Well, it has arrived! It's here! It's out there! Whatever!
Yes, Dr Monk's new e-book on 'the sin of Sodom' is now available as a free download. To celebrate (?), that disreputable fellow has asked me, the ever-so-pious Benedictine me, to interview the two other fellows responsible for bringing to life Sodom in the Anglo-Saxon Imagination, namely Simon Cook and Drew Holgate from Rounded Globe.
Once I got used to their odd ways, well, I have to admit, they made great interviewees.
ASM: Hello Simon, hello Drew. May you be blessed!
Simon: Salutations, Brother.
Drew: Ow do, Brother, ast thay a'rate?
[ASM raises a bewildered eyebrow.]
ASM: For the benefit of my beloved readers, would you mind explaining just who you are?
Simon: I am a poor worker at Rounded Globe, where I am charged with two tasks. Firstly, I read the many submissions and cast into the flames those infected with the spirit of 'theory' and academic jargon. Then I spend long weary hours weeding out the innumerable errors of the clerks, in what is called 'copy-editing'.
Drew: I'm a programmer at Rounded Globe. I make the website and the scripts that convert nice, portable text files into e-books in various formats. I also like to babble on about copyleft licenses and the virtues of plaintext.
[More eyebrow raising, along with a furrow forming towards ASM's tonsure.]
ASM: Before we move on, I should just point out to my blessed ones that you haven't had the pleasure of being interviewed by a pious, eleventh-century Benedictine monk before. Is that really true?
Simon: I was once, but he was not very pious.
Drew: I've not, no, but I was an altar boy so this is somewhat familiar to me.
[Quizzical look from you-know-who.]
ASM: Really, it's quite straightforward. I won't use any Latin or Old English on you. Though a certain person has told me you've been reading both recently, is that not so?
Simon: Yes, I have had the pleasure of copy-editing the fine prose of Dr Monk, a labour that uplifted my soul (but did not pay very well).
ASM: And am I to understand that this is a study about the sin of Sodom? I feel I should lower my voice when ever I say that last word.
Simon: Dr Monk lifts a veil on the surprisingly delicate approach of Anglo-Saxon theologians and artists to the sins of Sodom, which as a place is now a barren wasteland of desert but for reasons that, our Anglo-Saxons tell us, are not necessarily because of what the modern English call sodomy. But remember, Brother Monk, that even if it be not up your alley, sodomy is no sin!
ASM: But Simon, why in heaven's name did you approach Dr Monk to write about such a subject?
Simon: I have a suspicion that Sodom was once a haven of modern academics whom God, in his infinite mercy, blasted into dust to save the world from their endless attempts at literary theory and mind-numbingly tedious historical research. When we at Rounded Globe come upon even one righteous scholar, who thinks rather than repeats others and engages with historical sources rather than his scholarly superiors, we write to him humbly and beg the opportunity to make his work available to the righteous multitudes.
[Is that more bewilderment etched on ASM's forehead or just indigestion?]
ASM: And Drew, what is your part in all this? It's time to confess.
Drew: Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. In my execrable vanity, I thought it virtuous to do what little I could to help share knowledge with the world, as freely as possible, that we might all become wiser. I realise my error, of course; there's no place in the world for filth like this.
ASM: Now, I have heard that Rounded Globe is no ordinary academic publishing house. What makes you so different?
Simon: On first appearances, Rounded Globe is about 'open access'. But open access is a movement of scholars within the university system who want to make their work freely available to all. That is all well and good, but we live and work outside the universities and we simply want to find the small part of academic writing that is worth the reading and to make that available to a wider public. In trying to do this we have turned to electronic books, which so massively cuts the cost of publishing that we realised we could make our e-books free to download and (hopefully) recoup our costs by way of a crowd-funding campaign (which is good in theory but is not yet paying the bills, so readers, please feel free to visit our Patreon site...).
But on setting all this up we also realized that, because we were so to speak reinventing the wheel, we could get rid of other things we did not like about modern academic books, one of the chief of these being the padding that gets put around a couple of articles in order to produce the book that gets the author tenure. We don't give a stuff about tenure and don't want the padding in our books, so we encourage authors to write what might be called 'pamphlets' rather than books. Really, it is a rare academic book that could not say all it needs in only a third of the actual number of words.
Drew: The books we publish are under a Creative Commons license and contain no DRM [Digital Rights Management]. The result of this is that, both legally and technically, there are no impediments to people sharing them and using them however they like - readers can make as many copies as they wish, read them on whatever devices they want to and share them with anyone they like.
ASM: So if folk are not forking out copious quantities of shillings and sceattas for these quality pieces of scholarship, then how will they see the value of the work?
Simon: A good question, Brother Monk. In the first instance a book is judged by its cover, and the cover of Dr Monk's new work speaks for itself! In the second instance, by the price, but in the end a book is truly judged only on its contents and may only be judged by those who do actually read its contents.
Drew: If the primary value of scholarly works is monetary then I think we've taken a wrong turn somewhere. Their value is in their transformative capacity and that purpose is obviously hindered if no one is actually reading them. We want these works to be read, shared and enjoyed as broadly as possible.
I hope and believe that the readers of these works will appreciate and understand their value without being bullied into it, and will voluntarily reward, encourage and support the authors financially, when able to do so. We're actually taking some lessons from innovations in videogame distribution where this model is already working rather well (see the Humble Bundles and itch.io for examples).
ASM: Rounded Globe publishes across a large range of subjects. Are there plans to publish more medieval themed e-books?
Simon: I would love this. But at present we are slowing down on all new releases in order to take stock of where we have got to and where we are going. We are very happy to have put out twenty or so e-books of high scholarly quality. But in this day and age there is a continual temptation to get caught up in numbers - how many books published, how many readers do they have, what is the rate of increase in download per month, and so on. And the insidious turn to this way of thinking undermines the whole point of the exercise, which is to throw university metrics to the dogs and celebrate great scholarship as an end in itself rather than something to be read for an exam. So right now we are slowing way down on publications in all fields in order to ensure that we remain true to our original idea that quality is what matters, not quantity.
ASM: Well, I would like to say what a pleasure it has been speaking to two twenty-first-century revolutionaries of academic publishing. In fact, I will say it: it has been a great pleasure, gentlemen.
Simon: Brother Monk, the pleasure is ours.
Drew: Peace be with you Brother.
ASM: And may you both receive rich blessings from on high. And I suppose I should swallow my misgivings and wish the other Monk very best wishes on the publication of [cough] Sodom in the Anglo-Saxon Imagination.