Syllabus Spring 2018

Syllabus for Spring 2018
Generally Mondays: some weeks 9:30-12:30, others 1:30-4:30
Juan Pablo Alperin,


PUB802 asks the fundamental question: what happens to publishing in an era where the vast majority of publishing and reading happens on the Internet? More broadly, this course is intended to encourage a critical examination of the ways in which technologies are shaping every aspect of our personal lives, and the very structure of our society. For how can we understand the intersection of technologies and publishing without first exploring the role of technology, and technology companies, in shaping our values, our psychology, and our daily habits?

After a discussion of the way Web has changed us, and the way it has evolved itself, the course will explore some aspects of how technology has affected making , discovering, and consuming text. However, the exact topics and learning outcomes will be decided collectively by you, not by the instructor (more on this below). The discussion will likely include various aspects of producing with digital tools, making works available in the marketplace (both digital and physical), and the digital reading experience. By the end of it, we will hopefully have a sense of how digital technologies are redefining the value and even the very meaning of publishing.

PUB802 is a seminar, but it is not your typical seminar. While there is a syllabus below, it is only a starting point. We will work on filling it out together during the first class, and you will continue to shape it every week as the course progresses. In pairs, you will each take responsibility for a week and a topic, and we will all learn together about the things that matter or concern you most regarding tech. Expect and be prepared to be challenged, but also to challenge others—without discussion, there is no seminar. PUB802 is also a graduate course. This means the discussions are based around ideas, not around specific technologies or moments in time. We will, however, endeavour to ground these ideas with concrete examples and case studies.


We will meet every Monday for 3 hours, but the time will change from week to week. Some weeks we will meet in the morning block, and other weeks in the afternoon. Below is a summary of the times, which will be input into the MPub Google Calendar.

Jan 8 – afternoon
Jan 15-22-29 – morning
Feb 19-26 – morning
Mar 5 – afternoon
Mar 12-26 – morning
Apr 3- morning (Tuesday)


can be found here


The following is a rough outline of the course’s coverage. In reality, we will be much more flexible around dates and topics to allow our discussions to go on as long as we feel is necessary and to cover topics as they come up.

Pre-course read: Davidson, Cathy. 2017. An “Active Learning” Kit: Rationale, Methods, Models, Research, Bibliography.HASTAC.

Week 1, January 8: Introduction to the course

  • create the syllabus, decide on who will lead each topic, decide on assignments/grading
  • wordpress demo
  • demo and set up
  • bring laptops to class, if you have them

Week 2, January 15: The Web changes things


prompt for next week:

Gopnik describes three classes of people: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers. Which are you? Where are we as a society? Or is there a different category you and we belong in?

Week 3, January 22: The Web changes itself

[[ Adena Brons, SFU Library, Guest speaker (30 mins) ]]

Prompt for next week:

Envision a future in which one of the “big four” declines. When will it happen by? What underlying conditions need to change? What consumers choices need to be different? You do not need to answer all these questions, simply address the general theme.

Week 4, January 29: Copyright

Crash Course Video Playlist
Neil Gaiman on Copyright Video


prompt for next week:

As a future publisher what is your stance on copyright law? If you could, how would you reform current copyright law and how (and to whom) will this be beneficial?

February 5: (Emerging Leaders)

  • no class

February 12: (Reading week)

  • no class

Week 5, February 19: Internet Business Models (Part One)

Prompt for next week:

Brick and mortar stores evolved with the advent of the internet, and now internet business models are moving into brick and mortar stores (like Amazon). Is this an evolution or a devolution? How do you see things developing in the future?


Week 6, February 26: Internet Business Models Pt II: Business Models in Action

Prompt for 2/26: 

Internet business models for publishing are trending toward favoring the consumer more and more by lowering barriers to access to both publishing platforms and content. Are these business models inherently detrimental to the publishing business? Why, or why not? What should the publisher’s response to this phenomenon be?


Week 7, March 5: AI & Machine Learning in Publishing (Annie and Emma)

Please Note: Many of the articles this week are more explanatory and practical than they are theoretical or argumentative. This is because Artificial Intelligence and its many subsets are big topics, and we wanted to make sure that everyone understands them before we can talk about their philosophies. That being said, we would like to invite you to annotate these articles keeping in mind their practical applications for us, as publishers and as human beings. We hope you enjoy this week’s readings, and we look forward to reading your responses!


Blog Prompt: Imagine and explain one way in which AI (Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, or another application of AI) will be integrated into publishing. You can go as near or far into the future as you like. You can also explore the ethical/implications of this technology becoming a publishing norm.


Week 8, March 12: Distribution & Discovery

[[ Guest: Jamie Broadhurst, Raincoast books (to be confirmed) ]]


Blog Prompt: What kind(s) of data would you want to collect about readers’ impressions of the books you publish in future? Where would you go to capture that data? Your answer can focus on both of these questions, or go into depth about one in particular. Try not to constrain yourself to what may or may not be possible or how exactly the technology would work.


Week 9, March 19: Measuring & Tracking


mini lesson:

  • what are cookies? what are trackers?

for fun:

Blog Prompt:
Choose among those topics:
a)Taking the example of Jellybooks, be creative and imagine a way to use tracking to enhance publishing practice. You can focus on manuscript selection, consumption behavior, reading preferences or any others you can think of. Feel free to posit yourself as Jellybooks’ prime competitor – a new way to track in the industry, in an ethical, non disruptive way.

b) Invasive tracking is everywhere in the digital world. And now, its expanding to reach outside it. We just learned the case of Cambridge Analytics, where the information provided by people who “don’t mind” being observed, was stolen and put to manipulative and unethical uses in a mercenary way. Discuss this topic and how we should (if we should) change our behavior about digital tracking, particularly becoming members of an industry that seeks to collect more data about readers.


Week 10, March 26: Digital reading


Blog Prompt (please choose one):
1. Other than ebooks, how could / would you include or introduce digital content into a business plan for a new or growing publisher?
2. Studies show that reading online can cause skimming and a decrease in understanding and retention of content. Do publishers care? Should they? Whose responsibility is it if it’s not publishers?


April 2: Easter

  • no class (but class day after, April 3rd, morning)

Week 11, April 3: Interacting and Socializing with Text

Blog Prompt:
Keeping in mind the readings on marginalia and annotations, and thinking more generally about the life of text online, should audiences be allowed to interact with and shape the text? Does a writer have the right to define who can comment? Should audiences be limited in their online socialization over a text?

#S18W11 and #S18W11blog

Tech Lessons

some possible topics that we could spend some time going over in class

  • character encodings
  • Pandoc
  • RegEx
  • Twitter network analysis

The B-list

readings that haven’t made it into the topic list above, but have been in previous syllabi


Production concepts

Production processes

Possibilities and new models



This course uses contract grading and peer evaluation.


All seminar materials and will be publicly accessible. Similarly, all student writing must be made available online (although you may choose to keep select content behind a password). Work will be openly peer-reviewed online as well, and all readings will be openly annotated. Feedback on written work will also be provided through open annotations and comments. In short, this class does as much as possible in the open, and wherever possible, it licenses any content produced with open licenses.

University Policy

The program expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, the School will follow Policy T10.02 with respect to “Intellectual Honesty,” and “Academic Discipline” (see the current Calendar, General Regulations Section).