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September 1999, Week 2


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 13 Sep 1999 20:58:59 -0700
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Sorry about the long post...

Many thanks to Jeremy for updating us on the state of play with UMI.  Sorry
I didn't make clear at the start of my last post (no pun intended) that I
was more interested in the implications of e-publishing for academic
monographs as opposed to teaching texts.

For all the reasons Jeremy gives, I feel that e-publishing offers more
potential for disseminating research than for teaching purposes.  The
multimedia capabilities of this method are, in theory, immense, but there
are significant barriers preventing their widespread use at present.  I
would argue that copyright issues and data compatibility are the greatest.

The biggest problem with using e-texts for teaching is the fact that you
need computer hardware in order to get at them.  To borrow Jeremy's
example, you can't ask a seminar group to turn to p. 237 of their Bordwell
& Thompson CD unless all the students have a computer in front of them.
Even if they did, such a request would elicit several minutes of faffing
around trying to achieve the desired result, and if one or more of those
computers crashed, their users would be snookered.  This scenario reminds
me of a scene from the South Park film in which the army general is
briefing his troops using a computer-generated map.  The computer crashes,
at which point the general exclaims, 'f***ing Windows 98!'.  Though an
extreme example, I think it does illustrate the potential problems of using
electronic texts in a direct teaching situation.

That's not to say that multimedia is a complete write-off for teaching.  I
was recently asked to do a lecture on the way history is represented in
film to an adult education class, using the Titanic as an example.  I
wanted to show a lot of very brief clips, so I plugged my VCR into my PC,
and played various bits of video into an MPEG-2 encoding card, and saved
the resulting files to a recordable CD.  At the lecture itself, I used a
laptop with a perfectly ordinary CD drive to feed the lecture theatre's LCD
video projector.  No faffing about with rewinding from one clip to another,
swapping tapes or what have you.  Just click on the appropriate file name
and up it comes.  Recordable CDs cost less than a pound (about 70 US cents)
if bought in sufficient quantities.  My CD recorder cost UKú150 (about 220
US dollars), and I consider it one of the best investments I ever made.
Once installed, less than a pound will then buy 650mb of storage space,
which you can use for text, images, sound, video or whatever (a disc will
store 74 minutes of sound, 30 minutes of MPEG-2 video or about 100 high
resolution still images).  The discs are extremely durable and (to the best
of our knowledge, although at this stage aging estimates are based on
Arrhenius tests and so on) will last for decades, with none of the storage
hassles associated with magnetic media.

Another bonus with this was that I could use MPEG video editing software to
add my own subtitles to the clips of the 1943 Nazi film 'Titanic' -
otherwise I would have had to stand beside the screen shouting out an
impromptu translation.

No way could I have distributed that Titanic CD with a textbook - copyright
clearances would have put the cost of doing so at tens of thousands of
pounds/dollars.  But, under the British Educational Recording Agency
scheme, there is nothing illegal about copying published or off-air video
for teaching purposes, and in this case I think computer-based multimedia
was a real asset.

But this technology can never replace the versatility or ease-of-use of the
printed book.  And in the sort of quantities and for the sorts of
situations undergraduate teaching texts are designed for, I believe
conventional publishing will remain the dominant form, because it is
possible to produce and sell the books in the sorts of quantities that fit
the economies of scale.

However, for distributing academic monographs, it looks like there are
enormous possibilities.  At the moment, a small circulation hardback
monograph from a major publisher can easily cost 50 UK pounds (80 dollars).
 The cost of such books is now so high that it is common practice among
British university libraries to wait until the paperback comes out, buy one
of those and then have it rebound.

To take the figures Jeremy got from UMI - 20 dollars to download the text,
plus, say, 5 dollars for the paper and ink to print it out, another 10 to
have it bound, and one for a CD (if you wish to store it electronically in
the long-term).  If you make a hard copy the cost of a thesis comes to 36
dollars (20-25 pounds), 21 dollars if you are content to keep only an
electronic copy.  Instantly this has undercut a hardback book from a major
academic publisher by well over 50%.  If publishers were to start offering
academic books in electronic form at these sorts of prices, it would enable
university libraries to vastly increase their acquisition levels, and
publishers could also cut their overheads.  The customer only purchases the
data, and then arranges to physically manufacture the book from it if (s)he
wants to keep the data in that form.

More importantly, you don't have to be a Routledge or a BFI in order to
publish an e-monograph.  With access to a few hundred pounds' worth of
equipment and a little bit of training, anyone can.  But that raises the
issues of peer review, publicity and distribution raised in my previous
post, and if Jeremy's pessimistic assessment of this situation is correct,
I think they will prove to be a major stumbling block.


Leo Enticknap
Projection and Sound Engineer
City Screen Cinemas Ltd., London, UK
[log in to unmask]

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