"I smell smoke / that comes from a gun / named extinction..."
-Pixies, "The Sad Punk", Trompe le Monde, 1991
I've often said here and there that when it comes to digital publishing we are a little bit like cave men and cave women mesmerised by the fire. The flames are so bright, the warmth so comforting, the possibilities so rich that we just stare, the context blackened-out. A blinding light in the dark void.
I've been concerned with the past, present and future of publishing (its "history") for some time, and this includes academic publishing. I have been a practitioner and advocate of blogging as a form of academic publishing for a while now, and I have also blogged no only as an academic but as a comics critic, poet, citizen and reader. As a blogger, I'm obviously pretty much aware of the monetisation issues that often relegate it to a secondary, very often amateurish activity. There is money in some forms of blogging, but academic blogging remains limited by financial constraints, which are themselves a consequence of the lack of recognition the form gets as a 'measurable' academic output with real academic and public impact.
A very important negative consequence of this lack of recognition of blogging as a primary research/teaching output is that academic bloggers feel they cannot and moreover should not dedicate time to an activity which is in fact very time-consuming, which requires considerable expertise and that nonetheless is not recognised by those who count (funding institutions, academic committees) as academic work. These leads to academics and other specialists to start blogs (often as students) only to find themselves no longer able to maintain them properly. Often these blogs are hosted with their own domains and simply vanish off the face of the web because the fees were not paid for another year (hosting content on the web does cost money).
The Panelists is no more. When our domain hosting runs out early in 2012 the site will be closing down. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t give this site the attention we hoped. The six of us had too many other places where our attention was required: work, other writing (books, articles, conferences), art, family, etc. I’m sure we all have our excuses, but, in the end, we just couldn’t keep things going.
What I would like to underscore here is that the authors of this collaborative blog had "work, other writing (books, articles, conferences)." It is clear that the blog, for them, could not take priority over the other forms of output. I still have to hear of an academic or writer who says they could not write their book because they were too busy blogging. It is also scary that once the hosting runs out the resource will disappear, leaving a series of broken links scattered around the comics web to say the least.
Beyond the crisis in digital sustainability, archiving and preservation that this situation reveals, the fact that online publishing is still not considered a primary output is perhaps one of the greatest contradictions in current scholarly communications discourse. Until online publishing, including blogging, is considered an output as important as "other writing (books, articles, conferences)" in the form of financial recognition, hundreds if not thousands of useful online resources are doomed to extinction.
The Impact of Social Sciences blog of the London School of Economics is extremely optimistic in considering there is "a great migration" of scholars to "online publishing". Unfortunately, it seems to me there will only be a considerable, sustainable "great migration" if there is funding for online publishing, if online publishing formats, such as academic blogging, wikis and other online resources, are recognised as primary outputs. Until that happens, it seems to me we remain pretty much prehistoric scholars, fascinated by the fire, unable to smell the smoke, still slow to contemplate strategies to save us from extinction.
P.S. 29th November is Pay a Blogger Day. Just saying.