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D-Lib Magazine

November/December 2012
Volume 18, Number 11/12


Report on the 16th International Conference on Electronic Publishing: Social Shaping of Digital Publishing

Tomasz Neugebauer
Concordia University, Montreal, Canada




Elpub2012, "Social Shaping of Digital Publishing: Exploring the interplay between Culture and Technology", the 16th annual conference on electronic publishing, took place 14 - 15 June 2012 at the University of Minho in Guimarães, Portugal. This report summarizes some of the arguments and results presented, and offers some review and reflection on the contents.



The Elpub conference has featured research results in various aspects of electronic publishing for the last 16 years, involving a diverse international community of researchers in computer and information sciences, librarians, developers, publishers, entrepreneurs and managers. An analysis of ElPub paper keywords carried out in 2006 showed that the most frequent subjects were "USERS", "WEB", "METADATA" and "XML". Over the course of the last decade, open access, intellectual property rights, and institutional repositories are also favorite themes among Elpub authors.

Elpub2012, "Social Shaping of Digital Publishing: Exploring the interplay between Culture and Technology" was the 16th annual conference on electronic publishing. It took place 14 - 15 June 2012 at the University of Minho in Guimarães, Portugal. The conference programme included a panel discussion, two keynotes and parallel sessions:

  • Future Solutions & Innovations
  • Digital Texts & Reading
  • Digital Scholarship & Publishing
  • Repositories & Libraries
  • Special Archives

This conference report includes a review of the keynotes and the panel discussion as well as a review of a selection of two presentations from each of the parallel sessions. The purpose of this report is to summarize some of the arguments and results presented as well as offer some review and reflection on the contents.


Kathleen Fitzpatrick's Keynote

The conference opened with a keynote by the Director of Scholarly Communication of the Modern Language Association, Kathleen Fitzpatrick. The keynote was titled the same as her latest book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy1. The budget slashing experienced by libraries and university presses during the dot-com bubble burst of 2001 was particularly devastating for university presses whose budgets decreased dramatically, while libraries managed their cuts through consortia agreements and improved interlibrary loans services. The unfortunate consequence is that marketability of content began to take precedence over high quality scholarly merit.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick suggests that scholarly publishing has become obsolete and is in need of significant structural changes beyond a conversion from print to digital. While academic tenure and promotion ought to depend on peer review and scholarly merit, not on media format, online scholarship continues to pose evaluation difficulties. The in media res project and the media commons are examples of encouraging initiatives towards open peer review. Although there are experiments in open peer review, such as the 2010 issue of Shakespeare Quarterly, the pace of change in academia remains 'glacial'. If reviewers can sometimes miss the point of a work, it may mean that the structures of peer review are broken and in need of critical examination.

In the world of print media, there was a true scarcity of space that required strict gate keeping. With the Internet and digital media, that scarcity is now recreated artificially only. Instead of gatekeepers, Kathleen Fitzpatrick suggests the need for progress in coping with abundance through filters, that include post publication review and the public community. A necessary component of the change is in the perception of online publishing by the academy: publishing online has to be acknowledged as both legitimate and sufficient. Online publishing and the use of post-publication review is more collaborative in nature than the single authorship of a traditional monograph. However, perhaps it is precisely the notions of creativity and originality that will need to change if the academy is to avoid institutional obsolescence.

The challenge to develop more effective information filters as a way of dealing with abundance, rather than focusing on gate keeping, will hopefully inspire progress in information retrieval technologies, but the specifics of these new filtering methods remain a challenge. Electronic publishing and the Web has indeed grown at an astonishing pace due in part to the fact that the costs of sharing content online are calculated according to different criteria than in the world of print. However, the social systems that produce scholarly publications are currently dependent on the gate keeping function of pre-publication peer-review.


Special Archives

Jelle Gerbrandy described the design, and lessons learned from, the development of the Biography Portal of the Netherlands, a project in collaboration with Els Kloek from the Institute for Netherlands History. The lessons learned call for addressing copyright issues early on in a project; in the case of the biography portal, unresolved license issues with the data providers pose a fundamental challenge. The BioDes XML format for representing biographical information that was developed for this project would likely be more widely adopted by other organizations if it didn't deviate from the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standard for purposes of simplicity.

Maria José Vicentini Jorente (Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho) presented an analysis of the National Archives Experience Digital Vaults as an example of a novel paradigm of information design of archival collections. The interaction design of National Archives Experience Digital Vaults is based on the linking of documents indexed independently from physical spaces, institutions, chronologies and archival fonds. Maria José Vicentini Jorente alluded to a tension between the user needs of professional visitors and those of the general public. The presentation of archives as fonds serves the former more, whereas new technologies in information retrieval have helped to facilitate a new "post-custodial paradigm in which any individual is able to access, research in and rebuild virtual collections, creating unique paths to approach historical contents". The Digital Vaults interface is indeed innovative in its design, but confirming the effectiveness of this design seems to call for further empirical study.


Digital Scholarship & Publishing

Pierre Mounier, from the Centre for Open Electronic Publishing at l'École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) presented OpenEdition Freemium as a new commercial model devised for libraries interested in open access humanities and social sciences content. The term "freemium" was popularized by the journalist Chris Anderson in his book Free: the future of a radical price2. In this context, it means that the social sciences and humanities books and journal articles are available to all in HTML format, while subscribing libraries get access to premium services such as PDF and ePub download, usage statistics, export in MARC format, alerts, assistance, training, and more. OpenEdition is a relatively new and promising platform with participation from 20 publishers and 32 subscribing libraries. The freemium economic model seems like an ideal solution for social sciences and humanities publishing. It results in basic open access to full-text in HTML formatted content. Furthermore, subscribing libraries retain their role as mediators, purchasers and promoters of content while publishers retain the revenue stream from subscriptions that they depend on.

Caren Milloy (JISC) spoke about OAPEN-UK project which aims to gather information on the potential for open access scholarly monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences. In collaboration with five publishers, OAPEN-UK has set up an interesting comparative study on the impact of open access on a monograph's sustainability and profitability by measuring and comparing the usage, sales, citation and discoverability data of 60 monographs. The publishers proposed 30 pairs of monographs that are as similar as possible. This allowed the OAPEN project to create two groups of monographs to compare: an experimental group that will be made openly available on the OAPEN Library under a creative commons licence while the control group will be available only as ebooks for sale under the publishers normal licensing. In addition to this experiment, the evidence gathering takes the form of focus groups comprised of institutional representatives, publishers, authors/readers, funders, learned societies, ebook aggregators, research managers and administrators. The results of the initial focus groups are already available on the OAPEN site, and the results of the comparative study will become a valuable source of evidence for the impact of open access on the sustainability of monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences.


Repositories & Libraries

The Swedish study, "Accessibility and Self Archiving of Conference Articles: A Study on a Selection of Swedish Institutional Repositories", presented by Peter Linde (Blekinge Institute of Technology) et al., on the accessibility of conference articles, confirmed the importance of open access subject and institutional repositories in providing access to and preservation of conference papers. A significant number of the articles in the study were found in some type of OA archive, confirming that repositories are currently used for this purpose. Furthermore, a striking 15% of the conference papers were not available at all in any format or platform and thus represent potential candidates for inclusion in institutional repositories. One of the interesting recommendations by the authors of this study is the development of a copyright policy database for conferences, similar to SHERPA/ROMEO for journal publishers.

Lydia Chalabi (University of Algeirs) points to the lack of research studies on the use of open archives and the open access movement's impact over the scientific production of developing countries, in the report of her study on open archives in developing countries "Open Access in developing countries: African Open Archives". Using open access directories as a data source, Lydia Chalabi filters down to the 27 open archives used for scholarly communication in African developing countries. An analysis of these reveals that the open archives in African developing countries are limited in various ways. For example, more than half of the archives include content that requires a local login, only three offer usage statistics, and the existing content consists mostly of theses. The open access movement intends to improve access to scholarly communication by removing economic barriers faced by scholars. Researchers in African developing countries can benefit from improved access to the outputs of research from other parts of the world, but it seems equally important to have sufficient support for contributing to the open access content through deposit/publication in open access archives.


Panel Discussion on Academic E-Books

The topic of the panel discussion, moderated by Peter Linde, was "Academic E-Books —Technological hostage or cultural redeemer?". Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Modern Languages Association and Pomona College), António Câmara (Universidade Nova de Lisboa and YDREAMS Inc.), Delfim Ferreira Leão (University of Coimbra) and Karin Byström (Uppsala University) were to discuss the positive and negative aspects of e-books. Although e-books represent a sustainable opportunity for academic publishing, their readability and access/impact will need to continue to improve. Academic libraries face difficulties in selecting and acquiring e-books: many monographs still don't have an e-book version, many have embargoes/delays, and e-book publishers often have business models that can prevent libraries from purchasing their e-books for ownership and allow only limited licensed access. Kathleen Fitzpatrick pointed out that e-books are currently in an early stage of what they will become through the addition of video and interactive components. António Câmara inspired a lively discussion on the future of teaching by arguing that open access video courses represent a fundamental and transformative change for the future of teaching and the university. He argued that professors will become tutors that offer additional perspective and motivation to students that will increasingly choose to learn from the world's top professors through video lectures. António Câmara predicts that books will continue to play an important role in teaching, while libraries will be involved in the development of sophisticated visualization tools.


António Câmara's "Publishing in 2021" Keynote

António Câmara continued the "Video will be king" theme in his keynote speech. He paints a picture of the future where technology allows publishers to "print" interactive digital displays on "anything", such as product packages. He described the electrochromic display technology developed by the YDREAMS spinoff company YNVISIBLE. Currently, printing electrochromic displays is expensive, but as the costs go down, we can expect to see the digital become an even more integral part of physical product experiences. Printing technology today still uses dots, but with over 700 billion dollars in printed goods produced in 2011, the race to produce inexpensive electrochromic printing is ongoing. Futurology is a speculative activity and only time will tell if the digital world will make its way onto the physical printing presses of the future. Contemplating the feasibility of accessing digital information sources through a printed interactive display on a physical object such as a magazine, a coffee cup or a postcard does help to generate an image of one possible future of "publishing in 2021".


Future Solutions & Innovations

Carlos Henrique Marcondes (University Federal Fluminense) presented a paper titled "Knowledge Network of Scientific Claims Derived from a Semantic Publication System". The textual format currently used for scholarly publishing is a metaphor of the 20th century print text model and restricts computer programs from precise and meaningful semantic analysis of content. Carlos Henrique Marcondes presents a prototype of an enhanced bibliographic record and author deposit interface that allows for the encoding of the conclusions of articles with the use of Linked Data principles and the National Library of Medicine's Unified Medical Language System (UMLS). Authors are asked to enter a conclusion and natural language processing libraries are used to represent this knowledge as antecedent-consequent relations between phenomena using structured UMLS. The accuracy and reliability of the semantic formalization of article conclusions remains dependent on authors' familiarity with UMLS since they are asked to validate the extracted relations and mapping to UMLS terms during the deposit process.

A vision of the opportunities in the "Future of Digital Magazine Publishing" was presented by Dora Santos Silva. She cites encouraging statistics published by The Association of Magazine Media (MPA), that 50% of subscribers renew their magazine subscription. Furthermore, 51% of young consumers are reading magazines electronically while 41% of those who have downloaded apps have paid for magazine content. Almost every print magazine has an online presence, although most of these are merely digital PDF replicas of the print. Dora Santos Silva outlines key features that define a magazine: it has a beginning, middle and end; it is edited and curated; it has an aesthetic treatment; it is date-stamped and periodic; its contents are permanent, suffering only minimal corrections. She outlines the potential of digital magazines using the following examples: iFly Magazine, Zoo Zoom Magazine, Viv Magazine, and All Out Cricket Magazine. Three magazines were profiled and critiqued in detail: FlypMedia, Magnética Magazine and The New Yorker — iPad edition. Although many of the usability problems outlined by Jakob Nielsen can be found in the iPad editions of digital magazines, and only PDF replicas of print magazines exist for many magazines, Dora Santos Silva's paper presents advantages of the digital formats over traditional ones that represent an opportunity for publishers.


Digital Texts & Reading

Celeste Martin (Emily Carr University of Art + Design) spoke from the point of view of a designer in the presentation co-authored with Jonathan Aitken titled "Evolving Definitions and Authorship in eBook Design". The multimedia and social interaction potential inherent in ebooks challenges traditional notions of authorship resting with the creator of the text. The impact of the design of the user experience and user participation in eBooks elevates the role of the designer. Realizing the full potential for new "enhanced" eBooks that are designed for tactile use on a tablet requires a collaborative effort between writers and designers. Celeste Martin describes the results of such collaboration in her classroom, where five authors agreed to work with groups of design students in repurposing their books into digital format. The results included traditional book elements such as pages and linear navigation systems, but they also included features that offer an intentionally different experience from the original text. The results also included reader participation through annotation upload, content sharing with other users, game-like interaction, and creative "vertical" and random navigation and exploration. It seems likely that implementing some of these e-book designs would bring to light usability challenges with readers who experience difficulties in learning how to use them. The aesthetics of eBooks emerge from an interdependence of form and content.

Chrysoula Gatsou (Hellenic Open University) reported the results of a usability study co-authored with Anastasios Politis (Technological Educational Institute of Athens) and Dimitrios Zevgolis (Hellenic Open University) on the use of visual metaphors from "Text vs visual metaphor in mobile interfaces for novice user interaction". The study observed younger and older novice (i.e., inexperienced with computers) users as they interacted with an application interface with two types of interaction icons: visual metaphor and text. The intention of a designer to create clear layout and comprehensive visual metaphors is insufficient to guarantee that the user will perceive and appreciate it as intended. Chrysoula Gatsou advises that choosing visual metaphors for interface icons requires careful consideration of their comprehensibility to users. This study reports that the metaphor of a "home" as the navigation button to return to the main menu caused problems for older users. The older users in the study performed better when interacting with text buttons whereas younger users performed better in their interaction with icons. Ideally, the interface designer can find universally comprehensible visual metaphors for icons, but the challenge is very difficult due to differences in users' age, experience, and culture. The authors of the study do not mention this, but it seems like the design strategy of icons that use a visual metaphor and the text alongside may be an effective compromise. The authors of this study state that "cultural differences may also be defined by age", but the results show only that age correlates with some interface design preferences, not that age is a dimension of culture.



The Conference on Electronic Publishing has provided a valuable venue for the exchange of ideas between librarians, computer scientists, publishers and others since it was first organized in 1997. Elpub's comprehensive programme includes an astonishing variety of research perspectives on electronic publishing. This year, the theme "Social Shaping of Digital Publishing: Exploring the interplay between Culture and Technology" inspired fascinating discussions on the future of digital publishing and contributions of research results from a variety of perspectives including design, librarianship, archives, publishing and computer science.

This year's presentation by Carlos Henrique Marcondes on formalizing the conclusions of papers so that they can be published along with the article metadata seems to be indicative of the focus for Elpub2013. Next year, at Elpub2013, the 17th international conference on electronic publishing, with the main theme "Mining the digital information Networks", we can expect a greater focus on text/data mining, machine processing and knowledge discovery. The ethics of text/data mining can be a particularly relevant aspect that will hopefully be addressed by some of the submissions. Elpub2013 is scheduled to take place June 13 - 14, 2013 at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden. In addition to the traditional themes of publishing and access, the main theme of extracting and processing data from digital publications as well as the use of this information in social contexts will be featured.

All of the papers from this conference are available in Elpub Digital Library and in Proceedings published by IOS Press. In the spirit of António Câmara's argument for the primacy of video, recordings for most of the presentations are also available at educast@FCCN (https://educast.fccn.pt/vod/channels/r0i3amwrr and https://educast.fccn.pt/vod/channels/ks05u0khu).



1 Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. NYU Press, 2009, New York University.

2 Anderson, Chris. Free: the Future of a Radical Price. Chris Anderson, 2009, ISBN 978-1-4013-2290-8.



Thanks to Peter Linde for his helpful comments and suggestions.


About the Author

Photo of Tomasz Neugebauer

Tomasz Neugebauer is the Digital Projects & Systems Development Librarian at Concordia University Libraries and editor of PhotographyMedia.com. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Computer Science and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University.

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