rice university press reborn digital 07.13.2006, 2:03 PM
posted by ben vershbow
After lying dormant for ten years, Rice University Press has relaunched, reconstituting itself as a fully digital operation centered around Connexions, an open-access repository of learning modules, course guides and authoring tools. Connexions was started at Rice in 1999 by Richard Baraniuk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and has since grown into one of the leading sources of open educational content -- also an early mover into the Creative Commons movement, building flexible licensing into its publishing platform and allowing teachers and students to produce derivative materials and customized textbooks from the array of resources available on the site.
The new ingredient in this mix is a print-on-demand option through a company called QOOP. Students can order paper or hard-bound copies of learning modules for a fraction of the cost of commercial textbooks, even used ones. There are also some inexpensive download options. Web access, however, is free to all. Moreover, Connexions authors can update and amend their modules at all times. The project is billed as "open source" but individual authorship is still the main paradigm. The print-on-demand and for-pay download schemes may even generate small royalties for some authors.
The Wall Street Journal reports. You can also read these two press releases from Rice:
Kathleen Fitzpatrick makes the point I didn't have time to make when I posted this:
Rice plans, however, to "solicit and edit manuscripts the old-fashioned way," which strikes me as a very cautious maneuver, one that suggests that the change of venue involved in moving the press online may not be enough to really revolutionize academic publishing. After all, if Rice UP was crushed by its financial losses last time around, can the same basic structure--except with far shorter print runs--save it this time out?
I'm excited to see what Rice produces, and quite hopeful that other university presses will follow in their footsteps. I still believe, however, that it's going to take a much riskier, much more radical revisioning of what scholarly publishing is all about in order to keep such presses alive in the years to come.