Preservationists vs. Conformists: The Electronic Scholarship Debate

Reading practices have undoubtedly been revolutionized with the emergence of modern technology.  Society has been divided with the development of various e-reading platforms (Kobo, Kindle, iPad etc.), initiating a debate on which method is superior: print or digital.  But, why is society forced to make a decision between being a preservationist and being a conformist?

Digital publications have some negative characteristics, such as a high production costs and a greater risk for copyright infringement. Rick Anderson’s recent article , “Online Information, Ebooks, and Moral Panic”, which appeared on The Scholarly Kitchen, insightfully determines that it comes down to those who embrace the benefits technology offers, and those who, perhaps, maintain a feeling of anxiety at the thought of future digital potential.  Anderson draws attention to the societal idea that choosing to conform to digital reading is “trading something fundamentally good for something fundamentally bad, even sinister.” While BookNet Canada reports that print books continue to be the primary format chosen by readers (58% of Canadians read in Paperback and 24% read in hardcover), Anderson emphasizes that “the printed book is an ineffective information delivery system at scale.” Technology offers many benefits and opportunities that physical books are not capable of achieving.  This is especially true in the case of academia.

In the field of scholarly publishing, the availability and accessibility of newly published work is of utmost importance. Ebooks allow readers to have access to any academic publication right at their fingertips, eliminating the need to wait for a store to open or for a shipment to arrive.   John Unsworth communicates in his article “Electronic Scholarship; or Scholarly Publishing and the Public”, which appeared in The Journal of Scholarly Publishing 28.1  that technology also enhances collaboration and allows for a more efficient method of reaching an academic audience. Electronic scholarly editions allow for information to be updated as research is progressing, allowing information to reach readers faster as opposed to awaiting the updated text to be released, which can be costly and tedious process.

It is evident that there are both negative and positive points on both sides of this electronic scholarship debate.  While the print book is still the dominant reading platform, digital reading has made such an impact on the publishing industry that it has also become a recognized format.  The future is uncertain, but publishers will continue to search for the happy medium and reading platforms will continue to be determined by personal preference


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