The Collected Works of M. A. K. Halliday

When I joined Continuum (which is now part of the Bloomsbury Academic Group) back in 2007, the publishing of Professor Michael Halliday’s “Collected Works” was in full motion. It had a staggered release.  The first volume, “On Grammar”, was published in hardback in September 2002.  The last volume, “Language in Society”, published in HB in May 2007.  Somewhere, there is some Platonic ‘ideal’ of a major reference work that publishes on time, first time, all in hardback, as a set, and then makes its way in the world.  It would sell hundreds of copies as a 10 volume set ISBN.  It would generally be trouble-free.  But we make do with real world scenarios: the volumes came out as they were ready, being as they were a labour of love and attention, and arrived to great acclaim and breathless endorsements from esteemed linguists.This ten volume collection of Halliday’s collected output had many originators.  With most projects in an academic publishing house, the emphasis is firmly on allocating it to a commissioning editor, and my predecessor in the job, Jenny Lovel (now at Macmillan), certainly had her part to play, along with a line of people who had looked after the Continuum linguistics list from its inception.  I myself have helped along the paperback releases of Volumes 6-10, and oversaw their transition to an age of print on demand, which required new covers and a switch to Printer Paper Case from Blocked Cloth.  But these are mere details.  Printing overstock on the metallic ink jackets is a curio that might be best left in 2008. (There were, for the longest time, a large pile of spare CDs for one of the volumes, too, until the magic of the internet allowed us to post it all online).What I want to do is shift the focus back onto the editor – Professor Jonathan Webster, and also, of course, the great man himself, Professor Halliday.  The gestation of the work is, naturally, the product of a lifetime’s thought and productivity: and to hope that 10 static volumes could capture that maelstrom of academic thinking and intellectually limber theorizing is optimistic at best.  But the curation of these works – the sourcing, the digitization, the permissions clearance – was handled by a dedicated team, led by the indefatigable Jonathan.  I have had the pleasure of looking through the files for these works and they are laden with carefully typed faxes to and from Michael Halliday, talking about the proofs, sent from Australia to a busy London publishing office where his words were being turned into a gorgeous set of 10 books, each bound in a metallic ink dust jacket.Later on, came companion volumes – the “Essential Halliday”, for instance, takes all 10 volumes and condenses it along the lines of key words, forming a fine, hard volume of a high density.  We published a “Continuum Companion to Systemic Functional Linguistics” which Professor Halliday was also involved in.
Looking back at the set, I wonder what we could do with it.  And people want from it, now.  Does it need to be available in app form? Or on the Android Market? Should it be downloadable as an ePub?  Do people want it made open-access and would free HTML text mean we could break even with voluntary purchases of Print on Demand paper copies?  Do academics still want to hold a book, press it to their hands and face and smell that unmistakable smell?  Does it matter if the paper is acid-free, cream, or white, and does it matter so much if the text is laser ink on bleached white or litho on cream gilt-edged?  You tell me: my email address is easily searchable.  The more that we move away from the traditional models of publishing, the more that the latter object becomes absolutely a thing of the past.  To make research available free, at the point of demand, means no more lithographic print runs that look absolutely stunning under library light and that gain gravitas as they yellow with age.  It means a PPC dominated world of print-on-demand paper that ages in a different way: satisfying in its own way, as a stack of reading matter that’s been photocopied attains its own kind of aura ten years on.  But different.  Fundamentally different.And so back, to the “Collected Works”: they exist as one of the pinnacles of our backlist, and I’m open to suggestions as to what to do with them.  Certainly, they’ve provided much enjoyment to many nimble-minded academics across the world. They look great, and they have sold copies, and the new incarnations look just as good.  As an academic editor, I can’t ask for much more than that.

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