The 15th Edition of the 21st Century

The Chicago Manual of Style Online

Books and e-books may sound like rivals, but it doesn't mean they always are. The text of The Chicago Manual of Style went digital in late 2006 and is one of the latest electronic resources on the web courtesy of university presses. Although still a work in progress, the project has been well received and proven complementary to its hardcover-cousin.

Although there was already an online Q&A that accompanied the 14th edition, according to Carol Kasper, Marketing Director for the Books Division at the University of Chicago Press, they decided to put the complete text online after receiving a lot of feedback from users who said that "they would welcome an electronic edition." And, in this case at least, the press agreed that the customer's always right.

Published in 2003, the 15th edition went live 3 years later as a subscription-based service. Now, the content of all 956 pages is online and fully searchable with the click of a button. Individual users can have access to the entire text for an annual fee of $25 with different pricing models for libraries and corporations/institutions. Yet accompanying the full text are a number of tools that can still be used for free. Subscribers and non-subscribers alike can peruse the online Q&A, which is both informative and clever, and the citation guide, which provides clear examples of Chicago-style citations. Users have responded with extremely positive feedback.

When the Manual Online was launched in September 2006 there was an initial surge of traffic that has since slowed, but Kasper notes that they are "steadily adding customers...and have tripled since the first big wave of subscribers." What may be a little surprising is how this electronic resource has affected sales of the print version—it hasn't. Sales of the book are "behaving the way they did before the electronic version appeared online." What's new is that a lot of people seem to be using both resources at once. Kasper said that the University of Chicago Press has done market research and of online subscribers "80% still use the book as well."

The primary purpose of the Manual Online is not to sell books nor is it meant to drive traffic to the University of Chicago Press website. Although there is some overlap, Dean Blobaum, E-marketing Manager at the Press, states that the Manual Online "intends to be, is on the way to becoming, a self-sustaining online subscription product and destination." And as with any online project, the work is never really done.

The Manual Online is still being developed as Chicago seeks input from users and focus groups in order to improve future versions. Currently, they have plans to add additional features such as bookmarking, electronic notes, and the ability to create custom style sheets that can be emailed to other users. These features will further personalize the online version and improve the user experience. For those that want an electronic project of their own, be prepared to work both backwards and forwards to develop it.

The difficulty, as Kasper notes, is that the development of an online project isn't linear like that of a book where it moves from one department to the next. Instead, it is "three dimensional and a lot things have to be done simultaneously." This requires the "business and development know-how" along with a "revised work flow and chain of responsibility" that can keep up with the continual process of updating the site, responding to users, and marketing the product year after year. Kasper acknowledged that the online Manual was a "long and complicated project" despite a good IT staff and experience with online journals. She recommended hiring a consultant for any first-timers, but the results are worthy of the effort.

Although there is a big learning curve when undertaking a project like this for the first time, afterwards the capacity is in place to do it again. When asked about any closing thoughts Kasper laughed and said, "It's hard work. It really changes how you're used to working." When asked if Chicago had plans to do more projects like this down the road she responded quickly, "Yes, we certainly have plans to do others."

Chicago Manual of Style Online:

Other AAUP member electronic publishing projects:

Michael McCutcheon
Communications Assistant, AAUP