Enfilade

Ruminations with a Recommendation or Two

Posted in opinion pages, resources by Editor on June 29, 2010

From the Editor

Summer is here, but I think we’re living in the late autumn of the print magazine. There’s been lots of talk in academic circles about the dubious future of paper-format journals, but it’s perhaps interesting to consider the migration to the digital realm from both sides of the periodical spectrum — not only from the the Ivory Tower of erudition but also from the populism of Main Street.

The point has been brought home to me over the past year on a number of occasions as I’ve first learned of the end of various design magazines from design blogs. An article in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times (20 June 2010) presents the next logical step. Claire Cain Miller explains the origins of a new online design magazine, Lonny: “Michelle Adams, 27, a former market assistant at Domino, and Patrick Cline, 34, a photographer and photo retoucher, were talking . . . in May 2009 after Condé Nast closed Domino, its sprightly home magazine. Over dinner at Chili’s, they mourned the loss of the magazine and other design magazines, like Blueprint and House & Garden, and joked that they should start their own.” So they did, and 600,000 readers later, theirs looks to me like the future.

A blog, of course, isn’t exactly the same thing as a digital magazine, but this relatively new format seems to be coming of age in its own right, and there are certainly loads of fine examples that facilitate an exchange of information that simply couldn’t have happened in any way even ten years ago. To underscore just two: I’m still a big fan of Courtney Barnes’s Style Court, and I’ve recently discovered a new favorite from Janet Blyberg, JCB. Janet was on the Attingham Program with me earlier this month (she supplies a terrific episodic account of the trip with amazing photographs). As an art historian and museum professional, she brings a smart sensibility to a wide range of topics — including lots of gems for dix-huitièmistes: postings, for instance, on Woodford Mansion in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park and the house built by the botanist John Bartram (also in Philadelphia). The food postings are pretty terrific, too.

In the midst of this media migration from paper to the digital realm (reinforced by the likes of Scribd), things will surely be lost . . . and lots gained. It seems to me that one challenge for scholarly publications is finding a way not simply to mimic the older paper versions but to take advantage of the potential for entirely new features that just weren’t possible previously. The likes of Style Court and JCB might just be doing crucial, experimental work with important implications for even stuffy, scholarly publications. They definitely make the world a brighter place.

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10 Responses

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  1. Michael Yonan said, on June 29, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    A very thought provoking post!

    This may not be well known among the art history community, but one of our major 18C journals, “The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation,” almost went to an online-only format last year. That decision, which originated with the press board, caused a big stir. The journal has since migrated from Texas Tech to U Penn Press, a cumbersome and difficult move, which the journal’s editors insisted upon specifically because they felt it would lose prestige and impact if published only online. There is still a lingering belief among many that online publications are somehow not as serious as print ones.

    Personally, I think we need to find a way to take advantage of the web’s openness–which is such a great asset–while retaining the aura of selectivity and occasion that comes with print.

  2. enfilade18thc said, on June 29, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks, Michael, for sharing the example of the relocation of “The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation.” I think you’re absolutely correct about the “aura of selectivity” and wide-spread perceptions that credibility is diminished with the move from paper to digital formats. JStor may be the biggest resource fueling a greater acceptance, and for many journals, it will be a gradual transition (they will be available both in paper and digital formats until at some point, we’re all accustomed to accessing them only digitally in any case).

    For emerging journals, it’s probably a more difficult course to navigate — though institutional validation through the host affiliation and a highly respected editorial board probably go a long way (money probably doesn’t hurt either, though the appeal of the transition is often couched in terms of savings and budget cuts).

    In suggesting that blogs might be offering an experimental space of exploration for what’s possible, I don’t mean to suggest that I have any any specific ‘lessons’ in mind that could easily be transplanted into scholarly formats (though it will be interesting to observe the reception of the new: “KUNSTGESCHICHTE: OPEN PEER REVIEWED JOURNAL” http://www.kunstgeschichte-ejournal.net). Instead, it just occurs to me that the blog facilitates a sort of trial-and-error play that perhaps is shaping our larger expectations of information exchange. For myself, an even larger obstacle than the ‘aura’ question is one of attention. At present, it’s just much more difficult for me to invest something I read on the screen with same level of attention I would give to a stack of photocopies (conditioning that must in part go back to graduate school). -Craig

  3. Janet said, on June 29, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    This piece is so wonderfully written…and very succinctly sums up a topic that has been fodder for much discussion lately. I think that blogs give voice to many people who have a lot of very good things to say, and can generate truly thought-provoking discussion.

    And incidentally, I am blushing at your kind words, and hope that I can continue to live up to them! I look forward to future dialogue between Enfilade and JCB!

  4. style court said, on June 29, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Craig,

    I agree with Janet, you summed up the situation so eloquently.

    Just to share another positive example, it seems to me that Hali is succeeding in offering a digital option without loosing the intellectual heft of the print edition. Of course, I believe it’s essentially an exact copy of the print format that has been digitized with ‘bonus’ options including the ability to follow direct links to the Web.

    I’m thrilled to see Janet mentioned here. What she does is just terrific and I’m happy for more Enfilade readers to be aware of JCB. (And humbled to be included too!)

    Cheers,
    Courtney

  5. enfilade18thc said, on June 29, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Thanks, Janet and Courtney, for your kind comments. Thanks, too, Courtney, for mentioning “Hali” — my guess is that it’s a publication many art historians are not especially familiar with — again, another instance of information exchange that the web/blog format so easily facilitates.
    The case of “Hali” might also raise another question: what role (if any) do we expect marketing factors to play in digital publications? The issue is hardly unique to the digital realm (“Country Life” is a good case in point), but it seems like it will be a question all the same. My guess is that nothing will dilute academic credibility (“the aura of selectivity,” to use Michael’s earlier phrase) more quickly than crass purchasing options, but the web probably also will create greater shades of ambiguity, too. For instance, current paper issues of “The Art Bulletin” certainly include advertising from university presses; what happens when the online version includes links to the publishers’ websites? What happens when simply the clicks from a reader are used to determine buying preferences? Some degree of commerce just seems likely (if not inevitable).

    -Craig

  6. Barbara said, on June 29, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    JCB & Style Court are great. I have a friend who is a music, theater, & art critic for both newspapers & magazines. He scolds me regularly for blogging “for free.” I do understand his point, but he has not convinced me that the times are not achangin’.

  7. Emile de Bruijn said, on June 30, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Perhaps we should also ask ourselves: ‘If the academic journal were to be invented now, what would it look like?’ We are naturally conditioned to think of a ‘journal’ as a collection of ‘definitive’ texts and images, but perhaps we should allow journals to become slightly more dynamic, in line with the developments in the blogosphere. An online journal doesn’t have to look like a printed journal on a screen: it can host comments, updates, video streams, links, etc.

    And perhaps exclusivity, or lack of it, isn’t such a problem either. I recently read somewhere that the internet isn’t really a mass medium, in the sense of thousands of people sharing the same event; it is more like a huge conglomeration of small groups of interacting individuals. In that sense online journals would self-select their audience anyway.

  8. Janet said, on June 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Emile makes a very good point. Technology has really changed the way we view and analyze information. I think in the long run it will make us all better scholars because we able to access more in less time, and have a dialogue with colleagues around the globe in a way never before possible. And while I do think blogs are a great medium for the expression and exchange of ideas, I do not think they will ever fully replace their printed cousins. Blogs are just another dimension….

  9. enfilade18thc said, on July 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I think Enfilade has actually just passed a small but important milestone! — for the first time, the comments on a posting have developed into a suggestive discussion. They’ve certainly been thought-provoking for me (I know most of the postings tend to be ‘informational’ and thus don’t lend themselves to discussion, but I am enjoying this more interactive dimension; thanks!).

    Emile’s question — ‘If the academic journal were to be invented now, what would it look like?’ — not only addresses the present but also implicitly points to the degree to which much of our conception of what an academic journal is today still depends upon 19th-century expectations.

    It might serve as a reminder that the origins of the academic journal were themselves part of a particular (now rather distant) historical context.

    -Craig

  10. littleaugury said, on July 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Enjoying all these comments I am reading-though my initial comment did not show- I second, the expertise of Janet and Courtney-I read their blogs and follow up on many of there suggestions-too many. I add Emile is an incredible source of inspiration. It is a camaraderie created that I thoroughly enjoy. pgt


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