Scholarly Publishing: Now on Video

July 2, 2008
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clapperboard.jpgFor decades digital technology has steadily transformed the business of academic publishing, but much of the digitization of the industry has, until more recently, gone on behind the scenes in the form of new printing technologies, databases, design and production tools, etc. Then in the mid-1990s the internet began to change how our customers find out about and purchase our books. And just as the textual media have been transformed by digitization, so the audiovisual media are being changed. Audio and video have become much easier to produce and distribute in the age of digital cameras, formats, and online distribution channels.
No surprise that as our readership encounters more and more visual media online, that is where we—and our university press comrades—want to be found. The higher education media are taking note of the trend.


The July 4 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Ed has an article by Nina C. Ayoub on how several academic publishers’ are using online video “book trailers” to promote new titles. The article begins with mention of our own multimedia website for Claire Nouvian’s The Deep:

When Mark Heineke was asked if the University of Chicago Press had tried trailers, his reply was a pithy “kinda.” The press created two sites with multimedia in advance of two books. Heineke, the director of publicity, further elaborated, “I think the trailers are a magnificent idea if you have a book with the visuals or vivacity to make the most of the medium, and if you have the personnel and acumen to pull it off and get it out there.” A trailer/slide show “out there” for Chicago was for Claire Nouvian’s The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss (http://www.thedeepbook.org) In it, eerie sea creatures float, one by one, into view against a black background. Each is accompanied by text of its common and scientific names, its size, and its marine depth, as well as by sternum-throbbing music. The Deep‘s trailer, Heineke says, “truly went viral” for the press when one creature “became somewhat of a Web 2.0 celebrity.” The Dumbo octopus (Grimpoteuthis) extended its arms’ reach into blogs, poetry, T-shirts, and other realms.

Over at Inside Higher Ed Scott McLemee has a wrap-up of the recent meeting of the Association of American University Press in Montreal. McLemee delivers a broader assessment of digital technology and academic publishing, noting that though digital technologies are promoted by evangelists, university presses often remain skeptical about the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of these new technologies for publishing. But one area that seems to be catching on is the use of multimedia as marketing tools. McLemee writes:

Some panels in Montreal addressed ways to promote paper-and-ink books via digital means. A panel on “New Media for Scholarly Publishers” focused on one medium in particular as having important potential: online video. Participants emphasized the decreasing cost of digital movie cameras and editing equipment, the growing distribution of the skills required for using them, and the rapidly expanding segment of the public that regularly watches video on the internet.
This was persuasive in spite of the gremlins. The audience did at least get to see a Princeton University Press clip of Henry Frankfurt discussing the peculiar susceptibilities to bullshit of the highly educated. Panelists and members of the audience suggested that a press could build a “studio” from scratch for under ten thousand dollars. A ready pool of camera operators and video editors is there to be tapped by any university with a radio-television-film program.

Will video transform scholarly communication? Will academic knowledge be disseminated in film clips? Will it be peer-reviewed? We don’t know. And some of us, no doubt, would prefer the user interface offered by the book to the thrill of lectures on a screen. But promotion of our books through audiovisual media will continue.
Here’s what we’ve done so far:

A Flash intro and image gallery for The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss
A slideshow narrated by the author for Sally A. Kitt Chappell’s Chicago’s Urban Nature: A Guide to the City’s Architecture + Landscape
A six-part video interview for Ashley Gilbertson’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer’s Chronicle of the Iraq War

Our YouTube channel has versions of the videos. All will be available at the ITunes store soon. Stay tuned…

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