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More wired than a Roman Internet café

A colleague of mine in the Neo-Latin world, was recently publicly expressing his skepticism of the Tar Heel reader project. Why, he said, don't you publish through a regular publisher? I tried to explain the utility of digital books, their application to the modern classroom, interactive white boards, and, most importantly, the ease of their distribution.
Can printed Latin children's books be found in bookshops up in the Outback? or small Pacific Islands, or in China?

The map below shows where the Tar Heel Books I have put online in the past 2 months, have been read. This kind of distribution for printed books would be difficult. Many readers will not have the financial resources to purchase so many specialized books, which would necessarily be expensive productions, having limited print runs.

If needed, a parent can always print up a Tar Heel Book at home, and bind it in some way. Some parents have told me they are already doing this, others are using the texts online. Many people using the books are not children at all, but adult learners, looking for simple reading material in the early stages of their Latin education.

I cannot get a map for all the Latin books, so this map is not representative of the readership of all 270+ titles currently available, but I think it gives a good idea.

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Comment by Laura Gibbs on July 27, 2009 at 8:32am
A regular publisher...? Eegad - I cannot imagine anything much worse. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1) $$$$$. Regular publishing is about money: who was extra money to spend on materials? And remember, it is not even the author making the money: it is the publisher and all the staff who work at the publisher, the printer, the book distributor, and on and on. Before the Internet of course regular publishing used to be a vital way to get information out into the world, but it is going to become dramatically less important in the future - UNLESS, that is, the publishers learn how to work proactively and creatively with the digital world, something which traditional publishers have not managed very well so far.

2) Regular publishing takes forever. FOREVER. If you want Tar Heel Readers as a series with a regular publisher, then be prepared to WAIT - two years, at least, while all the wheels of the publishing bureaucracy grind and grind and grind.

3) Where will the high-quality images come from? The web abounds with great jpeg and gif images which look great on a computer screen or on an iPodTouch screen - but they would look dreadful when printed on paper. One of the big expenses that publishers do face is the need for high-quality graphic images; they cannot just go get them from Flickr as we can.

4) Print inflexibility. We can create as many versions of every Tar Heel Reader that we need - such as bilingual versions in any pair of languages (somebody can take my bilingual Latin-English readers and in just a minute or two change them into bilingual Latin-German or Latin-Chinese), or slightly more difficult or slightly easier versions - whatever teachers and students think would best suit their needs.

5) Authors at all levels. With Tar Heel Reader, there is room for everybody as an author - that means beginning students, for example, or teachers who are only interested in publishing just a few readers, along with high-volume authors like Evan and me. There's room for everybody at Tar Heel - while traditional publishing really depends instead on the "master author" of a book. With Tar Heel we can have lots of authors, all contributing as they see fit.

I'll stop there with five reasons... but I could list many more, of course! Rather than having Tar Heel readers be published in a traditional way, I wish instead that Tar Heel readers could SUPPLEMENT existing publications. It would be great if the publishers would release their rights to the contents (text, images) of existing textbooks so that we could build Tar Heel readers repurposing that content, giving students a new mode to learn in and practice with. I'm optimistic that Latin for the New Millennium will do this, and that might break the log jam so that other textbook publishers would then be willing to do the same. It's a winning situation for everybody - extending the power and reach of the textbook without any extra work for the publisher. :-)

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