Internet-First publishing project at Cornell offers new and old books free online or to be printed on demand

Just when the recording, music and publishing industries are going all-out to stop people from making their products available on the Internet, a new publishing venture at Cornell University is challenging traditional scholarly publishing by taking the opposite approach: Make the full text of a new book freely available on the Internet, and give readers the option to buy the printed book.

The new "open access" publisher, known as Internet-First University Press, launched recently with a catalog announcing four original manuscripts and several titles that have been out of print. Soon to be added are monographs, Cornell graduate student theses and, eventually, an online scholarly journal. The project also is publishing multimedia materials, including videos and collections of photographs.

Full texts of the books will be available free on the Web at . Readers will have the option of buying printed copies through a print-on-demand system. A digital copy of the manuscript will be routed to a printing facility and the buyer will be able to pick up the printed copy at a bookstore or library, or have it shipped.

"What this model does, I propose, is reduce the financial risk for the publisher by eliminating the need for a large inventory," says J. Robert Cooke, Cornell professor of biological and environmental engineering and former dean of the faculty, who is principal investigator for the project. Other leaders of the project are Kenneth M. King, former Cornell vice provost for information technology, and Ross Atkinson, associate university librarian for collections.

Cooke points out that all but a few university presses are in serious financial trouble. With the Internet-First model, the publisher has the same up-front editing costs as conventional publishers, but does not have the same printing or inventory costs. Authors receive no advance

royalties, but are paid as each print-on-demand copy is ordered. The advantage of making out-of-print books available this way is fairly obvious, but why would an author want a new book distributed freely online?

"Faculty members value having their scholarship read, and the open-access approach provides immediate, worldwide access," Cooke explains. "Our first authors are all distinguished faculty with no need to build up their résumés. They have no pressing financial need or were smart enough to know they weren't going to get much money anyway." Mostly, he points out, books written by academics and published by a university press have a narrow audience.

Jay Orear, Cornell professor emeritus of physics and one of the first authors to be published in the new format, thinks he might make some money anyway. "My hope is that people will start to read on the Internet and then think, 'I want the book,'" he says. Printing it out at home, he notes, although possible without a fee, would consume a lot of paper and expensive ink cartridges.

Eventually, Cooke hopes, the Internet-First approach will become attractive even to young faculty, who must publish to gain tenure. Like any other publisher, he says, Internet-First will be selective, with an editorial board reviewing potential selections.

The next step will be an online scholarly journal operating on the same model, Cooke says. Under the present journal system, university researchers and scholars give their papers to journal publishers, who then sell the printed journals back to university libraries at prices that are becoming a serious drain on library budgets. Meanwhile, universities are having to add library shelf space to store the paper copies. Cooke proposes that each university bear the costs of publishing its own research, in order to retain control over access.

Some day, he says, when all books and all research and scholarship are published online, "small colleges will have access to a library as big as Cornell's."

The initial Internet-First University Press offerings include:

Original manuscripts:

Jay Orear: Enrico Fermi: The Master Scientist

Orear discusses his relationship and experiences with his former professor and mentor.

Brian Earle: The First-year Experience: A Guide to Best Practices at Cornell University

A Cornell communications faculty member discusses the experiences of first-year students.

Richard H. Rand. Lecture Notes on Nonlinear Vibrations

A Cornell engineering professor has collected his lecture notes covering 13 topics.

John Rudan: A History of Computing at Cornell

The origination and development of computing at Cornell from the first use of punch cards in the 1920s through information technology of 2000.


Jack Oliver: The Incomplete Guide to the Art of Discovery

A Cornell emeritus professor draws on his nearly 50 years as a scientist to explore the strategies, tactics, and personal traits and attitudes necessary for fruitful scientific discovery. Previously published by Columbia University Press.

Jack Oliver: Shakespeare Got It Wrong. It's Not "To Be," It's "To Do"

Oliver reflects, often humorously, on his career, from his student days at Columbia to his years teaching and conducting research at Cornell. Previously published in Northeastern Geology and Environmental Sciences .

Paul F. Velleman and David C. Hoaglin: Applications, Basics, and Computing of Exploratory Data Analysis

An introduction to the methods of exploratory data analysis as originally developed by John Tukey. Previously published in 1981 by Duxbury Press.

Carl Ginet:Knowledge, Perception, and Memory

This work by a Cornell professor of philosophy was originally published in 1975

Coming next:

W. David Curtiss and C. Evan Stewart.

Myron C. Taylor: A Useful Life

Law School professor emeritus Curtiss and former Cornell trustee Stewart recount the corporate and political careers of Cornell alumnus and benefactor Myron Taylor. (Scheduled for Fall 2004 release.)

W. David Curtiss and C. Evan Stewart.

Original videos being offered online include:

Hans Bethe's First 60 Years at Cornell

  • Dale Corson: Cornell's Good Fortune
  • Quantum Physics Made (Relatively) Simple: Personal and Historical Perspectives of Hans Bethe.


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