February 10, 2004

Project Provides Access to Books Using Internet

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A new publishing method, recently implemented at Cornell, allows instantaneous, unrestricted access to published works online. The Internet-First Publishing Project bypasses the traditional mass printing of books and instead posts works on a publicly available library server.

The project’s principal leader, Prof. J. Robert Cooke, biological and environmental engineering, said that “[the method] is free to everyone in the world.”


“Readers may use [publications] online, download them and even print a personal copy without payment of royalty or access fees,” Cooke said.

According to Kenneth M. King, former Cornell vice provost for information technology and project leader, “This idea uses the Internet to make as much information as possible available to everyone in the world.”

Cooke agreed, emphasizing that the project’s most valuable asset was the quick accessibility offered through the Internet.

Traditional Preferences

For those readers who prefer traditional ink-and-paper versions of project publications, Cooke said that Cornell has maintained the option of ordering printed copies through a “professional quality print-on-demand and delivery service that requires a fee.”

“The basic notion was that if people wanted books in printed rather than electronic form, they could have that too,” King added.


As with most publishing processes, submitted works will be reviewed by an editorial board and subjected to scrutiny before publication. Nonetheless, project leaders note that the system may open doors for works that are usually not chosen for publication because they are not deemed profitable.

Ross Atkinson, associate university librarian for collections and project leader, said, “There are things that people would want access to, but it would be hard for a press to fund it because it may not cover their costs.”

“We want to make these [works] as openly accessible online as possible.”

Cooke agreed, adding, “The real benefit is that you can exchange ideas whether or not they have a market value.”

Project leaders also note that the system will attempt to strengthen its credibility by integrating a strong review process. “We are going to hire people to write reviews [that] will be posted with the works,” said Cooke. These reviews are intended to aid readers in deciding what works best meet their needs.

Other goals of Internet-First include reducing the financial risks associated with keeping large printed inventories and allowing the University to retain control over many of its own publications. Traditionally, the University buys books written by Cornellians that have been printed by other publishers. However, “if the material is freely available to the world, then the library does not have to buy it,” Cooke said. Also, the high financial risks associated with keeping large inventories, which require large storage costs, are greatly reduced if books are printed only on demand.

In certain cases, this may inflate the price of printed copies, according to project leaders. “If you print thousands of copies of a book, it is cheaper to do it all at once, but if you are only going to sell a few hundred copies then it costs three cents a page,” said Kenneth. The higher costs associated with printing a single copy will likely be transferred to the reader.

Internet-First allows authors to retain their copyright but requires writers to grant Cornell University Library (CUL) unrestricted rights to distribution. In this way, CUL is able to legally make publications freely available to everyone and simultaneously permit authors to retain ownership of their works. Though authors will receive no advanced royalties, they will profit from any print-on-demand copies that are sold. Additionally, “the immediate accessibility of the published work will benefit the author,” Cooke said.

Though anyone can submit works for publication through Internet-First, the system may attract some kinds of writers more than others. “This will not initially be for everybody. I think that this new rapid approach will be good for people whose careers don’t depend on it; good for tenured people,” said Atkinson.

Cooke agreed, but also mentioned that the system may in the future facilitate tenure, especially for new professors in the humanities. “Right now at least three [Cornell] departments require that you publish a book to get tenure,” Cooke said.

Cooke speculated that once the system becomes more credible, Internet-First may become the most efficient and cost-effective for new professors to publish a book. “[Some] graduate schools have agreed to put theses online,” Cooke said.

Though Internet-First has already published several works, its effectiveness will truly be tested over the next few months. “The grant lasts through October,” Cooke said.

Project leaders said that they hope this publishing method will be adopted by universities and colleges nationwide.

Archived article by David Andrade