loose $100 for 5 books (instead of 2/3 of one).

  2. Greetings from Glasgow Akma
    The trouble with pdfs is they just don’t smell as good as printed matter.
    By the way has anyone let you know that there is a very lively piskie blog scene in the Glasgow and surrounding area? The provost of St Mary’s Cathedral Glasgow has a lively (and at times he hopes controversial) one and he has links to most of the other piskie bloggers in Scotland – try:
    I hope the rest of your packing up goes smoothly.

  3. Amen. The same principle applies to the TLG pricing. I don’t have $100/year for TLG, and I know lots and lots of potential users don’t, either. At the rate they charge, they’re going to find that another provider will eventually offer essentially the same texts at a considerably lower rate, and in the meantime TLG will have been holding knowledge hostage.

  4. Hail, Vicky! Keep the tatties warm for me! (No neeps, please.)
    It’s true that PDFs aren’t a substitute for the affordances of a print volume — no dispute. But just as movies don’t replace the live theater, recordings don’t replace concerts, and so on, digital publishing changes the terrain of the distributing-texts industry. After we turn this corner, people like me will still buy books we love, but it will be because there are some books we want to cherish, and some other (electronic) books we want to read and store away.
    Kindle could be the right idea, if only they’d open it up.
    I’ve already begun corresponding with the Very Rev. Mr Holdsworth, and have been referred also to St. Bride’s (which will be nearer my new digs on Partickhill Rd.).
    We’ve broken the back of re-ordering our stored goods for shipping, I think. There are tons of tiny little things to do, but it all looks a bit more nearly manageable this afternoon.

  5. Good to read you know of Kelvin – and St Bride’s too. As well as a congregant at St Mary’s, I part- teach an honours paper in your forthcoming dept (Kelvin should be able to vouch for me!)- I look forward to meeting you in August.

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