Principles of Online Publication
Part II: Dynamic Relationship Between Author and Reader

Publications, whether a book or journal article, were once thought of as fixed objects. One imagined that one’s writings would be ensconced forever in a library, side by side with the souls of other authors who had devoted their lives to this eternal resting place.

We tend to conceive of books and journal articles not just as conveyors of information, but as material things. One imagines that one’s book or article—preserved in the library—will live forever. Of course, books and journals are meant to be read, but unless it is one of a chosen few, a book or paper might be consulted in any given library perhaps three times a year?

The Internet has changed everything. Indeed, one might think of the World Wide Web as the largest and most comprehensive library that has ever existed. What’s more, the publications in this library are instantly available—to everyone throughout the world.

A great deal of thought has been put into the format of books and journals, given this new environment, e.g., whether a publication will appear in hard copy and/or as an eBook.

However, perhaps what is most significant is the change in the very nature of thought and writing that occurs when publications are made available on the Web. The most significant change is ease of publication. Those younger than a certain age barely know of a time when conveying one’s ideas—getting “heard”—was so difficult, bordering on impossible.

In order to have a voice, one had to work through an “intermediary.” In the public domain, one needed to “get on” the radio or television. An author might dream of being interviewed by someone like Charlie Rose. One might hope to have one’s book reviewed by The New York Times, or The Washington Post. If one thought one had something important to say, one might write a “letter to the editor.”

In the scholarly world, one submits a paper for a journal, or proposes one for a conference. To publish a book, one connects with a scholarly press.

To publish on the Internet, all one needs to do is press a button. We will spare the reader the agon and struggle those of us at Library of Social Science have gone through as we’ve shifted our focus toward online publication. Our commitment to traditional publishing is no less powerful than the commitment most of you have.

Rather than debate the pros and cons of various modalities of publication, we’d simply like to articulate the way in which writing—the presentation of ideas and research—changes within the milieu of the Internet.

The most significant characteristic of online publication, of course, is the speed with which ideas and research can be presented to the world. Co-extensive with the idea of instant publication, is the fluid nature of writing on the Internet.

The Internet reminds us that we live in a world of flux. Things change from moment to moment. Life changes from moment to moment. Ideas change from moment to moment. Today is not yesterday.

Journal publications have a feeling of permanence. One “completes” the article—it’s done—and sends it to a journal editor. Changes may be required, but once the article is accepted for publication, the piece is “fixed in stone.” Writing for the Internet is characterized by the immediacy of interaction between author and reader. When one writes a paper for a journal, the idea or fantasy of a reader, of course, is present within one’s mind. But this reader exists at a great distance from the self.

When one writes on the Internet, there is a close connection between the author and his or her audience. When one writes an essay for the Library of Social Science Newsletter, one expects the email will be opened by 10,000 readers. Indeed, writing a piece for the Newsletter is not unlike a performance or broadcast.

Once having been published in a journal, a paper becomes detached from its author. The author’s name appears in the article, but the author is now “somewhere else.” The paper has its own being. With online writing, the being of the author is closely bound to his or her piece of writing. Author and reader exist in a dynamic relationship. We hope you find this piece of writing beneficial and fruitful.