exploring new business models for scholarly publishing—part 3: $30M in strategic funding, annually, for u presses

Funding in general and specifically "finding alternate funding sources" came up in nearly every session I attended. As MaryKatherine Callaway described, we need to invest our in future in ways we never have before—perhaps in ways we weren’t designed to, in ways we didn’t sign on for, and in ways our founding mothers and fathers hadn't entirely considered; we need to act more commercially and be more entrepreneurially, and we need the funding to get there.

Yet as the taskforce on economic models concluded in its report on Sustaining Scholarly Publishing, “it is virtually impossible for university presses to generate surplus investment capital from current operations.” Print revenue is collapsing. Vendors have delayed and slashed purchasing; some are closing doors. Further, traditional funding sources weren’t exactly under-exploited previously. The federal government hasn’t the will to commit vast new resources to the growth of the humanities—certainly not to the point of funding experiments. A good deal falls to our key financial supporters (parent institutions) who are already taxed to the point of questioning their investment. With due respect to our parent institutions and the strain this all exerts on our relationships, all-in-all, you have to begin to question it too.

Every institution of higher education, with working faculty and matriculating students, benefits from our output and expertise and has a vested interest in our continuing success. In fact, every faculty member, graduate student (would-be faculty member), independent researcher, most think tanks, and countless research institutes do as well. They all want to keep us outside the university, to safeguard credibility of our imprimatur. They want to keep us within the US, so they don’t have to shop overseas. And they want us to be well equipped, so they have access to the finest publishing services (at the discretion of staff with a selfless dedication to supporting the humanities to the utmost).

In sum, they want us right where we are—only more so.

So why, at the time of our greatest need, are our parent institutions the only ones shouldering the burden? Granted, many individual university departments subvent or partially subvent book projects, but our need is greater than a breakeven P&L. Given what's in play, would it be helpful to our parent institutions and ourselves if we created new ways for others to contribute?

1. What if we establish a new category of membership, call it a Sustaining Member, for colleges, universities, and research centers without resident presses, with funds raised to go in part toward direct relief for member presses (for their individual strategic investment) and in part to be held by the AAUP for collective strategic investment in collaborative research and initiatives? It would of course be non-voting and non-delegating but could be included in our information community. With more than 5,700 institutions of higher education in the US, presuming a participation rate of 9% and an average membership fee of $7,500 (on a sliding scale), that would yield roughly 3.8M in annual revenue for strategic investment in the future success of u presses.

2. Expanding the category, would we then want to look at Individual Sustaining Members? Considering one likely category of potential individual sustaining members, there are 1.5M faculty at institutions of higher education in the US. This category would clearly be non-voting and non-delegating as well. Presuming a participation rate of 12% and an average annual membership fee of $175 (also on a sliding scale), this group would generate 29.9M in annual revenue for strategic investment in the future success of u presses. Of course, membership has its privileges, and in this area we could include special publications (e.g., disciplinary surveillance, newsletters, catalogs, and other market drivers) and explore other synergies (e.g., peer review registry and databases).

Figures above are on the low side for discussion purposes but also presume "up and running" status; initial participation will begin with 1 and could climb higher than indicated above. I've set up spreadsheets, with assumption figures and calculations. Those curious can download the sheets to play with the assumptions (e.g., average membership fee, percent shunted directly to presses) to see what numbers seem most reasonable. You can view it online, but formatting is screwy; I recommend downloading. The first spreadsheet is for "institutions alone;" the second for "institutions + individuals." You can toggle between them online at the bottom left; same as Excel.

3. Last, might we want to establish an AAUP Foundation, as the other AAUP has? This could allow for one-time donations (giving circles, corporate giving) and accept the unassigned funds from membership and other sources. Hard to measure the fund potential here: strategic philanthropy, personal bequests and planned giving, giving circles that might spring up in the academic community, one-time donations both small and large, could add up quickly. Further, this approach might be especially key to encouraging corporate giving; whereas national and multinational corporations might not choose to give to to an individual u press—as that would carry with it a selective endorsement tantamount to a lack of endorsement of every other u press (politically unwise)—they might find it attractive to support us all.

Some of the above may give rise to concerns for individual u presses (mostly in large markets) that centralized fundraising might distract donors and cannibalize dollars from their individual fundraising efforts. Certainly any such approach would require significant research and preparation; due diligence would require an “environmental impact study” before moving forward. However, giving to support the future of scholarly publishing and the enduring strength of the u press system, collectively, does sound like it’s a breed apart from supporting your local or preferred press. The former could have geometrically broader appeal and likely not interfere with the latter. Those motivated to support their press above others would still be moved to do so—as that was their intent—while those seeking to answer the call of need to invest in the future of scholarly publishing like never before, to inspire and help fund the new Culture of Collaboration and attendant initiatives, would have ways of doing so that are not currently available. Last, a portion of all funds raised centrally could be “shunted” directly to individual presses to allay concerns and provide direct relief. This figure could be adjusted to ensure no “loss of consortium,” if you will, but again the two efforts would be—and should be clearly set up to be—entirely different. PBS and NPR both offer examples of similarly coordinated organizational and operational fundraising: national/regional. We could reach out to our friends therein to see how things are going. On balance, such efforts will attract vastly different populations and for different reasons, and one could imagine the real benefits will far outweigh and outstrip projected fears; but it would call for further analysis to be sure.

I understand this post has probably stepped into a dozen conversations and plans may even already be underway or have been thoroughly dismissed; please pardon my ignorance of relevant history. I also understand that each of the above would first require a lot of research and discussion at many higher levels, not to mention at least one proposal to change relevant bylaws to include an aspect of fundraising and strategic, collective investment; nevertheless, I thought it worth mentioning. The topic of alternate funding sources and appealing to foundations to fund our initiatives came up quite a bit. I thought in kind of a Beach Boys Wouldn’t it Be Nice kind of a way that having our own funding source for consortia approaches and research initiatives would be both helpful and attractive and therefore worth mentioning.

As our "communities of practice" grow in size, number, and efficacy, so too might their community of needs; this centrality of purpose might propose an independently attractive donation opportunity for those who want to support all such coordinated efforts, and it might be worthwhile for us to consider building a selfsame donation structure for those who are so inclined; submitted here with respect for consideration.


exploring new business models for scholarly publishing—part 2: via Gravity's Rainbow

"Anyone who isn't confused really doesn't understand the situation."

— Edward R. Murrow

MaryKatherine Callaway (Director, Louisiana State University Press, 2011-2012 AAUP President) shared this nigh-perfect quotation with us in her inaugural address. Its Yogi Berra-like logic captures the vertiginous unrest of the moment in scholarly publishing. Surveying a changing landscape, trying to connect the dots, stars, planets, and chart a new course—in concert with one another and given the gravity of the situation—can be dizzying.

One corner of the problem may be that, at least in some ways, we’re attempting to learn Calculus without Trig and Algebra under our belts, or we’re trying to install a software upgrade on a program we bought back in high school and haven’t used since—there may be several steps missing that the new fixes need to work.

When tackling a shapeless problem it’s sometimes good to go with the gestalt you do know. Within a succinct statement of a well-known corner of the problem perhaps we’ll find a beneficial view to our new solutions—some Wait, …what? goggles or x-ray specs, (if not a secret decoder ring) that we can use to look at b-models a little differently.

The well-known corner is Music and Film. Folks used to point to the Music industry and then to the Film industry and say: What’s good for the goose will make a good publishing platform. I.e., new media-adaptive solutions would work for all us goodly media folk or lead us all to perfect solutions, and, as we know, they often don’t. To which the pointing folks say: Why can’t you be more like your brother?!

The problem with this comparison corner is that we weren’t created equally; we evolved separately. I.e., this is our first magic box; for Music and Film, it’s their second.

If we want to see comparable business models in action, truly how an industry responded to a similar shift, we have to dolly back about a century to when each one’s first magic box happened—Radio and TV. A) How did they respond to that? B) Where did they go from there? And C) How did they, then, make the leap between magic boxes? A + B + C would be the beginning of an apples-to-apples comparison.

ANSWERS to A, B, AND C: Music and Film lived through generations of adapting to life in America as broadcast media before the Internet happened. Whereas: we didn’t. As Callaway said, we kept our heads down; our nose in our technology, if you will.

As a result, we are adapting what are basically 19th century social models to the 21st century world. By comparison with broadcast media, we evolved Balkanized and a bit unique. We’re running Galapagos2.0. They are driving BMWs on the autobahn.

My point (if ever I will find one) = in order to accomplish some of what Callaway asks of us in her address, we may need to imagine an “alternate timeline backstory” for ourselves to get from there back to here again in a way to compete. I.e., the trappings of those changes (evolutionary adaptations) might serve us well—if we were to suddenly transmogrify ourselves to have them.

So, the What if…

What if we had had our own magic box about a century ago—and it doesn’t need a name for a thought experiment, we can use a variable; call it an X box—that had done for books what Radio and TV did for Music and Film, and we had spent the last eight or nine decades as members of the broadcast media in America—how would we have evolved as an industry? Not technologically, but socially, interdependently, communicatively, behaviorally.

To imagine an answer to that question, we may need to loose our pattern-recognition skills on our brothers in arms in the broadcast media: pbs and npr.

As Callaway said: "[B]eyond good communication and good policies, as the task force on scholarly models stated, it's clear that we must also build on synergies within our own universities and in our larger communities, seek out those with similar interests and goals, and work together to build a stronger whole."

So to risk mis-channeling McCracken: Can we see anything of our who-might-have-been selves—in pbs and npr—that could help us build a patch to the new upgrade(s) of ourselves that will make better sense of current options?

Wait, …what?


presses under pressure—best governance practices for university presses

In her inaugural address on Saturday, MaryKatherine Callaway said that u presses’ longstanding policy of “keeping our head down” and simply going about our business as publishers had been a decades-long “misstep” with dire current consequences; we must move campus relations up on our list of priorities to try and walk this misstep back in order to reintegrate with on-campus messaging, bring due light to our accomplishments, and increase opportunities for our respective presses. To support AAUP member presses in this, Callaway established a new Taskforce on University Relations:

“Chaired by Garrett Kiely of Chicago, this group will identify ways to build better relations with our parent institutions, ways to remain relevant, and thereby help ensure our survival. We aim for practical results as well as theoretical ones. The task force will work to develop a tool kit for directors that will provide an ongoing resource, determining best practices for university presses and covering the wide array of evolving issues we face with our governing bodies.”

In this session, chaired by Peter Dougherty of Princeton University Press, directors, experts, and advisors alike rolled up their sleeves to get some topics on the table. Discussion included: the need for all u presses to update their mission statement—every year or two at most; the advantages of occasional, formal presentations to advisory boards; bringing copies of new books and journals to every meeting; the need to take in input from other on-campus and publishing professionals, independent analysts, advisors and public relations experts; as well as the imperative nature of turning strategic planning over to department heads—to avoid stagnant goals and looped thinking.

Standout remarks came from James T. McGill, (Advisory Board Member, The Johns Hopkins University Press and former Senior Vice-President for Finance and Administration, The Johns Hopkins University). In addition to insider tips on speaking to an advisory board, he said in sum: “you guys are on a burning platform,” and universities are no longer in a position to catch us if we fall.

McGill advised u presses to continue to reach out to form strategic alliances and joint ventures (consortia) with other u presses, such as UPCC, to shore up our both our respective and collective positions in the industry, against the likes of Wiley-Blackwell, Ashgate, SAGE, and Amazon.


plenary 4—press, parent, library

Plenary 4: press, parent, library fit tightly within the context of plenary 3, on the crisis in the humanities, as if to say: we’re all in this thing together. Earlier in the meeting, we were selling to libraries; here we were reminded of how we also live alongside them within the larger university community—invited to consider the overlaps, inter-dependence, and inherent benefits.

Ann J. Wolpert, Director of Libraries, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave us a candid view of life from within the university budget—as a fully-subsidized unit. What the university calls a cost center. A unique position among our subject trio; presses and parent institutions have considerable recourse to extramural funding and multiple revenue streams. Amid fiscal pressures on us all, libraries are often caught in the resulting crossfire: “spend less!” and “buy more!”

Hence, their pleas to us: "We’d like to buy more …with less" began to make sense. One fact clearly delivered: the budgets of old that allowed for nigh-limitless book buying from their favorite u presses were long gone, never to return. A not unfair takeaway: We will have to fish new waters, in addition to these, to reach sales figures of old.

Wolpert pointed out that in the campus ecosystem, “faculty endure.” They were doing the best they could to integrate themselves in the faculty’s research life cycles in support of the greater mission of the parent institution and advised u press to do the same.

Daniel Greenstein, (Vice Provost, Academic Planning, Programs, and Coordination at University of California, Office of the President) spoke to the financial pressures on universities today as well, reinforcing much of what Wolpert said. He closed, however, with a hopeful vision for the future, wherein universities might successfully safeguard the health and vitality of their presses by drawing them within the scope of their overall brand; i.e., the university press would be seen not as complementing the parent’s brand—as we so clearly do and in so many ways—but rather as completing it.

Discussing ways in which we three (press, parent, library) could improve our collective self-awareness, as a single, strategically-cohesive community, plenary 4 seemed a natural outgrowth of MaryKatherine Callaway’s speech at lunchtime—wherein Callaway noted we u presses have been “keeping our heads down” too long within our respective communities, and dovetailed with the breakout session to follow, Presses Under Pressure: Best Governance Practices for University Presses, wherein directors added to their collective toolkits for working effectively with their boards, public relations experts, independent advisors, and campus administrations to improve outcomes and options for their presses.

The gestalt of the afternoon: optimism leading into the meeting carried forth into plans for action.


exploring new business models for scholarly publishing—part 1

Given everything we’re facing, this session was the most exciting, informative, helpful, and hope-filled of the talks I attended. (Though I hear How Good Is Your MetaData was a close second.) If you only listen to one section of the AAUP recordings and/or only get to pick an attendee’s brain for a few minutes, make sure it’s on this session.

Colin Robinson, Founder of OR Books, showcased a thriving new business model for us—OR Books’ approach to market. Joe Esposito analyzed the industry from the u press perspective and gave us a breakdown of what we will need to look for in our new b-model components; and, Bob Stein rolled out what was basically a concept car of a new book format, calling it "the Social Book." Probably not breaking any news here, but Greg Britton is an evil genius—what a lineup!

First, OR Books: The Movie is required viewing. According OR Books founders, OR Books has reached the point of “no returns.” (Their pun, not mine) They have no warehouse and no inventory; they do only POD and e-pub.

Strategy is about tradeoffs. This tradeoff allows them to shift monies that traditional publishers (we) spend on distribution 100% over to promoting authors and titles, driving greater sales with each dollar spent.

The masterstroke? OR Books works with Amazon as an independent vendor, filling orders themselves. Hence, the model of POD & e-pub products shipping straight from OR Books is preserved, no monies are spent on moving inventory between warehouses, and Amazon’s reach is put entirely at the publishers’ disposal—with the least profits given away in the bargain. Schmart.

The b-model component of a renegotiated relationship with Amazon seems neatly excisable and implementable—I wonder how many u presses will be moving in this direction?

Joe Esposito—what can I say? Esposito held class. Check out his slides, and get the audio. Esposito stressed the need for hybridized approaches; one solution will not cure all of our ills. Also stressed: we are not-for-profits in a commercial arena; with this comes drawbacks and advantages—we will have to be mindful of both. Last, we have major players reshaping the industry in their favor—namely, Amazon, Wiley, SAGE, etal.—and we are overly dependent on one sales channel—Amazon. The combination is a killer. Solutions we seek will have to reshape the industry in our favor AND decrease our dependence on Amazon.

The kicker was Bob Stein giving us a live demonstration of his "Social Book." For those familiar with The Institute for the Future of the Book, what we saw looked to be the next evolution of Commentpress; so, I'm going to call it Socialbook from here on out. Socialbook brings a fixed text into a dialogic space wherein readers can select and comment on passages. As with Commentpress, users work in the margins rather than scrolling "away down below" like traditional blog space, but in Socialbook the text breaks out into chapters intuitively with tabs, and users can work in real time together; i.e., they can occupy the live critical space as a group.

The new coordination(s) of space, text, users, and time, will have clear applications in academic settings (including but not limited to): peer review, book clubs, distance learning, homework, lectures, and author events. Stein said that practical applications for much of what they are working on at the Institute may not hit the mainstream for decades—possibly a century. However, aspects of concept cars usually find their way into production models within a few seasons. We may be lining up Socialbook events sooner than he thinks.

This was a good day in publishing.


debating the humanities—how u presses can best compete in the post-digital landscape

Plenary 3 took the “crisis in the Humanities" as read, treating it as backdrop to an analysis of how u presses can enhance their role(s) in the post-digital landscape, specifically in light of the struggles humanities departments face; what to hang on to, what to look forward to, and what to explore.

Fred Nachbaur (Director, Temple University Press) kicked things off with a nod to la crise by showing results of a recent Google search on the subject—yielding 10.2M hits (second slide). Nachbaur then pointed to the AAUP taskforce report on Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses, properly identifying it as a must read for this and most every discussion in 2011-12. Assuming everyone had happened on one or two of the above, the panel dove in. Nachbaur ran panelists through a gauntlet of questions; ensuing debate can be heard in the AAUP recording; highlights are as follows.

Avoiding all “mimicry of traditional forms” when exploring digital opportunities was roundly emphasized as “absolutely vital” for u presses from here on out; indeed, approaches for “enabling the scholarly discussion” were stressed over “publishing solutions” per se.

“Collaborative scholarship” was touted as “the next point of tension.”

Monographs took some shots—but also found champions. Can there be a “plan b” for publishing theses that are clearly for tenure-review purposes only, while still holding “plan a” publishing for authors who write something of broader interest. Frank J. Donoghue, (Associate Professor of English, Ohio State University), hoped there would be, citing the long-form argument as something of unique value that we will need to protect. Bob Stein, (Founder and Co-Director of the Institute of the Future of the Book) added that the monograph may take new forms—he also promised a view to a sample of possible things to come in the next session, Exploring New Models for Scholarly Publishing.

Discussion lingered on and returned to peer-review. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, (Professor of Media Studies, Pomona College), allowed that in many cases the peer-review process could be held in an open forum; that readers and authors are often known to one another (or they figure it out as things proceed), and that if the peer-review process were opened up to the public, before, during, or after, it might lead to new, fruitful exchanges for all concerned, ones that could advance the interests of scholarship and publishing alike.

Reader reports and possibly exchanges with authors could “prime the pump” of interest and further debate and drive sales well in advance of publication. Clearly each discipline may embrace such an approach differently, and the degree to which it could be done live/without a net would have to be examined. Debate ensued accordingly, but all agreed, as Donoghue put it: “the pros far outweigh the cons,” and they recommended that u presses consider exploring open peer review in some instances.

So here again, as others had throughout the meeting, panelists encouraged u presses to hold our contributions above and beyond the peer-review process (i.e., before and after) as the real value-added benefit that u presses bring to the table; that the imprimatur of the editor and press is unimpeachably distinct from the peer review process itself and that therein our expertise lies. I.e., what sets us apart is not that we manage peer review really, really well, but rather that we publish peer-reviewed content expertly well—we have the unique, learned skill set of having intercourse with academe during our publishing process; we advisedly select work for peer review, and make expert publishing decisions based on the issue. Or so the panel left us to consider.

Opening up peer review in certain disciplines is further intriguing in the context of our next session, Exploring New Business Models for University Presses, as Fitzpatrick was, in essence, holding the resultant content of peer review apart as a new product (even if a free or promotional one), and the hosting of the peer review in a public forum as a potential new service.

Makes one wonder: Would peer review have evolved differently within the humanities if current technologies had been in place from the hop, and given what technology may be crafted to support, where might we go from here?


plenary 1: innovation & organizational change—a.k.a., release the McCracken! (part 2)

After describing how we might go about keeping an open mind to enhance our collective lateral thinking and improve commercial outcomes for the AAUP, using our inherent and abundant pattern recognition abilities to imagine new organizational structures, new entrepreneurial opportunities, new poly-valent business models, and new modes of enabling the scholarly discussion, Monsieur McCracken went one step further to imagine one such way we might reshape what we do: by our dropping peer review.

Now before it gets ugly, let me say why I think this improved takeaways from the meeting. [insert: humorous anecdote about recovering from knee surgery, where I call Tony the physiotherapist Torquemada, repeatedly cursing his house and questioning his parentage and mental health, but end up being able to ski again.] It just goes to show; sometimes we need to be pushed into uncomfortable positions to re-achieve our full strength and potential range of motion.

Note to self; possible book idea in this: It Takes a Sadist.

McCracken held our editors’ pattern recognition skills apart from the peer review process for us, as value-added assets in and of themselves. He imagined a third product category for us, in addition to our peer-reviewed journals and books. Specifically, what he said was, What if... we stop at our editors’ assessment of X and go to press with it, sans costs associated with too much design and copy editing and of course peer review, in order to field “well written essays, of topical cultural worth, for popular consumption.” Might there be something in this (a new product) that could enable the scholarly discussion and further support our other publishing efforts. (His question to us)

It's a bit of an uncomfortable stretch to imagine our fielding anything perfectly disintermediated; we edit grocery lists before shopping. But, after a good long Wait what? and taking our editorial nature as read (not going anywhere anytime soon), I came up with two possible products in the would-be, acquisitions-driven category:

1. An AAUP zine like Giant Robot or Bust; for the sake of discussion only, let’s call it “U Press Forum”—I'm sure we can come up with something apt and well branded if pressed.

2. A suite of AAUP-wide, print-only, subscription-based publications by discipline, per McCracken's illustrative example of Surveillance; for the sake of discussion, “[Insert Discipline Name Here] Surveillance”—now I'm clearly ducking any name calling.

1. U Press Forum - We already have an example of a zine comprising “well written essays for popular consumption” that also happens to support/parallel other publishing: a little outfit called Harper’s Magazine. As Harper’s has new pubs covered, an AAUP zine could focus on headline news and areas of topical interest, supporting our “Books for Understanding” program.

a) What if we asked authors of Books for Understanding books to respond to current events and tie them into their work (or tie their work to current events); thus, creating a bridge to our books, giving us a new—and monetize-able—promotional tool in the bargain while and by providing our authors with a new forum.

The disintermediated angle could work to our collective advantage, to underscore the timeliness and, dare we say, immediacy of the content (something books aren’t particularly known for), and help keep costs minimal.

b) Another section could be the “Plan C” option mentioned above (not a book or a journal article). If editors review a book proposal that is especially timely or attractively topical—but not quite a book—they could move to engage authors to write an article for the Forum.

We often bounce projects at one press, only to pick it up at another. A brief Forum piece would be an expression of support from (and an equity-up scenario for) the imprimatur of the U Press system at large. It might help spread the word of the work among other presses and possibly grow the AAUP brand in a celeritous direction.

c) And last, we could throw in some feature articles (which probably would call for some editing). These would only be necessary if we wanted to go so far as to field a “Harper’s Mag for U Presses.”

Thus, U Press Forum could be seen to have at least three McCracken-inspired sections for starters: a) scholars at large (rejected or fast-tracked scholarship) + b) the experts speak (in support of Books for Understanding) + c) feature articles. All sans peer review. Feature articles might be a bit of a departure for university presses, but the first two sections seem within reach and reason. By slapping a nominal sign-up/subscription price on it, we could defray added administrative/editorial expense(s).

2. [Insert Discipline Name Here] Surveillance - This one focuses on McCracken’s illustrative example, Surveillance, rather than on his seditious remarks in re peer review. It’s a little busier, as a model, but it would work in step WITH our peer review process (and therefore probably work better for U Presses) and be more likely to generate high subscription revenues while also reshaping the industry in favor of our offerings. It might fall under the headings of both collaborative entrepreneurship and collaborative publishing.

a. We already solicit reader’s reports. What if, roughly when final manuscripts return to Capistrano, when we transmit them to manuscript editorial and therefore about a year out from publication, we go ahead and send a copy out for a single report in a new category: coverage.

This new report (coverage/treatment or whatever you like) could be a boilerplate summary of the book’s content, methodological approaches, arguments, material analyzed, and contributions to the academic discussion—by scholars for scholars—slightly more descriptive than critical, running a few pages at most, and cleared for us to publish.

(I seem to remember “book abstracts” coming up a few times on Scholarly Kitchen and elsewhere—and they no doubt have many times before; this report would be similar but completed by a third-party under work-for-hire. Apologies if I’m repeating anything, but I don’t think anyone has touched on collaborative publishing of such “coverage” by discipline, as a standalone product offering; if so, apologies again, that’s what I’m seeing in McCracken’s suggestion.)

b. All book coverage (from all AAUP member presses receiving a title in a given discipline during the season) would route to one U Press for complication, possibly along with related journal abstracts from the discipline?, and at the end of an acq-season—about 6 + months ahead of publication of the earliest book in the list—we could place an attrctive though disintermediated cover on it and send it forth into the world. We could also send them tri-annually or quarterly, increasing the “lead time” we’d be giving our customers.

The compiling press could easily drop the new McCracken-inspired offering in alongside other serial publications, for a print-only subscription and/or nice cover price (individual/institutional), and revenue could be distributed to contributing presses, per number of titles “covered” in the issue, less administrative costs and shipping fees.

c. Prices could be set gratifyingly high in the first season, as Disciplinary Surveillance would be a luxury item rather than a necessity, containing a wealth of information well ahead pub dates, and could be dropped to free in seasons following—so none could complain of the cost.

Reports could be solicited without cash out of pocket from partner presses, viz., in exchange for a copy of the issue of Disciplinary Surveillance in which their coverage appears. The end result being that news of our authors’ work (our books) will enter the popular scholarly discussion six months ahead of publication without any marketing budget expense.

Most importantly, and even if the Disciplinary Surveillance(s) are distributed “liberally” (pirated), our titles will be quantifiably more likely to breech the 10-page-view threshold (and trigger sales) in the new PDA paradigm, in their first six months-year of publication, as people will already be talking.

Ergo, libraries will be pleased; scholars, engaged; and we will be able to distance ourselves from the commercial press (our competition)—increasing revenues from e-book aggregation options for AAUP member presses and adding an entirely new revenue stream/collaborative product offering in the bargain. I.e., we might just have a 21st century solution built on our traditional, 20th century strengths of peer review, compilation, and serial publication. (Once it was up and running, and scholar behavior had been duly modified, the serial could allow commercial presses to submit coverage as well, for a fee.) Fiscally, that McCracken might be on to something.

d. Finally, responsibility for compiling and publishing disciplinary surveillance could fall to/route among several presses—each of us is a “top contributor” to one discipline or another. Or, compiling operations could be centralized to the AAUP, or to a few or one member press. Economies of scale might support centralization.

So those are my Wait, what?s from McCraken's What if...? in the second half of Plenary 1. I’m sure others are way ahead of me on all fronts; apologies again if I'm out of the loop on anything/repeating anything and sorry for the delay in posting. Should, however, the latter Wait, what? ever sound attractive enough to pursue, I hereby call dibs for Indiana, including but not limited to: Jewish studies, African Studies, Paleontology, and Music, several disciplines which we are proud to support.

Mellon initiatives—collaborative publishing at university presses

Switching from collaborative entrepreneurship to collaborative publishing and promotional efforts, we received updates on Mellon-funded initiatives underway at university presses: South Asia Across the Disciplines, First Peoples, Early American Places, and the American Literatures Initiative.

In each case, groups of presses have come together to found a single new series in an “under-served areas of the humanities." Book projects are acquired and published under the imprint of one of the partner presses, with expenses for design, marketing, and publicity then shared by partner presses.

Mellon funding allows for aggressive acquisitions and marketing for projects that might have been less than attractive money makers and/or outliers on partner presses’ lists; in aggregate there’s enough of a “there, there” for cohesive presence to compel the series.

We don't have to call them anarcho-syndicalist publishing communes quite yet; they are not wholly autonomous collectives. Most are uncertain if the initiatives will achieve self-sustaining monetary returns. However, all agree that the many hands make light work approach is strong "if several presses wanted to make a big impact in a small market" and all agreed there were ancillary upsides.

One press director was quoted as having said: “If collaboration were easy, university presses would already be doing it.” I take at least two inferences from this statement: 1) there are clear, inherent benefits to our working together in such ways, and 2) we will have to continue to work together to get over “the difficulty hump” to access those benefits more richly.

Hence and in sum, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
is “priming the pump” of our collaborative undertakings, helping us to help ourselves. Partner presses may be doubly wise in availing themselves of such funding: enhancing their list/series offerings and supporting important scholarship while and by forging strategic alliances with other university presses.


Selling to libraries—the new e-book aggregation options

We learned a lot about libraries at this meeting, in “Parent, Press, Library” and in this session most notably, with “Plenary 3: Debating the Humanities” close behind. We are seeing more and more that they are under the same strain to minimize costs while trying to remain relevant to scholars (in a nation whose commitment to the humanities is flagging and wherein adequate budgets are long, long gone—never to return), and we are beginning to understand that in this brave new world that hasn’t many people in it they have far less latitude than we. We have and can explore many customer pools/revenue streams; the libraries being but one of them. For libraries, on the other hand, the university in which they live is the entire world. I.e., while we have friends with shotguns and cellphones nearby, their options for relief from the wolf at the door may be more limited.

Fred Nachbaur showed us the light to start the session, referring us to the Chronicle article by Leila W. Salisbury "Five Things That University Presses Should Know About Working With Libraries," identifying it as a must read for the session topic. Salisbury’s article makes good sense of libraries’ in situ thinking for us. Might want to upgrade it to a vital read, if you haven’t read it already.

APO, JSTOR, UPCC, and UPSO: all fine examples of collaborative entrepreneurship from university presses (and JSTOR). Slides and speakers smartly covered salient attributes of each, and most of the slides read well on their own; it would be worth looking through the slides after reading the article.

Collections Librarian Michael Levine-Clark helped us see these new options from our target market’s perspective: We need to be on all platforms possible, these and others, lest we be left out; libraries are only going to sign up for one or two; we want to be on whichever ones they choose. Libraries want perpetual access to come of these experiments, which may raise some e-rights issues via term limits; part of the current rights discussions. & PDA is coming (read, here) and may limit the revenue potential for subscription models, calling for “per-use” sales. Translation: had experiments been conducted many years ago, books may have been in line for a reflectively long and steep revenue bump as garnered by journals; PDA and other trends may lessen the bump.

Hands down, one of the most succinct and thorough sessions I attended; slides and speakers were on point, a fine comparative overview of the programs was served up, and contextual elements were brought into view via the Q&A and recommended reading. It was a fine window onto how these experiments are proceeding, inspiration for continuing to improve and capitalize on collaborative entrepreneurship.

Maybe in time we can gather our friends with shotguns and cellphones to ride to the rescue for libraries and presses alike.

plenary 2—back to the future of ©

It was an honor to hear Marybeth Peters and Jon A. Baumgarten hold forth on the state of copyright law as it applies to scholarly publishing. They deftly summarized the founding of and major developments in codified protection for creative work; articulated the current challenges that could weaken it; to wit, exposures we face in light of new media, models, and technologies, not to mention Google; and prognosticated on the timing and nature of likely sutures that will be needed to strengthen it.

Both agreed that copyright’s governing conventions and laws are in need of a significant overhaul; however, each believes that the laws will likely be mended (revised) rather than resewn from whole cloth. This estimate is good news for publishers, since a full reworking would take far longer and perhaps not yield viable improved protection for the foreseeable.

They predict too that the fixes will most likely return to the founding principles of copyright protection; hence, the road to the future will lead us back to the basics.

So, in the midst of our meeting, we were gifted with a seminar in jurisprudence. As I said, an honor to hear them speak. There’s little anyone could add to the talk; if slides and notes are posted to the Wiki, it would be best to check them out, though it’s probably not necessary. We can expect our copyright committee to continue to keep us abreast of developments.

To close the plenary, Peters echoed and amplified Simon’s sentiment from the opening banquet and left us to mull it over: “It’s important to fight to protect copyright; perhaps even more important for the AAUP due to the nature of your work.”


global markets & university presses—keys to international success

Vendors, distributors, printers, subsidiaries, and sales reps; we had shelter from high-tech b-model evolutions (somewhat) in this session, as presentations focused on new strategies and logistics for bringing more of our books to foreign markets.

Fascinating to me, as foreign book sales is vastly different from rights; with statements like “we can put 170 feet on the ground for you [in country]” and discussion of firing up factories in proximity to target [markets], it sounded like sim-city-powered business maneuvers; felt like being in a war room—in a good way. These logistical concerns and supply chain metrics, economies and pressures of scale, are what set foreign content sales apart from IP rights negotiations; if foreign sales is the Pentagon, rights may be more like CIA headquarters. The session was perhaps doubly eye-opening as a result.

Printing as close as possible to the consumer—a trend stressed by two of our speakers—seemed most notable. Carter Holiday (Ingram Content Group) and David Hetherington (Baker & Taylor) both emphasized the need for publishers to shorten the supply chain to domestic or regional lengths whenever possible; this to manage costs to reasonable limits.

“Publishers are moving away from front-mid-back list models for making printing decisions in preference for low/high-volume title assessments,” was next. Trend being: high print runs are no longer a given for new titles, with numbers tailing off from there; it’s more fluid these days, calling for a case-by-case title-to-market cost assessment.

“Discoverability and availability [in all venues, on all platforms, and through all delivery channels]” was billed as the “key to success,” as it was in many sessions.

Exciting to hear that there is great and increasing “hunger for American content!” Hetherington gave us a quick assessment of Asian markets for English-language and specifically US-generated content: Japan = strong but static; SE Asia and especially China = growing nicely; with India = growing wildly at 40-50% annually!

Hetherington added that he had gone to the Beijing Book Fair for the first time last year and felt that this was a strong venue for AAUP member presses to get a feel for and introduce their products to the these markets.

The growth in the global markets, printing closer to our customers, and knowledge of competitors' subsidiaries in active regions (SAGE, Oxford, Routledge) had me wishing we had a South East Asian subsidiary of our own to work out of; wondering if some number of us might come together on a joint-venture. Together we’d more likely have projects enough to feed it, and we could share costs; so, I’d wonder what numbers might look like alongside continuing regional distributions & co-pubs.

However, let me go on record as saying that if the AAUP or some subset of us ever did open such a facility, it would be vital to even passing dreams of brief success for us to have our rights managers visit the offices. Annually.


pre-meeting workshop—clearing & tracking third-party permissions; the IP equity-up scenario

Stephanie Vyce of Harvard University Press is a star—which should be news to none by now—and the program she put together for this year’s pre-meeting workshop was equally brilliant. The agenda describes what we were in for. I’m sure notes to the Wiki will follow to suggest some of what we covered. All in all, worth not only the price of admission but may well have been worth the fee, lodging, and travel besides—for the workshop alone!

The back-and-forth in real time with so many colleagues on a given subject, with a spate of key professionals in the room to guide, is what made the day so valuable: Text and Photo rights holders; publishers; legal counsel; a database engineer; acquisitions staff; and rights & permissions folk, all gathered in roundtable to hash it out. Bringing each other up to speed—except for Linda Steinman; she mostly brought us up to speed—and looking out for each other and each other’s presses, as we prepare for the road ahead for third-party rights in scholarly communication.

Kristina Stonehill of Wayne State University Press discussed internal structure and staffing solutions; WSUP has a rights-centric staffer communicating with authors from day 1 to help them to clear “in-bound” permissions. Diane Grosse of Duke University Press handled things on the flip side, addressing our “out-bound” grants of permissions, noting that what we grant has to match what we ask for. Christopher Hudson and Kara Kirk of the MoMA caught us up on trends in art permissions, stressing that term limits are likely here to stay for the foreseeable future.

We discussed the IT ramifications of all trends, and Systems Manager Chris Cosner of Stanford University Press not only helped us handle these questions but also discussed Stanford’s new press-wide database solution and walked the group through the development steps for building our own clearing and tracking systems, whether as standalone spreadsheets or integrated with larger dbs.

Diane Grosse had perhaps my favorite quotable takeaway: “These issues are frustrating, but that frustration is wed to our integrity.”

Linda Steinman told us heroic and historic tales of fair use and dispensed crucial advice. She also reminded us that copyright is not a fault system. Publishers will be sued, if they infringe, regardless of authors’ warranties. We explored some of the ramifications of this in the new environment and were cautioned strongly against “jumping into e-formats” (from print editions and grants) without clearing all e-rights. More and more companies and tools for tracking down even incidental infringement are coming online every day; they are getting more sophisticated and rights holders tend to “get organized over time.”

We had “due” sense of urgency throughout: We were and are all aware that all of our systems must not only facilitate our acquisitions efforts but also help us get ahead of the information/technology curve. Nobody, but nobody wants to dig through their entire back list and/or retool their press-wide database—seasonally.

Just why our directors want us to slay this beast finally gelled, for me, while chatting with Stephanie Vyce and with Gita Manaktala of MIT Press over lunch: We realized that for university presses to access the full dissemination and revenue potential in our increasingly hybridized publishing programs, we will have to move more thoroughly and more quickly (than ever before) in our clearing and tracking of third-party rights. The more efficiently we work together as a press, the more options our authors will have, the more satisfied they will be, and the more revenue we will have for the life of each work, and therefore those presses that move most collaboratively and quickly through the next few seasons will cover the most ground, generate the most options with the least risk, and never look back.

When the day was done, we had come up with good plans for moving forward and several new tools for streamlining our communication with and services to our authors, toward a more efficient and robust access of IP equity for our presses.

Thank you, Stephanie, for putting together such a wonderful workshop! And thank you to all the speakers and attendees who made it so great!


plenary 1: innovation & organizational change—a.k.a., release the McCracken! (part 1)

The title is a little pop-cultural reference, of course, to Clash of the Titans (the 1980s version) and I bet our speaker would enjoy it—though I am sure he’s heard it a thousand times before. In addition to being the author of the 2010 Chief Culture Officer, Grant McCracken is author of Transformations (IUP, 2008) and Flock and Flow (IUP, 2006), among other u press offerings, and was our plenary 1 speaker—he did not disappoint!

McCracken launched from the podium to launch the 2011 meeting; he jumped down from the dais to stalk up and down the length of the hall, tearing through enough material for two talks, diving into the heart of strategic innovation, reviewing business literature on the subject and new b-school approaches, and tipping at least one sacred cow.

I’m going to treat the two sub-talks separately, in part to capture the fallout from the second half in a lead lined box, but mostly to hold the first half on its own merits for a moment. Somewhere, I will mention that the sum total effect was brilliant; it improved the takeaways from the meeting for everyone in attendance, and therefore the selection of McCracken for the plenary 1 slot—for this particular conference—was inspired.

In the first half of his talk, McCracken noted that we are in an exceptionally tough spot (a theme that ran throughout the meeting), that recent business literature/management advice was of little to no help, and that we’d have to think for ourselves to get out of it (another theme that ran throughout). On the upside, according to McCracken, we are uniquely well suited to tackling this problem head on, given our backgrounds and collective skill sets, provided that we work together and listen to others.

McCracken quoted Peter Schwartz noting that “The organization [as construct] is in a state of perpetual change.” This dynamism has led some analysts and commentators, such as Andy Grove, to endorse a view that “Strategy is dead;” all we can do is damage control, react to things as they come along and hope for the best.

McCracken said that this is ridiculous (on top of helpless and irresponsible) and that really what’s happening is that the nature of change is changing. With so many variables in play, strategy falls to amorphous influence—a dynamic system—rather than, as it did in days of yore, to simple cause and effect thinking.

The game is the same, just less linear and less vertical; it calls for more lateral thinking to win today. This need for “pattern recognizers/shape seers,” in turn, calls for new approaches to management to find, develop, and guide them:

The "A" in MBA today => ∆A

Indeed business schools are shifting to include aspects of more MFA-like studies and exercises in their curricula to “free up” the minds of business school number crunchers, precisely to improve their “pattern recognition” abilities and make them better lateral thinkers. Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind explicates motives for the trend.

The good news according to McCracken: We, as liberal arts majors (editors, designers, and publishers) already have the base skills in abundance, e.g., our ability to spot a project worth pursuing, to craft and nurture it to a fine publication. Therefore, we are uniquely well suited to succeed in our current situation: all we need to do is trust our “pattern recognition software,” see where and when it is asserting itself (with new ideas) and then guard against the new ideas being overruled by force of habit or traditional approaches: the hobgoblins of innovation.

I.e., rather than rightly identifying a new idea as “unfit” (not fitting the mold of what we do) and per force treating it as a different kind of “unfit” (not worthy of further investigation), we will have to see our way beyond the unfitness to take another look at what’s behind the new idea that might lead to something that will help.

McCracken called this, perhaps regrettably for our haute-literate/learned crowd, the “Wait, …what? moment” (WWM). The WWM is when someone says something to you that’s so bizarre, you are tempted to ask yourself if they really know what they’re talking about (or to whom they are speaking) and walk away, but instead you say: “Wait [a minute], what [are you trying to say]?”

In the WWM, “Why are you, (a relatively intelligent person), asking me (a clearly intelligent person) to consider something that is patently ridiculous and not worth my time?” becomes “What aren’t you successfully communicating to me?” or “What am I missing?” or better yet “You are clearly animated and convinced that you are on to something; I have no idea what it is, and maybe you don’t entirely yet either, but together we may be able make a mountain of money out of this mole hill you’ve found yourself on; let’s set aside some time to talk about it.”

He ran through a number of revolutionary ideas (and would later throw out a volatile sketch for one of his own, but we’ll get to that) and listed several noted/notorious lateral thinkers. He showed us that there was little commonality in the thinkers, on the surface, and perhaps less in their ideas, other than that they were often both rejected by others, at first, and later proved to be wildly profitable and pregnant with new possibilities for their industry.

He closed, this section, by noting that the real keys to successful innovation and organizational change are twain (lowercase t, though the other Twain doesn’t hurt): 1) pattern recognition and 2) successfully navigating the WWM.

The takeaway from Grant McCracken (part 1):

Just as opportunity often lies in adversity; innovation often lurks in absurdity—or rendered for takers of the GRE:

Adversity : Opportunity :: Absurdity : Innovation

Those who thus see wrong things around them rightly (or who surround themselves with those who do) will vault forward in the current competitive landscape.


opening banquet: thoughtful advice and a lead for acquisitions

David Simon, MacArthur Fellow; author and producer, "The Wire" and "Homicide: Life on the Street" was our opening banquet speaker—a brilliant idea from Johns Hopkins University Press!

It was hard to know what to expect; harder still to parse (before breakfast) the wisdom and talent evident in what he said and didn’t say to us. I'll just say quickly what we were given.

Publishing advice; cogent analysis of two other communications industries responding to new models and new technologies (the missteps, impacts, and fallouts for each) with an insightful acquisitions lead born of those analyses and bespoken to our situation—in under 30 minutes. 

The unifying theme, “copyright has to be fought for;” i.e., developing worthy intellectual property requires an investment, and maintaining a program of publishing such property (regardless of media) calls for viable commitment (sustainability).

Longtime star reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Simon gave us a privileged view into the precipitous demise of investigative, print journalism in the US in the late nineties for the perspective of a deeply invested participant. Simon’s candor and frustration was palpable as he explained that although the Internet changed newspapers’ competitive landscape, what prevented them from competing on the new format had happened in the years prior—and was perhaps embedded in the value system that lead to actions taken.

Paraphrasing substantially: corporate conglomerates had bought up most all major newspapers in the US, and in an attempt to maximize profits, they cut standing bureaus and reporting staff—brutally. Simon was among the buyouts ordered by Wall Street-minded consultants. Per his analysis, newspapers didn’t keep their commitment to quality IP development and as a result failed to maintain what had made them viably unique and had afforded them a sustainable competitive advantage. They didn’t protect copyright [enough].

Fast forward only a few years sans competitive distinctiveness to when the Internet came along, with its blossom of day-trading pundits and unqualified/un-vetted/over-caffeinated bloggers (e.g., me), and they found that they lacked the confidence in their content to charge money for it online—to hold it successfully apart from free offerings—which in turn hamstrung their ability to “staff up” or otherwise invest to address the problem.

Strategy is about trade offs, and they traded away baby and the bathwater, keeping only the shiny plastic tub to plaster advertising on.

Simon then dovetailed this study with a broad-strokes overview of the rise of pay TV—tracking a successful evolution of b-models, complete with beneficial social and artistic fallout, taking new delivery systems as read.

Paraphrasing again, with ugly language added (mine) to underscore inferences taken: TV content on a free-view model; once you adopt the platform, you can have all the content in the system; broadcasters made their money on advertising alongside the content. With the advent of pay TV, revenue shifted from advertising to subscription, and this changed everything.

When advertisers held sway, eyeballs were all that mattered; hence, pressure from all side to develop content that offended no one, regardless of whether is was deeply meaningful, relevant, or attractive to none. Under the subscription model, content developers shifted to the latter emphasis, holding that deeply interested niche markets would be encouraged to “pull the trigger” to subscribe, so long as some content mattered to them deeply.

The bell curve inverted; minority reports were distributed and read; and strange and wonderful programming, that had been impossible to imagine under the old eye-balls paradigm, ensued (e.g., Simon’s work). 

Across both industries, Simon noted that a suite of decisions had unexpected consequences, one set unfavorable with negative cultural impact; the other, downright bountiful with culturally enriching results. However, with a deft nod to caution via juxtaposition, we were allowed to consider that each industry had made investment decisions based one what it felt would drive revenue, given a chosen/perceived business model.

Simon’s acquisitions lead, born of his early analysis, was to note that a need existed in the vacuum created by the demise of viable investigative print journalism; one that perhaps university presses were uniquely suited to fill?

With our access to peer review, our publishing strength, and our credibility, might we be able to offer journalists a new platform in which to work; namely, and in step with our regional commitment, could we find area journalists who are committed to digging deep and writing important, investigative work, vet it with our access to sociologists, economists, and anthropologists, and bring it forth to social benefit and, possibly, to our greater fiscal advantage.

He closed by noted that we were in a tough spot overall and that choices on either side could lead to negative outcomes. Quoting a Woody Allen, which I will need to look up and correct: ‘You can choose between a quick, excruciatingly painful death or a long, drawn-out, agonizing crawl to grave.’ 

Takeaway: Fortune rarely favors the risk-averse.


on 2011-12 optimism: shotguns & cellphones

When the wolf is at the door and its howl locks you flatfooted in the hallway, while you’re on the way to the kitchen, starkers, it is only natural, for a moment or two, to forget how sound your house is and how many friends with shotguns and cellphones live nearby.

Optimism is high, going into the meeting. Just have a look at Choice Review Online University Press Forum; Forum 2011: The End of the Tunnel?. Choice, v.48, no. 09, May 2011. You could chalk this up to directors being directors, rallying the troops; but there’s more to it. 

Even gloom-and-doom holdouts have to marvel at the sheer number of new business models being auditioned across the industry, if they're being honest, and the population of people taking part in the discussion; case in point, an entire meeting dedicated to fostering a Culture of Collaboration.

Fearing the wolf at the door could be taken as the true, Churchill-esque cautionary tale for us moving forward. As a metaphor for unavoidable and impending mano-a-lupo threat, it's beginning to show its age in any context; one might say it’s getting a little long in the tooth.

In days of yore, a wolf at the door could well mean that there will be fewer of us come morning; pick your favorites and hold them close. Today, if you had a real wolf in front of your house, you might wake the kids, but it would be for the novelty, so they can shoot a YouTube video to show their class—or the Audubon Society. 

It doesn’t sound like we are all the way there yet with our wolf(s), to the point of novelty; there is still real threat and a long night ahead; but, it sounds like we will be placing more calls together.

As the meeting begins, I am looking forward to learning more about identifying and reaching out to said friends with the shotguns and cellphones and how we will be collectively mobilizing, as we head into 2011-12 together.

Here’s to a wolf-free community for all u presses.

DISCLAIMER: no wolves were harmed during the making of this blog.