Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy

By Kathleen Fitzpatrick, author of the forthcoming book Planned Obsolescence (Fall 2010).

The crisis facing scholarly publishing has gotten a lot of discussion in recent days, and it’s frequently been suggested that the digital may provide the solution to the current budgetary impasse. But how? And what kinds of changes might digital publishing require of scholarly authors, reviewers, presses, libraries — and indeed, of the university itself? These changes are the focus of a new online project published in conjunction with MediaCommons, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy.

For the last year or so, Avi Santo (of Old Dominion University) and I have been collaborating with the good folks at the NYU Press and the NYU Libraries on the development of MediaCommons, a digital scholarly network focused on the field of media studies. Last week, we unveiled a major new part of our network, MediaCommons Press, through which we’re publishing new forms of digital scholarship in new interactive formats.

The first such project, because I felt I needed to put my money where my mouth was, is my own book draft, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. I’m actually putting my money where my mouth is twice-over with this project, as the book, in arguing for the social and institutional changes that the full embrace of digital scholarly publishing will require, insists that online peer review needs to become an open process, one focused on dialogue between the reviewers and the author, as well as among the reviewers.

NYU Press has also sent the manuscript to traditional blind peer reviewers as well, one of whom has agreed to allow us to post her review for discussion once it’s ready. I’m extremely grateful to both of the reviewers for the time they’re putting in with the manuscript, and for considering such an odd new process.

And I’m extraordinarily grateful to the readers of the online version of the book. The manuscript has been posted in CommentPress, a WordPress-based plugin that allows comments to be attached to whole pages or to individual paragraphs. The book also has a community blog, on which any registered user can post more extended commentary, or larger questions about the project that aren’t easily tied to a specific location.

All of this discussion will be extremely useful to me as I begin the process of revision, but it’s also helping to demonstrate what I firmly believe will be the future of peer review in networked environments — “peer-to-peer review,” as I’m fond of calling it. I hope you’ll join us there, and see what this new open form has to offer.