Vol. X, No. 2

Fall, 1997

Electronic Publication: the New Vanity Press?

H. Eiteljorg, II

Electronic publishing seems to have many meanings today. To some it means putting something, anything, on the World Wide Web. To others it means publishing in an electronic journal, of which there is a growing number now. To still others it means putting information on a commercial CD or making data files available for other scholars, whether on CDs, over the net, or on removable disks.

Using the traditional publication system as a guide, though, the term publication implies a more complex set of processes. Paper publications are normally subjected to some form of peer review before they are accepted and printed for distribution; they are also carefully edited by the publisher; of course, the physical presentation is also the responsibility of the publisher. Thus, the publisher acts as much more than a printer and distributor; quality control, broadly defined, is also the publisher's responsibility. This is the case for publishers of books, journals, even newsletters.

Electronic journals are usually very similar to paper journals in terms of the review process, though some are certainly more casual. The other forms of electronic publication mentioned above, though, are likely to have had no form of peer review, editorial oversight, or layout design. Most Web documents are not reviewed. Some CDs are published without review of any kind, and the same may be said of many other resources on the Internet. That is one of the virtues of the Internet; access is open. It is also one of its vices; quality is as uncontrolled as access.

Given this situation, the term electronic publication does not carry with it the connotation of quality control and editorial oversight that is attached to the publication of paper products. There are no necessary intermediaries between the author and the public when it comes to publishing electronically. While one might argue that, as a consequence, the term publication should not be applied in the electronic world, the term has already become established. It is too late to restrict its use to materials that have had the kind of quality control and oversight associated with a publisher. It is not too late, though, to demand that the materials made available electronically explicitly state the review processes followed. It may not be possible to prevent the proliferation of works that may best be compared to those of a vanity press, but it is not too late to require that serious scholarship be accompanied by full descriptions of the review processes followed-or the absence thereof.

-- H. Eiteljorg, II

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