Publishing seems to me a fascinating area because of the eternal tensions between the goals of this activity as a business that has to make profit and the cultural ideal activity that has to serve higher spiritual, cultural or scholarly goals, which in fact preclude profit generation on any larger scale. With the increasing globalisation and virtualisation of media businesses another interesting condition of publishing comes to the fore. It became visible already some 25-30 years ago when journals started moving to the digital environment and commercial publishing was confronted by the Open Access movement. It was all very obvious on the level of international distribution of scholarly materials, but on the local level in small European countries the situation was quite different.
First of all, the commercial publishing of scholarly and scientific journals has never existed on this level (if we do not take into account some national publishing companies that became big players on the international market). The journals in local languages were and still are subsidised by academic institutions or government bodies (such as Research Councils). The market for these journals is very limited and they do not make any profit, very often they are sold at the price lower than their production cost. From the point of view of business that does not make any sense at all. But all of them serve entirely different goals, like dissemination of the national research in the local language and supporting the development of national scientific and scholarly terminology in the local language. There was no tension between publishing of these journals and Open Access to them at all. In most cases, these journals moved online as open access free for the authors to publish and for the readers to access as soon as it was possible. These journals make a significant proportion of the DOAJ listings.
E-publishing of books, on the other hand, seems to be affecting the situation in a very different way. When big international publishers by now have seized the opportunity of e-book production and world-wide distribution, the publishers catering for small languages seem to be looking for the possibilities to delay the process as much as possible. The smaller the language, the greater the eagerness of publishers to apply the brakes. Popular local authors who have a say in the process are far from enthusiastically embracing the idea of being published in digital formats.
Our project will be looking into the conditions of the publishing in small language environments and try to provide a rich picture of the situation. Some factors defining the situation are quite obviously related to the economics of publishing in small language markets. One factor is the size of the market, which can be easily disrupted by pirating digital versions; another is small profit margins, which do not allow the cost of e-books to be lowered; a third is the remuneration rules for authors, and, finally, the so-far limited number of readers of e-books in such countries.
This is an interesting point to start investigation into the conditions of publishing as e-books are on the rise. E-publishing in English speaking countries has become an object for researchers and scholars. From the responses that we got after announcing our project, we can conclude that similar research is on its way in European countries as well, where many publishers operate in small language environments. This is also a feature of a small language – relative isolation from similar developments. So, using this blog and other tools we hope to attract other researchers interested in the problem.