Rice's program, to be launched later this year or early in 2007, could be even more ambitious. The new press plans to publish all of its books online through Connexions, which will essentially absorb the press's editing and transmission costs, says Chuck Henry, a Rice vice-provost who is also the press's new publisher. Readers can freely view the online works under a special online publishing license, though they may be charged a small fee for downloading them to a computer.
What is even more interesting, to me at least, is the ability of authors to revise their books without having to go into reprint---a costly and risky venture for publishers.
Because all books will be in digital form, authors can amend their tomes online, link to multimedia files elsewhere on the Internet, or even chat with readers. Books would never go out of print, and more might be published because of the press's lower cost structure, Rice officials say. Rice officials are also considering asking authors whether they want to allow "derivatives" of their works to be created online. The Connexions site operates under an "open-source" model, letting readers update online course material.
It appears to solve the "publish or perish" dilema faced by young profs whose work must past academic muster to make a monograph about, say post-modern Welsh grammar, worth the hit to the bottom line.
The university's initiative with Connexions likely have a ripple effect for other academic/scholarly and educational publishing houses, at least the small ones. How Rice's model will effect costs and book prices remains to be seen. And I really doubt this will have any effect with trade pushlishers (electricution being a very real consequence of taking a laptop in the tub, sending revenues down the drain). Nevertheless, the move is refreshing.