December 18, 2010
Now about that Festschrift and other things you need to know about the future of publishing (Part 5)
But what about that Festschrift? Well, I don’t want to say we’ll never publish a Festschrift! And of course I wouldn’t deny yours exactly. And for full disclosure (really!), right now I am trying to finish up an essay for a Festschrift, and—enjoy the irony—it’s a Festschrift I turned down as an editor.
But seriously, in the competitive environment of publishing today—and of the foreseeable tomorrows—the old whiskered tradition of the Festschrift does looks like an artifact from the past. Think about it: a loosely ordered constellation of essays arranged around and memorializing the interests of a single scholar! A birthday gift billed to the publisher! Now that’s a luxury that seems so totally yesterday. Leave it to the Germans to dream up something like that! Instead, let’s work on the “killer app” of the Festschrift—a well-crafted and integrated multicontributor book that carries interest and utility beyond the faculty lounge or graduate seminar room into the syllabus of a standard course.
And finally. Let me leave you with a future hope. If that book of yours is not right for publication today, then maybe tomorrow. After all, IVP Academic recently published in two volumes the Opus Imperfectum, or Incomplete Commentary on Matthew. And Baker Academic is publishing Cotton Mather’s immense, multivolume Biblia Americana, which no publisher would touch 280 years ago. While I would not take either of these publishing events as reflective of the times, they both have platform. Even the Opus Imperfectum, whose author (to borrow from Schweitzer) “comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old,” has an endorsement by no less than Thomas Aquinas. And maybe it’s arguable that more people know of Cotton Mather today than in his own day.
In addition to their pulp editions, these books will both no doubt find life as e-books. So we shouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon some scholar will admit to having inconspicuously tucked away the Opus Imperfectum or Biblia Americana on their e-reader, in their honeymoon suitcase. Can’t you picture the scene on that beach on Maui? You know, the nonacademic spouse asks:
“What’s that you’re reading, honey?”
“Oh, … uh … Jane Austen.”
(That line works every time.)
Yes, I can imagine an enduring use for e-books. In fact, I’m bullish on them.