Thursday, July 09, 2009

Who needs publishers?

The conversation about e-books and online resources as a way to save college students buckets of money on textbooks is nothing new. Read this article if you are interested in that subject.

What is fascinating, and horrifying, though, are the comments people left on that article (the small, orange type). Even though these people apparently read The Chronicle of Higher Education, and so theoretically appreciate the value of academia, some of these folks apparently think higher education is just about getting your diploma and the passing on of static knowledge, and not about the advancement of knowledge and learning to think! So first,

Down go professors!

“Why have ten chemistry professors when we could have one, who could address hundreds or thousands of students at a time? … Instead of having an expensive department of tenured faculty, a university could have an ‘electronic professor’ who could live on the server alongside the texts (the Holodoc comes to mind, for Star Trek fans). Or, why have multiple universities when one big one, on a server, would suffice? Instead of five or ten Cal States, with expensive departments and expensive real estate, one big university could live on a server, and residents could tap those resources at will, like the Univ. of Phoenix.”

So, basically, we just need one national expert in each field. Then,

Down go textbooks!

“Professors ought to write about a single topic that they know and care about, then make them available for free download. The instructor of a given course could put together different readings as he wishes.”

Another person said we don’t need textbooks by “a cult of experts” at all because “it’s all common knowledge.”

So, if you don’t need books,
Down go publishers!

“I would be interested in hearing why the publishing companies are the only ones capable of putting together a textbook.”

Fortunately, there was one commenter who understood that publishers are not simply printers or distributors—yes, digital technology can easily replace those functions, and if you happen to want a printed copy of your book, there are companies out there that will run it through the printer for you quickly and cheaply. Editorial input is hard to replace, however. Not just one voice, but two or more (I used to think I was a good copyeditor until I met real copyeditors who do the fine detail work development editors like me cannot!) This guy said it far more wittily than I could, though, so I’ll leave it to him…

“People who think they don’t need publishers are people who don’t know what publishers do. Among other things, publishers do their level best to prevent authors from embarrassing themselves in public. While we’re at it, let’s do away with the parasitic clothing industry as well. Everyone can just make their own clothes, and we’ll all be better off for the unleashed creativity . . . until you find your stitches coming loose. There are people who wouldn’t mind appearing nude in public. There are people who wouldn’t mind having their unreviewed, unedited, unproofread brilliance exposed to public view. Enjoy.”


Matt Kelley said...

There's a not-so-small amount of irony to the last sentence from that last comment you quoted:

"There are people who wouldn’t mind having their unreviewed, unedited, unproofread brilliance exposed to public view."

They're called "bloggers", and I can't help but wonder if this ignoramus isn't one of them.

Jessica Miller Kelley said...

Indeed. And no one would pay money to read a blog, and no one would rely on a blog to educate their children.

Amy said...

As a blogger who pretends to write something on occasion, I can say without hesitation - everyone needs an editor! The way I can mangle a blog post, I can't imagine doing a book without that skill set brought to bear.

This debate was fascinating to The Publishing Types for the remarkable lack of understanding of the full scope of value, polish, refinement, a publisher brings and for the lack of basic business sense.


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