Advice for Digital Immigrants: On the Future of Publishing

by Doug Bowen-Bailey
webmaster@cit-asl.org

English Version

Please note that this is not a direct translation of the ASL version.  Both were done with the same idea in mind.  The ASL version was produced first and then I wrote the English version. 
What does it mean to be a publisher of resources for interpreters in the digital age?  That is a question that I have been contemplating the past month.  My thoughts have been shaped by my attendance at the Critical Link International Conference in Toronto, this past summer – which was supported in part by CIT and for which I shared my experience on the CIT blog.
One presentation by Katherine Allen of InterpretAmerica, focused on how the digital revolution is affecting interpreting.  In her presentation, she recommended the book:  The Digital Wave:  How Mobile Intelligence will Change Everything by Michael Saylor.  I just read (and listened) to the book in the past couple of weeks.  While many of the predictions made by the author of the benefits of mobile technology strike me as a bit overly-optimistic, there is no denying that the use of smartphones and tablets is reshaping the landscape of the world.
One of the chapters focused on books – and how eBooks promise to revolutionize the publishing industry. As he describes it, publishers need to think less of themselves as in the printing business.  Instead, they need to think like a software company.  With the rise of apps that are sold for $.99, the software business model is about making it a low risk to purchase a product – and then being able to distribute it widely (and cheaply) to make it economically viable.
Interestingly, I was thinking about this when someone contacted me about including a review of a new book on interpreting that I personally think would be of great use to myself – as well as to other interpreter educators.  (We are still working on getting the review included – hopefully, in the next issue.) Yet that book is clearly published with a different mindset than a software company.  The hard cover is almost $150 and the paperback is $54.  And the ebook, which costs very little to distribute, is the same cost as the hard cover book.  (At that cost, it is a pretty big risk to purchase the book.)
My best guess is that libraries (and students who have it as a required text) are the target audience for the book at those prices. That may be a workable business model currently – though I wonder how students feel about $54 texts.  More than that, I fear this price structure is an impediment it is to actually getting this useful information out to our field.  And perhaps more importantly, how long can a model like this last in the coming age of tablet computers?
As a small time publisher myself, I wonder about the balance of respecting and rewarding the intellectual property of people who do the research and writing and creating – and making it available – while not making it cost-prohibitive for people to actually purchase and learn from it.    I personally am going to be exploring some options for eBooks and digital distribution in the coming year.  We will see what comes of that and if it actually will meet an existing need.
What do you think?  How soon will the balance tip in favor of eBooks?  And do you think it will be able to do so by bringing more affordable resources that maintain a high level of quality to our profession?