Art, Opera, and the Bard

By Blake, Paul | Information Today, June 1999 | Go to article overview
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Art, Opera, and the Bard

Blake, Paul, Information Today

Paul Blake is editor of Information World Review, Learned Information Europe. Ltd.'s information industry newspapers His e-mail address is

Arts and literature publishing is making inroads on the Web

The world of arts and literature publishing has traditionally lagged behind business and science in moving to the Web; however, the launch of three significant new resources is set to reverse the trend. They are Web versions of two of Macmillan, Ltd.'s arts "bibles," The Grove Dictionary of Art and The Grove Dictionary of Opera; and Arden-online, which provides what is claimed to be the definitive Web site on the works of Shakespeare.

Macmillan Dictionaries

The launch of Macmillan's The Grove Dictionary of Art on the Web and its opera counterpart ( allows these two key reference works for the first time to incorporate color images and sound clips as well as search engines and search references linked to the text. This also represents the first steps in what Macmillan says will be a comprehensive and ambitious reference-publishing program on the Web.

In the case of The Grove Dictionary of Opera, the new Web service provides the full text of the four-volume set. It includes 11,000 articles and 2,000 live cross-references, as well as music examples, diagrams, and line drawings displayed in the text. Biographical searches can be carried out by nationality, occupation, and date. Also included are a subject classification for identifying groups of related articles, a glossary of opera terms, external links to illustrations, specialist sites, and record kiosks, as well as updates on new works and current events.

The Grove Dictionary of Art is claimed to be the world's first comprehensive art reference work covering all forms of the visual arts: painting, sculpture, architecture, graphic and decorative arts, and photography, from prehistory to the 1990s. Global coverage provides detailed analysis of the arts of Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Pacific, and Europe. In addition, influences on the production of art such as trade, geography, history, and politics are addressed, with the aim of helping to place art in context and further the understanding of the history of artistic endeavor.

According to Richard Charkin, chief executive of Macmillan, Ltd., the launch of both resources on the Web is a classic example of how a reference publisher can add value in the Internet Age. "Before the Web, we would spend years amassing a huge amount of data, editing it, checking it, then publishing it in a high-priced book. The problem with that is that, once published, the book doesn't change, and however much you produce supplements it is not quite the same--it becomes unwieldy and hard to use. Second, the technology dictates that you can't put much color in.

"There is also an economic issue," he continued. "With a book, you work away, spend a huge amount of money for a long time employing a lot of people for what is effectively a one-off project which ends when the work is published. With our new post-Web model, we keep on a small number of people permanently, constantly update the information, and make it available online. For the customers there are real advantages: Instead of paying a significant amount of money in one slab for a book, they can take some of the benefit by paying a lower amount annually. So we have moved from a purchase to a subscription model."

It is not difficult to see his point--a 12month subscription to The Grove Dictionary of Opera Online, for example, costs $302 for one to five concurrent users in institutions, with a charge of $57 for each additional user. A single-user license costs $155. This compares with the paperback version, which costs $243, while the hardback version costs $898.

"The move to the Web in the academic and reference publishing [arenas] may be slower than in the scientific publishing arena, but it is happening," says Charkin.

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