Dan Cohen writes a nice post on the same theme I wrote about a few days ago — roughly, what is a book, and why do certain communities hold it sacred?:
When Roy Rosenzweig and I finished writing a full draft of our book Digital History, we sat down at a table and looked at the stack of printouts.
“So, what now?” I said to Roy naively. “Couldn’t we just publish what we have on the web with the click of a button? What value does the gap between this stack and the finished product have? Isn’t it 95% done? What’s the last five percent for?”
We stared at the stack some more.
Roy finally broke the silence, explaining the magic of the last stage of scholarly production between the final draft and the published book: “What happens now is the creation of the social contract between the authors and the readers. We agree to spend considerable time ridding the manuscript of minor errors, and the press spends additional time on other corrections and layout, and readers respond to these signals—a lack of typos, nicely formatted footnotes, a bibliography, specialized fonts, and a high-quality physical presentation—by agreeing to give the book a serious read.”
It’s all the better because, having formulated this powerful defense of the book as contract, the book as a signal of value, Cohen moves past it to ask how we can continue to work to create and recognize similar signals of value in work done outside the book, especially online.
It’s got a nice sweep, and it seems like a place to begin — especially insofar as community seems to be the one common value that defenders of print and defenders of the digital both want to recognize.