Will the Net Save Books?

BookshelfArtSo, the Net is supposed to be fatal for books, right? Why plow through a couple hundred dead-tree remnants when you can just watch a 1:15 video? And, if you want to wade through a lot of prose, can’t you do that online through Nook, Kindle, etc., even if such outfits kill profit margins for publishers and savage bookstores?

Well, such questions seem reasonable nowadays. But, as a first-time author I’m discovering how the Net also opens the world – literally, the world – to writers and publishers to develop audiences for their work. No longer is book marketing a matter of running around the country and lecturing or just reaching out to reviewers. It’s a far, far better thing than that.

UnknownOccasionally, I Google my book title – “Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa.” It’s amazing what comes up. The book doesn’t come out until May, but already Amazon and online retailers all over the globe list it.

Folks in New Zealand, for instance, can pre-order on fishpond. And fans of Albany Books Ltd., “your neighbourhood bookstore” in Delta, British Columbia, Canada, can find a listing on the outlet’s site. So, too, can Canadians in London, Ontario, by checking out the Creation Bookstore site. Amazon sites in the U.S., U.K. and India are carrying it, as well.

Others round the globe are on the bandwagon. Angus & Robertson, a “Proudly Australian” site, intrigues me, as do Landmark Ltd. an Indian site, and Loot Online in Tokai, South Africa. Then there’s Waterstones in the U.K.

And some sites are segmented by market, with intriguingly different prices. eCampus will let folks buy or rent the book ($15.30 to buy, $14.40 to rent, so you make the call on the difference). Another college-oriented site, knetbooks, rents it for $14.26 if you return it by June 20 (slightly higher if you keep it til the end of July). FreshmanExperience retails it for $15.30. Amazon carries it for $13.71, marked down from the $18 jacket price. (One suspects all these prices will bounce around over time.)

AnaLouise Keating
AnaLouise Keating
But it’s not just retailers who have discovered the book. AnaLouise Keating, a professor at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas, tweeted about it in early March, linking to a review she posted on goodreads, where she gave it five of five stars. Her review: “”Iowa” and “New Age”…the terms can seem like quite a juxtaposition, and Weber provides an interesting, useful discussion. Definitely worth reading.” (Thank you, Dr. Keating!)

Back in January, the book made a splash at Before It’s News, a blog by “a community of individuals who report on what’s going on around them, from all around the world.” The folks there listed it as one of 35 noteworthy new books. Hey, I’m not complaining.

UIPAnd bloggers with special interests in the area are plugging it. Evolutionary_Mystic Post runs a long description of the book and (now I’m blushing) of me. Looks like the material came from the University of Iowa folks, to whom I am much indebted, as well as from my bio material on our university site.

The folks in Iowa, no doubt, get the credit for loosing this stuff on the world. I must especially thank editors Catherine Cocks and William Friedricks, Managing Editor Charlotte Wright and Marketing Manager Allison Means. But I’ve been doing my part, too, as they counseled. I’ve developed my own website for the book, at transcendentalmeditationinamerica.com, as well as a Facebook site. The FB site is a handy spot to post newsy things that pop up around the topic, such as a recent riot among Indian meditators whom the TM Movement brings to Iowa to meditate for world peace. (Interesting irony there).

So, there will be lectures and book-signings and the traditional stuff. But, thanks to the Net, there’s so much more. Will the Net kill books? Not on this evidence.

Academic journals: not The New York Times, but sometimes better

UtS_covSI.inddFor journalism profs who hail from the mainstream media – or the public prints, as they were once known – academic journals seem foreign, a bit intimidating and, maybe, a touch esoteric. If one has written for, say, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Time magazine, small, densely written and heavily footnoted quarterly, biannual or annual pubs with modest audiences seem a world apart.

But I am learning that such journals, like good poetry magazines, can be more fascinating and engaging than pubs that cater to the mass market. Rather like Indie music compared with the mainstream stuff, the world of the academic specialist can be a rich and intriguing place. It’s a welcome alternative to the fluff, panic and tawdry gabble that dominates Big Media.

Consider Utopian Studies, a biannual edited by Nicole Pohl of Oxford Brookes University and produced by folks at the Penn State University Press. Its latest issue includes a piece by Alireza Omid Bakhsh, an assistant professor at the University of Tehran, called “The Virtuous City: The Iranian and Islamic Heritage of Utopianism.” Bakhsh discusses the Shiite Utopian vision of Abu Nasr, who lived approximately from 870-950 and wrote about cosmology, man’s physical and spiritual nature and the structure of society. Who knew? And, if not for Utopian Studies, who outside of Iran would?

But the journal is also modern. Another piece, “The Business of Utopia: Estidama and the Road to the Sustainable City,” by London-based King’s College geography researcher Federico Cugurullo, argues that eco-cities can be bad socially and ecologically. Cugurullo probes current development strategies in Abu Dhabi to make his case.

Still another contribution looks to the past to shed light on the present. “’New Year’s Dream’: A Chinese Anarcho-cosmopolitan Utopia” examines a 1904 story by intellectual Cai Yuanpei that designs a better world. The piece, by UCLA Ph.D. candidate Guangyi Li, analyzes the theme of national and world revolution in the tale to broaden our understanding of utopianism and anarchism. Hear echoes of Mao and the less starry-eyed visions of modern Chinese leaders?

hjmr20.v012.i01.coverUniversity presses and houses such as Routledge produce a bevy of such journals. Academic groups such as the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication produce still others, ranging in their focus from advertising education and electronic news to international communication and magazines and new media research. Such journals can look at their topics with a wide lens or a narrow one, and both can be intriguing.

Consider the Journal of Media and Religion, co-edited by Daniel A. Stout of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and published four times a year by Routledge. A piece in its latest issue is titled “Mapping the Landscape of Digital Petitionary Prayer as Spiritual/Social Support in Mobile, Facebook, and E-mail.” Authors E. James Baesler and Yi-Fan Chen, both of Old Dominion University, examine how people pray, surprisingly, in the three media. Another piece, “Seeing the Light: Mormon Conversion and Deconversion Narratives in Off- and Online Worlds,” probes the online discussions of “questioning and former Mormons,” comparing them with testimonies of the faithful. Author Rosemary Avance is a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania who also hangs her hat at the University of Utah as a Mormon studies fellow.

Fascinating stuff.

specializationUnless one is focused on certain specializations, of course, one is unlikely to ever hear of such journals. I learned of the two I’ve mentioned, along with many others, from Signe Boudreau, a delightful reference librarian and associate professor at the University of Nebraska. Signe is helping me plumb the journal world to see where my academic interests might find outlets.

Thanks to Signe, I now have pieces under consideration in both these journals. They spring from my research on a Utopian community of meditators in Fairfield, Iowa. My book on the group, titled “Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa,” is slated for publication next year by the University of Iowa Press.

The work published in such journals sometimes goes mainstream, of course. Making economics journal articles accessible to a mass audience, in fact, was a favorite assignment for me in grad school, thanks to my journalist-turned-economist professor, Ron Krieger. That exercise helped me in writing both at newspapers and magazines. More typically, of course, journal authors wind up quoted as experts on some topic timely enough to make headlines. Savvy journalists, it’s clear, do well to pay attention to this corner of publishing – and they are likely to find it pretty darn intriguing.