We tend to think of online publishing as meaning large reference projects to which, if you are lucky, your library subscribes. Things like Oxford Scholarship Online which makes electronic versions of 13,000 scholarly monographs available to the subscriber. Or the Oxford English Dictionary. OSO is the basis for University Press Scholarship Online, a collection of content from 25 academic presses around the world who are using Oxford’s platform to distribute their online content.
Notable by its absence from this list is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Cambridge University Press. Their equivalent, Cambridge Core offers content from 360 journals, and an impressive 30,000 ebooks, again on a subscription basis.
But massive databases, accessible only by an expensive subscription, are not of course the only kind of online publishing, even for academic books. In one way one might think of ebooks as directed at the end-user, the retail customer, and online offerings as selling via subscription to libraries, but there’s really a shading of one group into the other. Terminology is still evolving, but I suggest that the terms we might end up with ought perhaps to contain a distinction between work published in electronic form only and work published first in print and then converted to digital formats. Obviously a large proportion of the huge output of self-publishing is available only in ebook form: many self-published authors don’t want to fill their homes with cartons of books which they then have to sell off. Though it remains unusual for the traditional publishing company to publish in digital format only, experimentation is taking place. Academic publishers are also beginning to use the halfway house which is ebook + the option of print-on-demand.
But there’s no reason it shouldn’t work well to publish directly into an online format. Last year Publishing Perspectives told the story of CNET’s plan to publish “books” online under the label Technically Literate. The stories stream, so you need a connection, but if you want to read them in the subway (which seems the ideal place to me) you can download to your Kindle or Kindle app. I suspect author pressure may lead to a wider range of formats being made available, but experimentation has got to be a good idea.
I thought the first story Technically Literate published, The Last Taco Truck in Silicon Valley, was pretty good.