Academic Publishing: Obsolete

Kathleen Fitzpatrick“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s not a proverb that applies to much of publishing in 2013, particularly scholarly publishing.

Advances in technology; demands for greater information access; and challenges to academic hierarchy have combined to put authors, editors, and publishers – and even readers – on notice that the system needs repair, renewal, and rethinking. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, author of Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, says what’s broken is the culture and the community of publishing.

“Honestly, what I believe is obsolete – if anything – is our way of thinking about scholarly publishing,” Fitzpatrick tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “My argument is not that the book itself is an obsolete form, or that we need to be moving everything wholesale over into the digital. Instead, what I really try to think about is how obsolescence functions as a form of cultural discourse around way that we understand new technologies and their relationships to old ones.”

Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the AcademyPlanned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, was published by NYU Press in November 2011, and chosen for Choice’s Outstanding Academic Title list for 2013. Kathleen Fitzpatrick is Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association, and is on leave from a position as Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College, in Claremont, California. She is also the author of The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television, published in 2006 by Vanderbilt University Press, and she is co-founder of the digital scholarly network MediaCommons.

7 Responses to “Academic Publishing: Obsolete”

  1. tito perdue May 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Academic publishing is today nothing more than a subsidiary of the political correctness hysteria. Any chance that a university press would release any piece of writing that lies outside the liberal orthodoxies is smaller than the likelihood of being hit twice by the same bolt of lightning.
    tito perdue

  2. Eugene Miller August 30, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Recently, I’ve heard that commercial textbook publishers have downsized staff and off-shored editorial services. It seems likely that textbooks are gradually being replaced by dumbed-down digital formats that accommodate dumbed-down secondary and undergraduate curricula. Perhaps the academic press faces different pressures than the textbook commercial textbook press. Nevertheless, the evolution (or devolution) of textbook publishing standards in the digital age is a subject that deserves serious dialogue between authors in the academic community and their counterparts in the publishing industry.

  3. Milan Palian September 3, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    And what exactly is the advantage of a book over web content ?

    Surely, academic content belongs to humanity and should be published on the web, not bottled into expensive hardcover books. The only question that remains is how to pay the author, which should not be so difficult to figure out. The web should be the default way to publish academic texts.

  4. Andrew May September 29, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    It’s this kind of pretentious, meaningless language that’s obsolete. ‘Cultural discourse around way’, indeed.

  5. Burt Ward October 29, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    I’ve worked for Missouri Book Supply, Barnes and Noble and Follets. No, not my choice as these have been the campus contractors on my college campus and I have worked for the college when these entities got the concessions contract. So, how much does a typical average sized college make on textbook sales if they have a campus bookstore? Its between $1.5M to $10M. When I started at the University Center, we owned the bookstore, copy center, convenience store, and food court. We operated it and we cleared about $5M from the entire operation. But we had a lot of workers and the new president did not like having so many workers on the books. He proposed contracting out the entire operation so he did not have to have so many administrative staff looking over those workers. So, he put out the bids for the entire operation including managing the housing. When it was all said and done, much of that profit now went to the contractors and the university’s income from the operation dropped below $2M for the entire thing. So, he retired and we got a new president that looked at the books and he only contracted out the operations that worked better that way like food service and food court. He brought the rest back onto the books and saw university income rise a couple million, mainly from bookstore sales.

  6. Brian Purnell December 15, 2013 at 4:46 am #

    I’ll tell you what’s obsolete: arguments and statements like, “what I really try to think about is how obsolescence functions as a form of cultural discourse around ways that we understand new technologies and their relationships to old ones.”

    What the heck does that even mean?

    More important, why should anyone care?


  1. The Article, the Digital, and the Creation of Community | Technological Indeterminism - December 13, 2013

    […] whose book Planned Obsolescence I’ve been using as a resource during this project, appeared on the Copyright Clearance Center’s “Beyond the Book” podcast earlier this year to discuss the future of academic publishing.  During the interview, Fitzpatrick […]

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