A Response to “Traversing the Book of MPub: An Agile, Web-first Publishing Model”

Although most information creation, retrieval, and interaction happens electronically in the current scholarly communication system, many publication processes are still reliant on previous, print-centric methods. Especially in regards to books, there is a widespread assumption that the printed material comes first; the electronic version is something that happens afterwards, in an attempt to make a book’s contents more widely accessible for consumption. In “Traversing the Book of MPub: An Agile, Web-first Publishing Model” (2010), John Maxwell and Kathleen Fraser argue that a reconceptualization of books as web-born would lead to new opportunities for publishers, as web-based methods offer more flexibility than rigid, print-based approaches. Maxwell and Fraser’s goal is to propose the development of a publishing environment that does not consider print to be primary, but rather looks to web methods and models for publication.

Maxwell and Fraser’s approach is to offer The Book of MPub as an example, a graduate-level project undertaken in 2010 at the Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University. They explain the value of employing distinct technologies or methods like agile development, content management systems, XHTML, and web-first workflows, and walk through how each was applied in the creation of The Book of MPub. This method is effective, as it provides tangible examples in support of their argument. Maxwell and Fraser do not, however, explore in great detail any challenges that may have arose during the production of The Book of MPub, which would have made for a more comprehensive consideration of web-first publishing.

Maxwell and Fraser’s critique of the conceptual privileging of print in current electronic publishing systems is relevant to my own research question, How do digital materials in general, and digital publishing practices in particular, contribute to, facilitate, or counteract open scholarship? Digital scholarship often falls into the print-mirror mode as well, evinced by the numerous online journals that are collections of individual PDFs, replicating the page and its limitations faithfully. Maxwell and Fraser suggest that “the choice is whether we will work in a twenty-first-century mode or a twentieth-century mode” (n.p.); print-centricism, they conclude, will leave us entangled in the last century. The embrace of web-first publication models is better suited to the current information landscape. Maxwell and Fraser’s arguments apply to my research question easily, as elements that are considered key to open scholarship — connection, networked-ness, feedback loops, engagement, diversity, creativity — are much more readily achieved in a web environment than with static print artifacts.

Work cited

Maxwell, John, and Kathleen Fraser. 2010. “Traversing the Book of MPub: An Agile, Web-first Publishing Model.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 13 (3): n.p. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0013.303?view=text;rgn=main