[Humanist] 27.280 the force of online publication?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Aug 13 22:48:11 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 280.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2013 15:32:49 -0600
        From: Daniel O'Donnell <daniel.odonnell at uleth.ca>
        Subject: Examples of online publication driving Print on Demand and other long-form sales?

Hi all,

I'm in discussions with my press about a second edition of my edition of 
Cædmon's Hymn. I'm pushing for an open, on-line release of the text with 
Print-on-Demand and ePub sales from the site. Since the introduction has 
about 100k words, is frequently cited, and is available in part on 
Google Books already (ironically for a print-and-CD-ROM digital edition, 
Google just scanned the print copy), my argument is the following:

1) People who are really in the market for a 100k word book on a 9-line 
poem are going to want to buy a copy in a format they can annotate, read 
off line, and that is generally more pleasing on the eye than a standard 
web-page (you'd be surprised how many people have wanted a copy in the 
last 8 years!)
2) People who are prepared to put up with poorer-quality, long-form 
presentation because they can get it for free on-line are basically 
already being lost to the Google Books site
3) Putting the whole argument and text out on the web will help keep the 
book central to debates in the field, presumably increasing the number 
of people buying copies under argument 1 above.
4) Reprinting a book+CD-ROM digital text today captures the worst of all 
worlds: we miss the exposure on-line publication provides via search 
engines and we lock the most flexible format (the digital) in a medium 
that is increasingly difficult to use and is certainly not multi-platform.

I can think of one somewhat parallel case that seems to show these 
arguments: Peter Baker's Introduction to Old English which, I am told, 
has sold very well through the years even though it has always been 
freely available on-line in a version that, if anything, is actually 
more feature-rich than the print copy. Does anybody know of any other 

Some background: the edition was published in 2005 in a 
Print-and-CD-ROM, where the CD-ROM contained the full text of the print 
book and additional views, tools, and features. The edition itself has 
done better than you might think for a pretty long edition of a 9-line 
poem (I believe it sold through 3+ print runs) and it was runner up for 
MLA's best edition in 2007 (first medieval edition and I believe first 
digital to be so recognised). What I want to do now is publish a revised 
version of the contents of the CD-ROM to the web and offer POD copies 
and ePubs of the book content for sale from the site. My theory is that 
they are likely to sell for much the same reason the book sold in the 
first place: people use digital texts but given the choice they are 
still happy doing long-form reading in a format that is better suited to 
it that the browser.

Any advice? Parallel examples? Other ideas?


Daniel Paul O'Donnell
Professor of English
University of Lethbridge
Lethbridge AB T1K 3M4

+1 403 393-2539

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