A copy of the book Blogs: Emerging Communication Media, published by the ICFAI University Press, showed up in my mail a couple of days ago, having made it from India via Buffalo, only slightly worse for wear. Like other contributors, the book came as a bit of a surprise. I had given permission to the editors to reprint a conference paper, but really thought nothing of it for a while. I’m actually pretty pleasantly surprised by many of the papers that ended up collected there, but it is unlikely that you will ever see this book, as it exists in the alternate universe of Indian publishing.
I was first exposed to this world in graduate school. A number of publications found there way into the university library and local used book stores. Many were reprints of titles that had already been printed in the West, but many were original works. Like Indian cinema, it seemed like an entirely new media world. Especially with the emergence of the Web, it’s not really clear what constitutes gray literature. In this case, the book is quickbound, and attractive–it would not look out of place on a university bookstore shelf. (Some of the older Indian works I found in the library tended to be printed on lightweight paper, and not typeset.) It has the ISBN number (81-7881-773-X) which would seem to indicate that it is de facto outside of what we might consider “gray.” Yet, it does not appear on Amazon.com, nor on Google. I have a feeling that if it isn’t on Amazon or Google, even if you might be able to go to your local bookstore and order it, it really does seem to seep into the gray side of things.
That is why I was happy when my reader for the Cyberporn & Society class showed up on Amazon. I assembled the reader from articles and book chapters–as I would for any course reader. Generally, I do online collections, so that students save a bit of money, but particularly for large undergraduate courses, having it printed out gives them less excuse to avoid the reading. So, I created a photocopy reader the first year through University Readers. Kendall Hunt approached me that year to make it a bound reader, and since one of the complaints from students the previous year was that the reader looked like a set of tape-bound copies (which it was), I figured getting it properly bound and typeset would make it even more likely that students would do the readings. I also thought it might be helpful to others. I don’t know that anyone outside the class has actually purchased the book (it came in a bit expensive, at $40, as opposed to $25 for the original photocopied reader), but it is a good sampling of some of the work out there, I think. And because it is on Amazon, it “exists.” Now, it’s unlikely that it will find its way into many libraries, but it is at least findable.
Which brings me to the exact opposite case. The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments is a two volume behemoth that I have been reading in bits and pieces over the last month or so. You can find a table of contents on Jason’s site. There’s some really good stuff, and it is on Amazon (linked above), but it comes in at nearly $500. At about $100/pound, that’s still way cheaper than Beluga, but spendier than a steak at Peter Lugar. As a contributor (“Weblogs and Collaborative Web Publishing as Learning Spaces”), I was lucky enough to receive a copy, but I don’t suppose most people will be heading off to buy a copy from Amazon for their personal library. I think (hope!) that the book will make it’s way into many university libraries, though.
The funny thing is that at the Slate thing on Thursday, someone suggested that printing is dying when it comes to newspapers, and probably for magazines, but still going strong for book publishing. That seems to make sense to me. Libraries, though worried about archiving issues, find that people make more use of electronic versions of academic journals, and journals that are openly available on the web are used even more. Reading a book online, though, remains a bit more difficult, and so for the kinds of arguments that are more sustained, a book makes sense. (Steven Johnson suggests this as well in Everything bad….) I suspect that these books that are on the periphery–that is, not produced and distributed in great numbers–will be among the last to go digital, and in all modesty (even though my own work appears in all three mentioned here) we may miss out on some good stuff.