The Relationship with Speed
In Milan Kundera’s first novel in French, Slowness, he writes: “In existential mathematics, experience takes the form of two basic equations:
- The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory;
- The degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.”
What the author decries is the malignity of modern haste; the popular belief that more speed is axiomatically good. In the social sciences, Hartmut Rosa’s 2013 proposal that a theory of social acceleration is essential to understanding our contemporary world caught the attention of pundits from across the spectrum. Does this hold true, though, in academic publishing, where deep and considered thought is a hallmark? Have book publishers in the humanities and social sciences, where sentiment is valued, fallen victim to the dictates of physics, where speed is just the covering of distance over time without reference to the quality and intensity of the journey?
Speed dims the emotion, the experience, the intensity. Have you ever come across a physics exam question that read:
It was a foggy morning when the ageing locomotive chugged out of the station. Somewhat late, at 8.35, it haltingly crawled in a north-westerly direction, choking on its coal until it reached 80 kilometres per hour at 8.56. Now calculate …
Speed and the Written Word in a Digital Era
The new digital communication technologies that have grown from our cultural disturbances are actively reshaping neural pathways in the brain. Snippets of text flying across digital devices is not just a change in taste or habit in information retrieval and processing.
The human reading experience is being rewired, leading to what Adam Garfinkle calls an erosion of deep literacy. We have become too impatient to allow a narrative to unfold across pages and chapters. In the world of the written word, speed is changing author and audience alike; in their neuro-physiological make-up and in the resultant communications relationship.
But, that train (too) has left the station, prompting publishing companies in academic and educational publishing to respond in a manner that aims to both:
- retain the quality and depth of considered writing and its readers; while
- responding to the increased need for speed
When Speed Matters in Academic Publishing
Gone are the days when academics and the curious-minded could loiter beneath apple trees, waiting to discover gravity. There are several compelling reasons why speed does matter in publishing:
- The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how the rapid sharing of critical new research can benefit all of society
- The publishing and knowledge industries are subjected to the same rules of any competitive market, and being first to market with a new idea has value in many instances
- From the young academic’s point of view, there is much to be gained in terms of career, reputation and income by getting into print without unnecessary delays.
Case Study: Barbara Budrich
One of the success stories in blending speed with continued quality is the academic publishing house Barbara Budrich. Named after the founder, a second-generation German academic publisher with deep roots in the humanities and social sciences, they have grown to become a respected name much further afield, with representatives and international partners across the Continent, the UK and the Americas.
When prompted to explain why speed matters in publishing, Barbara makes the point that at their publishing house, speed is not a merit in itself. It is the result of cooperating closely, and somewhat efficiently, with authors.
“The most predominant characteristic that allows for this speedy workflow is probably our minimal need for bureaucracy. A ‘need for speed’ is given at times when authors are facing a deadline.
And, of course, speed can only lead to high-quality results when both sides have the time to actually face any problems that may arise and can control the promptness of addressing them.
When many people are involved in any given project, speed may become a source of great dissatisfaction – in those cases, communicating meticulously is far more important than any quick result.”
“We appreciate Budrich’s professionalism in terms of compliance with deadlines, rapid follow-ups etc. We like their openness to dialogues about crucial matters like, e.g., the title of a book, and the general kindness we have met from all employees. We warmly recommend Budrich to future authors.”
Marianne Kristiansen and Jørgen Bloch-Poulsen, authors of Action Research in Organizations. Participation in Change Processes
Davids vs Goliaths
What becomes evident in researching the Barbara Budrich model of publishing is that:
- There are not too many variations in the process or workflow required to successfully complete a publishing project.
- The factor that most affects the pace and quality of execution is the size of the firm and the corresponding need for larger publishing houses to create some level of bureaucracy.
- Once any additional layer of bureaucracy enters a system, whether in publishing or elsewhere, the propensity is to slow things down, which creates the potential for miscommunication and, therefore, some frustration.
- Where editors take on the role of project managers, they can coordinate the entire workflow, right down to looking after production. This speeds things up and helps to avoid gaps and mistakes that lurk when handing things over from one department to another.
- This approach at Barbara Budrich ensures that uniform quality management is implemented in many different steps along the way, hand in hand with inter-departmental communication, i.e., between editors and marketing or editors and sales.
As Barbara proudly states: “As small and nimble players, our decision process at Barbara Budrich is fast. We have turn-around times standardised at three weeks maximum for a firm offer (of course, we still need a solid base, so the book proposal and materials need to be robust).
Our journal workflows are highly standardised, and yet, the individual editor in charge is always happy to communicate and make room for individual wishes if feasible.” This is achieved without any compromise on quality.
In Slowness, Kundera describes how a man who lost his car keys might slow down to try and remember where he may have dropped them. At Barbara Budrich, one gets the impression that keys never go lost!
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