Endorsed by Ben Kaden, Humboldt‐Universität zu Berlin


A six-meter-long beef tapeworm, an installation of living plants, a collection of stones, photographs of bark projected on a huge canvas – these objects were united in the exhibition “On The Edge”, presented in the Tieranatomisches Theater at Berlin Humboldt University in 2015. This unusual compilation goes back to the idea of creating a dialogue between seven artists and the university's 45 scientific collections of diverse disciplines from archeology to zoology.

In order to document the exhibition and to make it accessible beyond the duration of its presentation, an exhibition catalogue is intended to be published. As there are many different target groups with diverse user behavior and needs – students, researchers, artists, interested laypersons – various formats come to mind: while the curator and the exhibiting artists are likely to opt for a print edition, or a coffee-table-book displaying their work, researchers could especially be interested in precise representations of the university's collections' objects; an interested non-professional might want to browse through the catalogue on her smartphone while on the subway. To meet these diverse needs, the university decided to publish the exhibition catalogue following a hybrid concept: both publishing a print edition and making use of the possibilities of electronic publishing, focusing on the publication's design, referencing and dissemination at the same time.

So how can hybrid publishing be implemented, and what benefits does it entail? This paper outlines the concept of hybrid publishing, discusses different approaches and analyzes its significance from the perspective of media theory. As distinct types of publications, each have specific potentials and challenges for the implementation of the hybrid concept. Examples of research publications, art catalogues and journal articles are discussed with regard to their particular requirements and possibilities.

1. Definition

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “hybrid” (lat.) signifies “[...] having a mixed character; composed of two diverse elements [...]” (2016). Thus, a hybrid publication is composed of various components; it mixes different output formats.

The Lexikon für Bibliotheks- und Informationswissenschaft describes hybrid publishing as the parallel publication of a print version and an electronic version in order to offer additional value to its recipient (“Lexikon der Bibliotheks- und Informationswissenschaft”, 2009) [1]. The advantages that hybrid publications entail are specified by the Brockhaus-Enzyklopädie: releasing an electronic version of a print publication offers the possibility to adjoin additional content like multimedia elements or digitized sources and enhanced functionalities like full-text searchability and continuous updatability (“Brockhaus-Enzyklopädie”, 2008). [2]

The Hybrid Publishing Toolkit, edited by the Institute of Network Cultures of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, offers a definition that far exceeds the idea of publishing both a print and an electronic version. Here, three steps of hybrid publishing are identified: “One-to-one”, which merely aims at creating an accurate digital representation of the printed book; “one-to-many”, which offers a variety of output formats, depending on the context and the reading device; and “one-to-database”, where users can choose various, independent components to individually compile a publication (“From print to ebooks”, 2015).

In the context of hybrid publishing, there's another aspect that plays a decisive role and that hasn't been mentioned in the definitions cited above: the open access availability of the electronic version. Petra Hauke defines hybrid publishing as works that are distributed both as a print edition and as an electronic version that is freely available on the Internet (Hauke, 2010).

To sum up, hybrid publishing can be described as releasing a publication in two or more output formats at the same time – whether in print and electronic form, or in several different digital formats. For the recipients the value of the publication thus increases.

2. Concepts and workflows

So – without resorting to exact definitions – what common concept underlies hybrid publishing? Hybrid publishing is both situated in the universe of the printed book and the universe of ebooks – it establishes the co-existence of both media formats and “ends […] the dichotomy printed book / ebook” (Silva & Borges, 2011, p.191). The product “book” is diversified by digital processes without implying that old is replaced by new. This is illustrated by the Adoni and Nossek model that represents the interaction of media formats and demonstrates three possible scenarios: While “functional equivalence” entails the replacement of one media format by another, “functional differentiation” leads to co-existence or interchangeability of both; “functional multiplicity” describes the emergence of a new media format through the synthesis of two media. Thus, depending on the degree of differentiation of their editorial products (ebook, printed book, multimedia book) and on their delimitation of each other, hybrid publications range between co-existence and exchangeability (Silva & Borges, 2011).

The stability, persistence and invariability of the printed book is dissolved by its hybrid publication “to mutate into dynamic, modular, and participative forms” (“From print to ebooks”, 2015, p.8). In other words, the same content is displayed to the user in different ways, depending on format and device. Moreover, publishing digitally makes it possible to split up the publication into individual components in order to allow the user to select specific contents (from one or several sources) and their compilation into individual ebooks (“From print to ebooks”, 2015).

To realize this dynamic – modularity and differentiation of hybrid publications – the work processes of the manufacturer have to be reconsidered and transformed into a hybrid workflow. Ana Catarina Silva and Maria Manuel Borges criticize that the quality of hybrid publications is often deficient as the same digital files are used for the production of versions in diverse media formats (for example, print and electronic) without taking into account their particularities. They claim a redesign of the production process: in a “true digital workflow” (Silva & Borges, Book design program, 2011, p.192) each version has its origin in the same file; however, the digital content has no fixed form but assumes the appropriate form for each of the different channels of distribution. The media format and its usage determine how the digital information is processed in the manufacturing chain, “to enable the best experience of the book, both as printed and ebook” (Silva & Borges, Book design program, 2011, p.196). Hence, publication is no longer perceived as a fixed and immutable structure, but as an “information architecture” (Silva & Borges, Book design program, 2011, p.196).

Generating various output formats (e.g. print, EPUB, PDF and HTML) from one single source document entails major additional effort if standard formats of traditional publication workflows – such as Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign – are used. Therefore, the hybrid workflow is based on the consistent, semantic markup of the content so that it can be displayed in a variety of different representations. For that reason, the Hybrid Publishing Toolkit recommends using the markup language SGML (Standard General Markup Language) because it is platform-independent, cost-saving and easy to learn. As the visual design of every single output format can be defined with the aid of style sheets, a multitude of products can be generated from one single source document (“From print to ebooks”, 2015).

3. Aspects

Diverse types of publications such as journal articles, research publications and art catalogues differ in their design, production and perception. Therefore, specific aspects should be considered when publishing hybridly. In the following sections, both the possibilities and the challenges of hybrid publishing for these different types of publications will be discussed.

3.1 Hybrid research publications

Research publications are usually long texts with a standardized structure and complex referencing (e.g. footnotes, citations, indices); visualization can be expected to play a subordinate role. Hence, they (research publications) are especially suited for a modularized, database-based model of hybrid publishing: that way, parts of the publication can be extracted and published separately (e.g. abstracts, videos or bibliographies). At the same time, users get the opportunity to pick out exactly the modules for which they are looking. For example, the reader of an anthology could generate a personalized ebook containing all bibliographical references of the different texts (“From print to ebooks”, 2015).

Publishing an electronic version clearly adds value to a printed research publication: users gain the possibility of full-text searchability, researchers can integrate research data and publishers profit from enhanced accessibility, especially on an international level. At the same time, electronic publishing entails “a paradigm shift away from the page-centered culture of book printing” (“From print to ebooks”, 2015, S.17) and consequently leads to problems concerning citability. As the representation of texts can vary in different output formats, fixed pagination becomes frail and, thus far, there's no standard for referring to a certain position in an ebook. This problem is even more severe when it comes to tables, images, audios, videos and hyperlinks. As a consequence, most scientific ebooks are merely available in the print-oriented PDF format; while PDF documents ensure the maintenance of pagination, they don't dynamically adapt to different screen dimensions and they scarcely support multimedia (“From print to ebooks”, 2015).

Eric Steinhauer advocates the hybrid publication of monographs as a subcategory of research publications. Even though his concept of hybrid publishing claims the print and electronic version of the hybrid publication to be entirely identical, Steinhauer sees crucial benefits in this basic model of hybrid publishing – the “one-to-one” model. Users can choose the media format that is suitable for their reading purposes: for getting a quick overview, searching for specific information or for proof of a particular hypothesis (i.e. a cursory reception), readers can use the electronic version because it offers full-text searchability as well as location-independence and possibly free access online. The print version, on the other hand, lends itself to intensive reading (Steinhauer, 2007).

Authors enhance the visibility of their work if they choose to publish hybridly, especially when providing a free online version. If the print version is released by a publisher, it is additionally distributed via booktrade. In that case, the author also gains the reputation associated with the publisher. Finally, according to Steinhauer, the electronic version of a hybrid publication that is provided via open access can function as a “full-range-teaser”, or as publicity for the printed book. He assumes that readers encounter the publication via full-text search online but then will purchase the print version for intensive reading purposes (Steinhauer, 2007).

However, Steinhauer leaves unfounded why the electronic and print versions of hybrid publications have to be identical to ensure these advantages. Thus, his concept has to be expanded regarding the integration of additional content and multimedia elements, as well as further electronic output formats in order to fully tap the possibilities of the digital publication.

3.2 Hybrid open access in academic journals

With regard to academic journals, the concept of hybrid publishing is usually synonymous with hybrid open access: according to Bo-Christer Björk, hybrid journals are “traditional closed subscription journals that offer individual authors the opportunity to open their articles for free access from day one, against a payment” (2012, p.1496). In 2004, Springer was the first large scholarly publisher to offer its authors the option to make their individual journal articles available online without access barriers, but with an Article Processing Charge (APC) of $3,000 (USD). Other publishers followed this model and aligned their price level to Springer's (Björk, 2012).

In the concept of hybrid open access, publishers see an experiment in designing the gradual transition from subscription journals to full open access. They argue that the concept enables authors to profit from peer review services and prestige associated with subscription journals, while at the same time benefiting from an expanded range due to open accessibility. The prices for APCs comply with the average subscription income per article so that the publisher's revenues remain unchanged even if the journal was entirely published open access (Björk, 2012). Between 2009 – 2011, the number of journals for which publishers offered the option of hybrid open access more than doubled to a total of 4,400. Yet, less than 2% of the authors in question make use of this option – across all disciplines. This might be due to a lack of awareness of the advantages of open access and of the fact that this option is available to authors; Bo-Christer Björk, however, considers the main reason to be the high fees of about $3,000 (USD) that many authors cannot or do not want to muster. Moreover, while Gold Open Access Journals require the payment of APCs as a precondition for being published at all, the option of hybrid open access is seen as an “extra luxury” (Björk, 2012) because the article is published anyway – albeit with access barriers (Björk, 2012).

Nol Verhagen criticizes the concept of hybrid open access because it combines the negative effects that both the traditional subscription model and the APCs have on universities and consortia: publishers pursue a double pricing policy by collecting revenues via journal subscriptions and by demanding fees for open access availability at the same time. Thus, the expenses incurred, especially by research-intensive universities, to pay for APCs are increasing; but Verhagen doubts that publishers will lower their subscription fees if they continue to generate additional revenues via APCs. For that reason, he believes it is essential to establish a connection between the two systems – subscription and APC – on the level of universities and consortia (Verhagen, 2013).

For academic journals, Björk does not see a future-oriented concept in hybrid open access either: “the hybrid experiment […] has failed as a way of significantly adding of the volumes of OA articles […]. [H]ybrid OA will remain a very marginal phenomenon in the scholarly publishing landscape” (Björk, 2012, p.1503).

3.3 Hybrid exhibition catalogues

When publishing art and exhibition catalogues, visualization plays a vital role: the focus is on images, while texts refer to them (the images) and play a secondary role. This implies two challenges for the creation of the electronic version of an exhibition catalogue: as images and texts that refer to each other should be displayed abreast, catalogues require a fixed page layout; this, on the other hand, doesn't allow for dynamic, user-driven display possibilities on various devices. Moreover, publications that contain lots of images in high resolution entail long download times and occupy a lot of storage space on the user's device. At the same time, the electronic version of an exhibition catalogue offers myriad possibilities that aren't feasible in the print equivalent: the publication can be enriched by additional multimedia contents like interviews, documentaries and interactive elements; high-quality images can allow zooming. Furthermore, many tablet displays provide better color accuracy than printed pages (“From print to ebooks”, 2015).

As catalogues consist of various components that are modular by nature – for example, individual objects, paintings or installations – they are especially suited for the “one-to-database” model of hybrid publishing. By recognizing the catalogue's single modules as separate entities, it is both possible to publish diverse editions of the catalogue (e.g. small, medium, large) and to offer personalized publications that users create themselves by compiling the modules of their choice (“From print to ebooks”, 2015).

To achieve that, the catalogue's content has to be split up into its individual components (e.g. texts, images, videos); it has to be “unitized”. Each module has to be described with precise, standardized metadata in the workflow as early as possible; finally, this will allow the aggregation of specific elements to one ebook. Thus, the exhibition catalogue is split up into smaller sub-publications (e.g. monographic micro ebooks or individual artworks) that can be compiled flexibly and downloaded in an acceptable period of time. At the same time, this concept enables new business models: for example, individual components can be downloaded via a mobile application. Moreover, it is possible to imagine proposing various versions of the catalogue to different conditions so that an abridged EPUB version in low resolution is available free of charge, while the full EPUB version in high resolution is fee-based (“From print to ebooks”, 2015).


To sum up, the concept of hybrid publishing designates releasing a publication in two or more output formats at the same time – either in print and electronic form or in a variety of different digital formats. This adds value to the publication: the electronic version allows the integration of additional content, multimedia and interactive elements as well as full-text searchability. Moreover, the electronic publication can be split up into its individual components, which users can compile ad libitum. If a publication is available in several different digital formats (e.g. EPUB, PDF and HTML), its content can be displayed on various devices according to their specific requirements.

To implement this, the process of creating the publication has to be transformed into a hybrid workflow that is based on the consistent, semantic markup of the content. If this is achieved, various output formats and diverse visual representations can be generated from one single source document.

In the context of academic journals, the concept of hybrid publishing focuses on the open access availability of the electronic version. For scientific monographs and exhibition catalogues, the unitized, database-based model of hybrid publishing offers new possibilities: individual elements (texts, objects, paintings, references) can be composed individually and published seperately. This also allows for shorter download times and new business models. The design of the exhibition catalogue of “On The Edge” at Berlin Humboldt University lends itself to a hybrid, markdown-based workflow. That way both the print version and diverse digital formats can be generated from one single source document. Besides, by unitizing the individual components (texts, images, installations), the catalogue can be provided in various versions – for example, as an elaborate version including descriptive texts and an abridged version that merely contains the highlights of the exhibition. Furthermore, users could be offered the possibility to select single elements from the exhibition catalogue in order to compile an individual publication – for example, researchers could compose an ebook that solely assembles the objects on which they are working. To enable downloading the catalogue on mobile devices it would be beneficial to provide both low- and high-resolution versions.

The concept of hybrid publishing makes it possible to meet the different needs of diverse user groups, and therefore ensures that a publication can be both broadly perceived and read comfortably, regardless of the reading device.

End Notes

1. “Publikation eines Werks sowohl in traditionell gedruckter und gebundener Form als auch als digitales Medium (z.B. CD oder DVD). Die Kombination verschiedener Ausgabesysteme für Informationen (Buch, digitales Medium) ermöglicht dem Nutzer (Leser / Hörer) eine individuelle multimediale Auseinandersetzung mit ausgewählten Inhalten” (“Lexikon der Bibliotheks- und Informationswissenschaft”, 2009).
2. “Publikation von Werken, oft wiss. Editionen, Zeitschriften oder Lexika, zugleich im Druck und in elektron. Form (offline als CD-ROM und DVD, online im Internet). Häufig findet das Prinzip des Cross-Media-Publishing Anwendung. Die in der Papierversion und der elektron. Version dargebotenen Texte und Daten können identisch sein. Es besteht auch die Möglichkeit, die im gedruckten Teil der H. gelieferten Informationen durch erweiterte Präsentationsmöglichkeiten der elektronischen Publikationsform zu ergänzen, etwa durch Filme, digitalisierte Quellen oder umfangreiche Kommentare. Volltextsuchfunktionen und fortwährende Aktualisierungsmöglichkeiten der elektron. Versionen bieten zusätzl. Nutzervorteile” (“Brockhaus-Enzyklopädie”, 2008).


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