One of the pleasures of the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA) is browsing the book displays. With the pandemic forcing the Eastern Division meeting online, it seemed like that wouldn’t be possible. Yet constraints can inspire innovation, and that is what has happened here.
In the following guest post*, Adam Hodgkin (@adamhodgkin), the chairman and co-founder of Exact Editions (and author of Following Searle on Twitter) explains how his company is working with the APA to create a virtual open digital display of books from multiple publishers.
Virtual Publisher Showcases
by Adam Hodgkin
Although the display is free it is not Open Access in the way that term is used in libraries or by research funders. The free access is temporary, time-limited by software. But the display is free/open in two senses (1) to any web user who follows a Reading Room link—no subscription, pre-qualification or registration is required; (2) the book displays are to complete books, no pages are hidden, all of the books are readable, searchable and browse-able. The conference display is organised as a set of publisher-specific collections, but the full set can be accessed here.
Note that the access is to a temporary display and no content is available from the Reading Room link after 17 January, when the exhibition closes. There will be books shown from: Broadview, Brill, De Gruyter, Hackett, Oxford, Princeton, and Wiley. As it happens there will be very similar content available, again on a temporary basis, for the Central and Pacific meetings. So if a reader misses the event in January there will be further opportunities to sample the books.
The service uses a system of streamed access to Reading Rooms (each book having its own Reading Room) which has been developed by Exact Editions. It is the first time that the Exact Editions platform (built originally for consumer magazines) has been used extensively for book displays, but the company views the APA service as a potentially useful prototype for the wider use of Reading Rooms for a range of promotional services: review copies; inspection copies for instructors; sampling, or tasting, preliminary to the sale of print or digital books; book fairs; audience access to accompany blogs or conferences and other circumstances in which books can be useful digitally even when they are not being sold or subscribed.
The solution has been tested with philosophy books by the APA Blog. See their recent notice of The Murder of Professor Schlick. The Reading Room concept may be particularly suitable for online reviews, and philosophy, having an excellent online open access reviewing service, would be well placed to take advantage of it. When a good review appears, the publisher who has a Reading Room capability can, and we expect will, amplify the notice by posting or circulating a Reading Room for the book being discussed (one day, seven days, or 30 days being the default choices in the publisher’s tool box).
Exact Editions is positioning its service as a promotional platform for publishers in general, not as a sales or subscription service, and it may be particularly attractive to publishers with lists of highly illustrated or design-rich titles that are not well served by e-books formats. Why then start with philosophy titles? There may be an element of accident in the choice of a major philosophy conference as a venue to launch the notion of temporary but free access to complete digital books. But Daryl Rayner, Managing Director and co-founder of Exact Editions, notes that philosophy is similar to other academic disciplines a subject where “short term and temporary access to digital books should be the best way of promoting their value”. She adds that Exact Editions has also been rolling out promotional Reading Rooms for poetry books. So philosophy may be a subject particularly suitable for digital promotion, especially with temporary tools, precisely because the books are meant to last and a brief glimpse will never be enough to satisfy serious readers.
Although the APA showcases are temporary, the system of displayed Reading Rooms is a web-based streaming service and usable with other interactive tools. So it is straightforward to record and integrate sessions of database use with these digital books, projecting the session into interactive tools such as Skype, Zoom, PowerPoint, Teams, YouTube etc. Two recorded Zoom sessions from the APA collection are reproduced here: an overview of the digital reading interface together with an appreciation of Ethical Reasoning, Theory and Application (Andrew Kernohan – Broadview Press) and a glimpse of The Murder of Professor Schlick (David Edmonds – Princeton University Press). These Zoom recordings, by another Exact Editions co-founder, Adam Hodgkin, unlike the Reading Room links are not time-limited.