Rakestraw Books – my first job & Alfred the cat

It does my heart all kinds of good to know that the small bookstore where I grew up is still in business. I say “where I grew up” advisedly, as it is the independent shop in the small town where my family lived when I was young, and it is the place where I grew to love books and writing; i.e., the place in which I grew up most.

Sunday mornings, open

Sunday mornings, I’d open the shop early. The delivery guy left stacks of New York Times and Wall Street Journals just inside the door. He had a key too. I’d throw one NYT onto the counter as I passed, set the remaining NYTs and WSJs on the spinning rack near the front desk, and prop open both sets of double doors on either side of the store. I’d put the handmade, grumpy-old-man life-sized doll into the director’s chair out front, with the slate tablet sign in his lap that read: “Please don’t pet the cat. Thank you.” Put the matching, kindly-old-lady life-sized doll, with similar slate tablet, in a director's chair outback. Flip on the light over the coffee table near the small wall-mounted sign that read: “A clean, well-lighted place, for books.” Review new arrivals, so I could answer questions; people always asked after the new arrivals on Sundays. Flip the Bang & Olufsen on low, tuned to classical. Kick on the registers. Read through notes from Brian and/or Mary, the owners. Scan special orders to fill. Walk the aisles quickly to find where the beast was lurking and then settle in behind the counter with the New York Times. The goal was to get thus ensconced for a moment before the customers began coming in.

The truly enlightening crowds (for even their questions were edifying) would descend with a just a few folks at first; eventually scores of delighted people were roaming the aisles. The owners would join for the active hours, and I’d watch them work the store, saying Hi to new and old friends, dispensing advice on all fronts, until the afternoon shift arrived. Then I was off for the day.

Try harder

Brian Harvey had a thriving law practice in the financial district of San Francisco which he sold to open a bookstore in the East Bay suburbs. He was clearly insane in the best possible way.

He and his wife Mary were the nicest people I’ve ever known, and I think everyone who knew them could say the same. Their shop was the mythic stuff of films and legend, like most every independent bookstore founded on a love of literature. Everyone came and went with a “Hi, Mary” and “Bye, Brian.” Families bought gifts and joined reading groups. They sought Mary and Brian’s and other staff’s advice on books, films and theater; It was alive with people sharing culture.

Mary was an archetypal Berkeley grad, down to Birkenstocks with socks and bangs clipped to one side with a simple barrette. Brian was Mark Twain-esque in his laughter, wit and delivery; the embodiment of a wicked-smart jocular curmudgeon: starkly opinionated about what constituted a worthy book and author and quite free with recommendations for and against anyone on his shelves or throughout history. Mary would just shake her head.

My mother found the Harveys and Rakestraw Books shortly after we moved to town. She dragged me through on weekends, after visiting the health food store next door, for hours. Eventually, I’d leave the nuts and vitamins early to roam the aisles in the bookstore and wait for her. Natural perhaps, too, that when time came for me to get a part-time job, if I ever wanted to pay for gas or have a car, it was in the bookstore.

Brian and Mary were brilliant to work for. Brian handled staff. Mary handled Alfred. Besides endless insight into the book business, good writing, good film, theater, and literature, Brian taught me several important things for an awkward teenager and future lit-major to learn: “Don’t lean,” and “Keep your hands out of your pockets.” He was a man of few words in this arena (all of them above) and relentless: I was cured of slouching, at least in the shop, within a week. …I have to say, books and literature were easy; these lessons were the toughest for me at the time (I also grew taller by several inches while working for the Harveys.) If I am ever mindful of good posture now, I owe it to working for Brian Harvey.

Two other things stick out about Brian's handling of staff

One day I mistyped something on a special order or a return airway bill (yes, mistyped; yes, airway bill). I think I swapped the shop’s street address for that of Little, Brown and Company—a curse of inattentiveness has plagued me throughout my life. Brian pointed out the mistake. I began to explain what led to it, and Brian raised a hand to stop me. He said simply, “Try harder,” with a laugh and we moved on.

I recall on my first day, Brian had announced my training schedule similarly; he raised a hand to prevent me from stepping behind the counter and pointed out into the store: “Walk the aisles; commit every book to memory.” That was it; for two weeks, I was paid to come to the store, after school, and inspect every book in inventory, from one end of the shop to the other. His reasoning was simple, “I can teach how to use the cash register in fifteen minutes; …how else are you going to learn about the books?” Apparently I was ahead-of-the-curve; he'd had other new hires roam the aisles for a month. It was a good of couple weeks.

Several nights a week, early evening, to close

I’d arrive at the tail end of the last rush. For this bedroom community, dinner time on was a fairly quite time in all the shops. I’d help with the last evening customers, say goodbye to the afternoon staff (often Brian or Mary) and manage the store until close.

Having already heard news (mostly on MTV), newspapers held less interest in the evening than they did on Sunday. Brian and Mary had devoted a short wall, below the counter, to works by a syndicated cartoonist featuring a family of bunny rabbits and a pair of fez-wearing twins. I did read all of those, start to finish. They were and are hilarious. (I presume everyone has read them all; if by some chance you have not, stop and do so. Your life and the life of those around you will be better for it.) The artist went on to have some success on TV. His name was and is Matt Groening (like complaining).

I was through those pretty quickly, and the shop was usually nearly silent; one or two customers at a time. So, I read. I picked up books that I’d heard Brian and Mary and customers talking about. Classics, I’d heard everyone talking about. Books that were clearly college-aged material. I read, several nights a week, early evening, to close.

Alfred the cat

Brian and Mary eventually retired (again) and sold the shop to some folks from the next town over. New owners had worked for a major chain and had a notion of employing a “personal computing machine” or maybe two to track inventory. Brian was a bit old fashioned, refused to let a computer in the store, and still had all books inventoried on a series of index cards that filled a recessed space and ran the length and breadth of the iron-black counters—just out of sight of the customers and in easy reach of staff. Some folks say the switch to computers with the new ownership helped gird the shop for the battles ahead (plummeting national sales and closings of small shops everywhere); however, I know it was Alfred the cat.

Alfred the cat’s actual name: Alfredo Arthur William Horatio Ralph Edgar Cicero Nathaniel Cappuccino William (different William) Henry Ernest Boccaccio Samuel…the cat (you get the idea), a beautiful black, long-haired feline with thick fur and greenish golden eyes. The flat-iron-black modern floor-to-ceiling shelving units held all books at angles for easy viewing and had flat shelves at just better than waist height for lay-flat displays. Alfred lounged on the shelves throughout the shop, mostly on the lay-flat space.

A few tough coincidences here: Children loved Alfred. The lay-flat display space was roughly at kid-head-(or face)-height. Alfred didn’t like children.

So, you know where this goes. After working there a while, you could feel the rhythms even from across the shop: children run in…(beat)…scan shelves, find their section, and run around the corner (beat) “There’s a cat, Mom!” (beat) (sometimes another beat) and unfortunate sounds and tears followed.

I asked Brian if he ever thought of taking Alfred home. “I value my face too much!" he'd say. "No, Mary loves Alfred, so he stays; but he stays in the shop.” I’d like to say Alfred stayed on when they sold the shop, but I’m sure they did take him home then ...or drove slowly while he followed the car.

The survival of the shop

The shop was in the beginning of decline when they sold, but its fortunes did turnaround somewhat and level off (I believe) even through the toughest of years. No doubt the computerized inventory tracking and new management systems helped guard profits. Clearly the goodwill that Mary and Brian built up over the years with the larger Rakestraw community helped sustain it.

But, in the deeper analysis, behind the scenes and statistics, I think it was the generation of kids like me that were mauled by the dwarf, long-haired puma they kept in the shop that made it last. We grew tough. If customers can have significant, repeated facial lacerations (some of us are slow to learn) and keep coming back to your store, you know you have them for life!

In all seriousness, sticking with literature and the arts has always been tough, and in the toughest times it is toughest among us who dig in and find new ways to hold the fort. So I am glad that when Brian and Mary wanted to retire, and as bookstore fortunes were clearly uncertain, noble souls chose to invest in such an enterprise, others followed, and a community never stopped frequenting it, keeping it alive with people sharing culture.

I always think of Rakestraw Books around the Holidays. I hope everyone thinks about visiting their ‘Rakestraw Books’ this season, and I invite all who do to reflect on the simple lessons of my first job: Try harder, commit every book to memory, and please don’t pet the cat.


Internal Bullwhip Effects (& how to lessen them) – improving time-to-market for scholarly pub – part 1 (of 2)

We played the root beer game in an ops class this semester. I’d heard of bullwhip effects, but it was the first time I’d ever played the game or run a simulation. Interesting game, it made me wonder about implications for scholarly pub.

Basically, the bullwhip effect is a supply chain concept that grew out of research in manufacturing environments: e.g., root beer factories. Relatively recently, (1960s on) researchers found that tiny changes in demand at one end of the pipeline will send destructive shockwaves up the supply chain; the shockwaves increase in amplitude—interfering with and giving rise to other shockwaves—as they travel to the factory, resulting ultimately in complex delays and skyrocketing costs for the organization.

The complex delays and high production costs (overhead) that result are often a mystery to firms suffering these effects. Bullwhip effects can occur externally (originating with the customer) or internally (between divisions or departments). They can also occur in service industry organizations.

My first thoughts ran to books and returns: How much more complicated does “supply” become in a world of “Gone today, here tomorrow” inventory? But again, the bullwhip effect also applies to service industries; e.g., a scholarly press offering publishing services to its authors.

If we look at these “other customers,” authors and manuscripts (mss.), then the supply chain inverts. Rather than printing and warehousing being the “factory” with the customer-facing endpoint being tablets, Amazon, websites, or bookstores, the “factory” would be the production department itself, or the “bookmaking operation” as a whole, and the customer-facing endpoint would be upstream in acquisitions.

Again, organizations can also experience internal bullwhip effects; so from this, the game, and some reading, I had a few questions:

a) Could some scholarly pub houses experience internal bullwhip effects (that might cause fitful delays in delivery of bound books),

b) Could others (that get books out quickly) have procedures in place that coincidentally dampen bullwhip effects, and

c) Could some of the “fixes” developed in other industries shed light on paths to shortened operational timelines and enhanced profitability for u and other scholarly pubs?

Traffic patterns

Proofs for the bullwhip effect are very cool but can be complicated; however, we live through a simple illustration of a linear bullwhip effect whenever we drive through a “backup” on a freeway.

A backup can be caused by a bottleneck or accident. It can also be (and is more frequently) caused by concern over a potential bottleneck or accident or more simply still from merging traffic; i.e., slowing down to observe something unusual or slowing down to avoid another vehicle. In heavy traffic, the car following a car that slows down must slow down a little longer than the car ahead of it, to be sure that the first car resumes speed before continuing on. The car following that car must slow down longer still, and so on down the line. (Each car is over-estimating the need to pause and, in a sense, "asking" for an overestimate from the next car; building in not only a delay but a small multiplier of the delay at each stage.) Fifteen cars back, what began as a 10-second delay for car one has grown to a two and 1/2 minute slowdown for car sixteen, and what's more, the amount added at each stage is increasing: a backup is born.

On the flipside of backups is the world of the “high-speed merge.” A beautiful freeway to drive on, but how to get there? ...and, is it a toll road?

Simple sources and general fixes of bullwhip effects

Per considerable research and many rounds of the root beer game, changes in levels of service or “boom and bust” periods of requests for resources/production cause destructive bullwhip effects. Several general approaches help dampen them: A) keeping service or production levels constant, as much as possible, B) maintaining spare operational capacity (extra room between cars) to absorb the changes that can’t be controlled for — so they don’t translate from one project to the next — and, C) in all cases, sharing information from customer-facing endpoints to supplier-side materials- and services-providers helps managers control against (i.e., lessen) the deleterious impact/s of the shockwaves and bullwhips.

Scholarly pub

Looking within a publishing house, we can see the production department as the “factory” and acquisitions as the “retail store” or customer-facing endpoint; i.e., where the requests of work from the factory begin (e.g., contracts for services, receipts of final mss.). Managing editorial could be lumped in with the “factory” or seen as an intervening “distribution center.” In either case, acquisitions would be a value-added and customer-facing service center leading ultimately to the “factory” beyond.

Together these departments constitute a supply chain of publishing services, resulting in the published work of its customers (authors) landing online and in the warehouse. The receipt of a final ms. and transmittal into the pipeline from acquisitions is the same as an “order” being placed for those services.

(Marketing is part of the publishing services offered; but, delays are already “mature” enough in production, for illustration purposes.)

Treating the “fixes” above in reverse: A) we’d expect any fluctuations in the rate of transmittals from acquisitions to the rest of the house, at the start of the process, to add to scheduling delays and increased overhead costs in the “factory,” per the bullwhip effect, B) we’d expect the absence of spare operational capacity to worsen these effects, and C) any restrictions on the flow of information on future needs for services to send managers through multiple ad hoc rounds of scheduling revision — themselves further consumptive of resources and generative of delays.

Surprises leading to variations in the rates of requests for service (service levels)

Acquisitions, as a “customer-facing endpoint,” contends with considerable variations and surprises in its dealings with authors; e.g., the contracting for and delivery of final mss. 1) Some projects are on a short timeline, sent through peer review and contracted not far in advance of final delivery, as the manuscript is complete. Others are on a longer timeline, as they have yet to be written; i.e., they are contracted on proposal basis. 2) Across both of these categories, some projects arrive late, past their contracted delivery date, while others are on time.

Four general categories of variances and their resulting impact on scheduling are noted below, with projects on short timelines that arrive late offering the most potential surprises ( + + )—and therefore the greatest change in scheduling—and projects on long timelines arriving on time offering the least potential surprises ( – – ).

These fluctuations in scheduling and arrivals can translate to irregularities in transmittals from acquisition to managing editorial and impact scheduling in the production “factory” beyond. That said; some firms may have several steps or other procedures in place that effectively spread ms. arrivals and their transmittals out through the calendar. Such steps or procedures would normalize variations in requests for service and dampen would-be bullwhip effects before they start. Absent these measures, variations in arrivals would translate to variations in requests of later departments in the pipeline.

Divide and accelerate

Isolating groups of projects that characteristically lead to variations in requests of production/requests for resources or present other scheduling challenges (surprises) allows organizations to make managerial decisions to address each group separately, restricting such variations (from getting out of hand) and thereby minimizing costs and maximizing profitability.

There would be many ways to isolate such groups for scholarly publishers; above is just one example. But where would you go from there?

Perhaps (and before addressing operational capacity and information flow) we can look to other industries that manage "controlled chaos" under similar circumstances for inspiration; to see how they cope, survive, and thrive. Many do, in fact, cope, survive and thrive, often with fewer resources and sometimes to quite winning and even profitable effects ...which are categorically better than bullwhip effects.

I'll take a stab at looking for inspiration in one such industry in a followup post.


R. Barthes on branding – the u press network—part 3 – the frame of reference for u presses – what do u presses sell and to whom?

Scholarly presses produce books and journals in many forms; e.g., digital, print, audio, databases. They work with many channel partners and vendors for distribution.

What do they sell?

Not books and journals. Or at least, not only books and journals. Books, journals, and all other market-facing products are, in fact, secondary business moves based on a primary sale of services. The sale occurs by quid pro quo under contract. The performance of which includes the production (and distribution) of the aforementioned market-facing products. Scholarly presses primarily sell publishing services

To whom?

Scholarly presses sell publishing services to scholars, experts, and researchers. U presses in particular segment the market (of authors) to serve humanities scholars, experts, and researchers. Many u presses also serve regional trade and special interest authors.

Importance – today

The Frame of Reference for u presses, therefore, is everything that allows these authors to publish their content; i.e., anything to offers those services or anything can be used as a substitute for those services. The participants within this Frame of Reference have changed drastically, over the last two decades; we’ve seen an explosion of competitors and alternates in the market-space. Many customers (authors) are faced with these alternative and competitive choices—many more than in years past.

New and improved performance

New publishing models (eBooks, databases) would be new, competitive offerings of performance to attract and maintain customers (authors) and revenue. As such, they would not constitute new business models. I.e., while the secondary performance may change, the primary model of selling or trading publishing services to scholars, experts, and researchers remains the same.

Caveat – new frame/s

In light of the recent explosion in competitors and alternates, the current frame of reference is potentially over-served. New frames could lead to new models, and new business models could attract new business and new revenue; but, new models would need to be extrapolated from current and emergent needs of the targeted customer base—or on a new or expanded customer base—and would have to be presented as an alternate to or in addition to the sale of publishing services.

POPs and PODs – based on the current Frame

Given the customer base and model above, the frame of references can be altered slightly or “tightened” to attract and maintain customers (authors) and revenue.

This tightening of focus is achieved by leveraging both Points of Parity and Points of Difference to best advantage; i.e., clearly defining and communicating the competitively distinct value proposition of publishing with u presses to the customers (authors). Subsequent posts under the R. Barthes heading address competitive positioning by sketching the leverage-ability of certain attributes based on the current frame.

NEXT POST = Internal Bullwhip Effects (& how to lessen them) – improving time-to-market for scholarly pub


R. Barthes on branding – the u press network—part 2 - the communicative impact "engine" of u presses

As mentioned previously, a brand’s value exists in the eye of the beholder; i.e., the customer. A true review of the current value of the u press network and gauge of current trends (future value) would call for market research (with authors). But, a few attributes (and how they might lead to points of parity and points of difference) are worth considering before and after such research.

Premium Access

To admit of a bias up front: I believe that the premium access component of many not-for-profit scholarly publishing, specifically herein u presses, brings unique value to the mission.

To admit of another: monetizing content is fraught, these days, and publishers will want to diversify away from monetizing content alone; nonetheless, commercial underpinnings of attracting use with content (enhancing the attractive and communicative impact of content) remains, is relevant, and brings unique value.

This post lists several attributes of u presses, in search of Points of Parity (POPs) and Points of Difference (PODs) with/from free publishing (OA): Arm’s Length, Ameliorative, Multidisciplinary, Commercial, and Active in the Market.

The hypothesis here is that the premium access component amplifies the aggregate impact on the focus of the publishing process (content), just as a sling swung around and around over one’s head, accelerates a small rock (idea) to be hurled at a giant or a target. Relevant metaphor, yes: David and Goliath; u presses were built, on premium access footing, to hurl bolts at giants (for-profit presses, popular readership, and world markets). In so far as these remain targets, u presses’ premium access status would be a value-added component of their publishing programs.

Slings & slingshots

Before vulcanized rubber, slingshots were made with a long, non-elastic, usually leather, strap or sling. A “shot” was achieved by whirling a bolt held in a small pouch at mid sling, around and around over your head, usually at arm’s length, until effective velocity and best trajectory was reached, whereupon one side of the sling would be released for a shot at the target. It took a lot of practice, professional-type practice, to hit the mark.

Premium Access & Missionary as Compound-Attribute and POD

Several attributes of u presses are listed on the info graphic below.

Arm’s length = tied to research institutions but not beholden to them
Ameliorative = increasing the communicative power (impact) of texts
Multidisciplinary = rendering arguments across the disciplines and to the public
Premium Access = impact-driven; market-facing
Active in the market = res ipsa loquitor—but marketers do it better

Each attribute is worth examining in detail; but a salientcompound-attribute holds u presses uniquely apart from exclusively Open Access (OA) and for-profit publishers, and that is the oft mentioned and oft under-appreciated combination of “Missionary + Premium Access.”

OA publishers = Missionary (communicatively passive)
For-profit publishers = Premium Access (communicatively active)
U presses = Missionary + Premium Access (communicatively active)

Decision making is different across the two camps. Missionary = importance. Premium Access = impact. Members of each camp have slightly different criteria for selection of works to be included in their specific programs (simplified here for illustration).

Librarians = will patrons need access to it?
Archivists = will someone need access to it someday?
Scholars = will we need access to it for teaching or study?
For-profit publishers = will it have impact?
U presses = could its impact change discussions; does it matter?

Though born of missionary parents, u presses were built on a Premium Access structure like that of for-profit publishers. As such, u presses consider both importance and impact at all stages in the publishing process. I.e., u presses are largely impact-driven, professional across all services, and uniquely (with respect to other members of the missionary community) promotionally-minded, championing ideas in the marketplace, and not just to scholars and students but also to the public.

Why is this?

We live in a commercial society. For good and ill, commerce is an engine unto itself, in that it improves the tools it needs to improve its outcomes.

As the info graphic attempts to illustrate, the Premium Access component to the publishing process cycles both the selection and the “Amelioration” of texts on notions of impact; i.e., the communicative power of ideas/stories are both selected for and enhanced during Premium Access project development. Once that optimal trajectory of topical scope, attractive reason, and persuasive explication and packaging is reached, the material is released from development to be championed and consumed in the marketplace.

For-profit commercial presses select and develop projects on impact alone (subjects are taken into account, but impact is the governing criterion). For-profit commercial presses also not only influence popular discourse, but they tend to dominate it; they change discussions and encourage exploration.

Long ago, scholars, researchers, libraries, and universities realized that if popular motivations lead individuals away from new ideas and research, then granting access (alone) to new ideas would not be enough; new ideas and research will not achieve their full potential or do the most (or potential any) social good, if they are overlooked.

Academics also realized that the communicative impact of ideas is uniquely enhanced during Premium Access project development: I.e., for-profit publishers were not only dominating discourse, but they were also refining, hoarding, and continually evolving (through dint of engagement with the marketplace) best editorial, production, and marketing practices.

Why the slingshot?

U presses were charted to give researchers competitive access to popular markets. I.e., they were charted to give scholars access to the full complement of professional publishing services; namely, the Premium Access development of their ideas through discriminating selection, development, production, and marketing.

To this end, U presses were chartered with missionary objectives, to treat the best of ideas with the potential to do the most social good, and they were built on a Premium Access structure to reach into the popular markets and develop and refine the best practices to do so — on a continuing, self-improving basis — so that those best ideas could compete most successfully on the giant, for-profit publisher’s turf.

In sum

Testing ideas in a classroom is one thing. Testing ideas with your colleagues, another. Testing ideas in the marketplace, before the whole world, is quite another; it calls for specific and evolving skills, focus, and commitment. It all comes down who do you want to reach, when, and how well do you want to do it. As we experiment with and transition to new models we will need to be sure to safeguard, replicate or improve on this engine.

Further on Why the slingshot, yes, if you’re wondering; right hip pocket, for several weeks after reading the novel. I was the Huck Finn of Wilton, CT, walking the forests along the NY/CT state line for most of a summer; tin cans, tree trunks, and mailboxes trembled at my approach.


Max Planck Institute Librarin, Urs Schoepflin, on OA and the future of humanities research

Librarian from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), Urs Schoepflin, gave a talk on the IU campus on Monday, 10/22/2012. The talk was titled “Challenges for the Humanities: Scholarly Work and Publishing in the Digital Age.” Schoepflin presented the MPWIG’s European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO), an Open Access Infrastructure to bring Essential Cultural Heritage Online. His talk was part of the History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium Series at IU.

ECHO is a framework for bringing Humanities research and scholarship online; it hosts primary materials, enables peer review, empaneled an editorial board, and brings forth finished works online, for download, and POD. I think they’ve completed 5 books already. Schoepflin discussed the history of the project, the creation of the pilot platform, and the likely road ahead. One thing that stood out: researchers and librarians at the MPWIG largely eschewed the assistance of IT professionals in its creation; they opted instead to have Humanities researchers with specific aptitudes for technology define and build what was needed to best facilitate research for the online community. They held to simpler-is-better model and made sure everything could work through a browser.

It is a fascinating infrastructural and professional approach; many institutes are participating; materials are of the highest quality. It is truly part of a new era in research. Schoepflin summed it up—specifically referencing the part about Humanities researchers learning online programming tools—by saying simply: This is the future of Humanities research.

He’s right. I had to think about it; but, he is right. What’s most right about what he said is the fact that the researchers and librarians are doing it for themselves; they learned the IT tools to build a contemporary research solution. That didn't happen in the past. It's seems it will in the future.

We’ve seen this in other industries; e.g, marketers and graphic design software. The web is informational software. It is only natural for workers to source their own skills and solutions. I’m not versed enough in OA platforms to know how common this is yet or when exactly we reached its advent; but, it’s in the past.

Schoepflin is right about OA being the future of Humanities research in the larger sense as well; it’s unlikely that we would see a future without OA in it. OA is a wonderful thing. What does this mean for scholarly communications on the whole? Could we see a world of all OA all the time an only OA all the time, everywhere?

Unlikely, as we live in a commercial society, and if we did, the resulting communication/s would be less robust, and a great deal of value would be left on the table for consumers, institutions, and publishers. However, we will see more OA, as it does certain things well.

E.g., Social Media & Marketing (that other kind of Communications): Social Media has become a huge focus of Marketing. It’s better than traditional media for certain things. Mainstream advertising was dominant to universal (an exclusive mode of communication). Social media and online advertising has bucked the old trends. Now we live in a world with both.

But, we still have mainstream marketing; its role has simply changed and refocused—in concert with the new platforms’ messaging. I.e., traditional, mainstream marketing remains part of the marketing/cultural discourse or the “marketing mix,” alongside the new, online marketing, and in many ways, the one “plays off of” the other.

Similarly, OA is changing old models. Publishing/communications programs will naturally look to make the most of OA. But, if we look at Marketing (with a capital M) responding to Social Media, we see the presence and actions of the one, "new" channel increased and altered the prospects for the other; value was ultimately found in fielding a coordinated approach that capitalized on the strengths, reach, and efficacy of each.

The scholarly communications/publishing market will seek an advantageous and complimentary equilibrium point or strategic "mix" in a similar way, if not to a similar degree.


Funding the Future: Free riders and Friends

(I promise not to use the word plummeting in the following post. Thank you for reading)

We didn’t have national health care, because we didn’t have it. It wasn’t already in place when we came along. It wasn’t right (that we didn't have it). It just wasn’t.

A) We mostly do what we’ve done before. B) We mostly don’t do what we’ve never done before, because we are committed to a course of action that is well outlined in A.

Here’s the thing.

Currently, we have: JIT acquisitions in libraries; myriad, able new rivals (calling themselves “publishers”) entering the market, from all sides; online vendors backward integrating to join them (i.e., threaten us), and we are certain that it was always meant to be right that we don’t have a national university press foundation? Not one for the ongoing advancement of publishing excellence for the public good? We’re positive of that? No value whatsoever to the American people?

A national u press fundraising entity (centrality)—even one that didn’t accept donations—would bring valuable to the u press network as a strategic hub alone for the sharing of: best practices, resources, enhanced buying power, enhanced negotiating power (chachkies and DVDs to give away), and many other things to be named/discovered later.

95% of donations ($) come in from 5% of donors. “Friends of the Press” programs are largely PR. U presses would realize more $ in donations, under aegis of Friends of U Presses fundraising at a national level than they do now flogging after it endlessly on their own + the brand equity of university presses would rise, significantly, due to attendant, regular national promotion.

+ + Individual presses would still keep their 5% of highly motivated donors; i.e., 95% of current $s raised.

I have thought that universities without presses could be moved to pay into the u press network with such a centralized system, and they could; but, that would more likely be under aegis of Membership rather than as Friends of the Presses.

+ + It would also be better done commercially with centralized services offered through an online, customer-facing site. Or, words to that effect.


R. Barthes on branding – the u press network—part 1

50 years ago, a brand was almost like a product that you sold to consumers. Now, it’s a story you partner with them to create.

We all know this pretty well. Branding thought leaders focus on this concept across every industry: Ongoing meaning-making in collaboration with communities of stakeholders. Customers reject and select narrative/s more than they ever had before. They contribute more narrative/s scraps than ever before. Nutshell: Brand is in the eye of the beholder.

It always was in the eye of the beholder, but great strides are made by companies these days when their Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) stops to find out what the beholder is beholding, first. Successful firms track and guide conversations to capture a gestalt of needs (met and unmet) in order to assess current brand value and to find new opportunities.

Roland B.

Each intro text to branding (e.g., Mythologies, I say with tongue only slightly in check) covers the basics of the making of meaning; i.e., how a single word or symbol (a “logos,” logo, or brand) is tied to myriad narratives/beliefs about that word or symbol. Added all up, all the stories we know about X defines X …for us. Expand the group to include everyone in a market or industry, and shift X to a brand, and the meaning or value of the brand is the sum total of all narrative/s that relate to the brand in the market.

In the most extreme sense, the brand itself is meaningless, until we bring meaning to it, like stone soup. (One caveat: stone soup without flavor doesn’t exist; categorically, that’s just a rock in a bucket.) Some call this flavor- or meaning-making signification; others call it branding.

The important part is that signification or branding (meaning-making) is ongoing and never stops; the stone soup is always changing flavor—depending on who’s adding narrative scraps to it. Meaning is always being created (except in Alphaville).

Some add and attract narrative; others have narrative thrust upon them. That’s what we call culture. You can guide it and influence it, but you can’t make it hold still.

The U Press Network

All these ideas apply to the brands of individual u presses. Brilliant marketers across the network are applying them famously with great success. I’ve been thinking about the network as a whole. And not about the AAUP, which is also guided by brilliant marketers. But if you dig down a little deeper you get to the network itself: what is it; why is it; and what are all of the narratives about it currently adding up to; i.e., what is the existential value of The U Press Network—in the eyes of the beholders?

This would be the subject of a fascinating market research study, and an exhaustive approach would call for complex voice of customer. If any know of such a study having been completed, or would like to partner on one, please let me know. Meanwhile, I am going to hazard some summary analysis of adducible trends or views shared in the media.

The U Press Network has experienced tectonic change/s of late (last few decades); just for starters, the category that it belongs to has been altered. The U Press Network has had narrative/s thrust upon it. We can’t hold things still, any more than we can go back and un-change the category; but, we can influence them, and we should.

Whenever a traditional landscape experiences tectonic shifts, Black Swan opportunities arise. Good and bad things can happen—and they usually do; but, strangely enough, the good things only happen when you go after them; the bad things walk right up, bite you on the bottom, and say We’re here.

Many are discussing Points of Parity and Difference these days, across the category. I thought I’d wrangle a few to see if they reveal ways to avoid the bad and target the good. I’ll cover individual attribute in separate posts to see what compelling PODs they suggest.


expanded coverage: including mba coursework and case studies

This is “scrutanda 2.0” = expanding the focus of posts to include current MBA coursework, the myriad case studies, texts, and lectures, as well as extracurricular readings, random related cultural events, and observations—as they might pertain to and benefit scholarly publishing and the pursuit of new business opportunities.

I will share insights from case studies in other industries and share some of the experience of diving into the multidisciplinary coursework of a highly ranked MBA program (managerial accounting, corporate finance, operations, and marketing management) equipped with extensive communications experience and a diverse humanities background in literary and cultural analysis, including but not limited to a working knowledge of Wittgenstein, Chaucer, and Sallust.

Scrutanda was started to share notes from workshops and panel sessions at the AAUP annual meeting. It was mainly for colleagues who were unable to participate in person or who wanted additional perspective/s. Sharing new learning and discussions of best practices seemed a natural extension of the professional development activity of attending a national conference.

MBA coursework is the largest professional development activity I’ve ever engaged in. It is a privilege to be able to pursue advanced studies in corporate strategy and management at such an august and innovative business school, as it is a privilege to be schooled in the ins and outs of scholarly publishing from colleagues at my institution and across the AAUP. So, I thought, likewise, that I’d share what I learn as I go, for any who might be interested.

Just a couple semesters in, I have had many eye-opening and unexpected discoveries; the Harvard Business School case study, Vans: Skating on Air, yielded fascinating insights into brand, and I believe it could be important reading for everyone interested in the brand of the u-press system.

Given the rate of change in the industry and the potential wealth of upheaval and new opportunities that change can bring, I will do my best to share what I see as potentially relevant in as timely and as candid a manner as possible. I will focus extra attention on key topics (e.g., brand, new products and services, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, change management) and to admit of a bias early on: I may beat a drum on the polyvalent strategic benefits of a unified AAUP customer-facing online product, from time to time.

Scholarly pub will find unprecedented profitability and stability in new technology. That is inevitable. The real trick will be safeguarding what’s important through this period, so that the most can be made of that profitability once it’s achieved.

Specifically, the u-press system is a valuable intellectual national asset. Protecting the diversity of all that constitutes it (positions and institutions) may well be complexly important, for it to compete most effectively in the new era; therefore, one would need to take care that the nature of change itself isn’t dictating the selection for survival of constituent elements alone; survival of the fittest in the short term upheaval could leave the system less fit for survival (profits) in the long run, when things settle down.

That is what’s drawn me to MBA coursework; a desire to leverage the latest skills and best practices to bring added value to future projects. I.e., the standard definition of professional development; shared herewith in the same spirit.


plenary 2—collaborating with users...building community

Res ipsa loquitur, modo possunt convenire in quinque minuta. Or, as Shakespeare said, “The gestalt is the thing.” You really had to be there—though luckily this session was videotaped, available here, if you weren’t.

Brilliant session! Each speaker abided the Ignite format of using 20 slides on automatic rotation, 15 seconds per slide, to share stories of successfully collaborating with users, curating content and building community via succinct, targeted messaging, across a WIDE variety of platforms, circumstances, and industries—I’ve already gone over.

Wonderfully inspiring and thought provoking. Check out the video and each of the speakers’ sites via the Wiki, especially: Daniel Kibblesmith, Groupon = hilarious; Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus = impressive; and Tony Sanfilippo, Book Places in the Digital Age = evil genius.

Sanfilippo gets earns evil genius stripes twice over; first, for fitting his May 9 piece in The Digital Digest, here into quinque minuta, and second, for crafting a viable narrative for metadatarium-styled print b-stores in the digital age. It would be good to see such narratives built into a detailed and scalable b-plan/s.

Every one of us who grew up working in bookstores should read both versions—and check out Tony’s blog, here. Don’t miss/revisit his repost of The Old Man and The Sea, here.


fundraising in a tough economy

I heard several people remark that this session was one of the best fundraising sessions they'd attended. Sheila Leary is terrifically frank and open. So too, were her panelists. Together they delivered a rich session covering practical advice for expanding fundraising programs, effective strategies for approaching grants and donors, and a few recent success stories from across the sector. We were also given a thorough presentation of Utah’s analysis and thinking leading to their decision to join the Colorado University Press consortium. Video = recommended viewing.

Key advice: Always be mindful that 5% of donors deliver 95% of dollars. Always build an endowment contribution into each major grant application. Major endowment builds take significant vision and long-term commitment—10 years to 15/20 years to complete. However, as architect David Burnam once said: “Make no little plans.” Big plans get folks excited. Seed monies for major projects/endowments are the hardest; but, once giving begins, behavior gives rise to behavior, more get involved, and targets are reached in accelerant fashion. Flexibility and creativity are key in crafting grants; tying salient aspects of current and future plans, programs, and operations into donors’ targets for support/giving = priceless.

The most impressive part of the session was Michael Spooner’s (Utah) breakdown of Utah’s scenario analysis leading to their decision to merge with Colorado. Faced with closing operations, Spooner and his managers worked up no fewer than six post-funding scenarios, projecting likely requirements and outcomes for each, and then weighed all options. To think most strategically under the circumstances, Spooner and his team realized early on that they needed to keep in mind that a u press does not belong to its staff and as a corollary that a press in fact belongs to its parent institution (the u). Keeping mindful of these parameters opened Spooner’s team up to greater adaptability amid quickly changing circumstances and allowed them to flesh out more options. Spooner’s explication of the scenario analysis gives us an amazing, clearly presented example of strategic thinking, analysis and leadership in difficult times. Any interested should check out the video.


chunking content

Our content is being actively solicited at the chunk level by commercial publishers targeting large revenues. [This wasn’t in the session, but I can add it from the Rights and Permissions perspective.] For years, commercial pubs have attempted to “tack on” custom pub platform use to reprint permission requests. Now, we are seeing a rise in direct requests from commercial publishing houses to place our chunks into their custom pub platforms. [This too has been going on for some; but, it is becoming more common.] By analysis of the requests, discussions, and trends, they are projecting considerable growth and revenues from the custom pub/chunk segment. This conclusion was supported by Michael Cairns’ presentation. Chunking our own content more creatively will provide additional channels for increased dissemination, course adoption, and revenue. This session provided a gloss of current examples how u presses are working to access direct-to-consumer platforms and chunking their content in new ways.

Custom Pub

Michael Cairns (AcademicPub) gave an excellent overview of market trends and prospects for custom pub. Major takeaways: Custom pub is a growing source of revenue for commercial scholarly presses. Permissions revenue will be a larger portion of overall revenue than ever before. In this space, survival will be a matter of the fittest metadata, i.e., chapter-level metadata.

All commercial houses and some institutions are fielding custom pub platforms of their own. Custom pub fits the changing needs of universities and faculty. It is growing at a faster rate than the overall market. IU, MIT, and UC are all leaders in this space. IU and UC platforms are powered by Courseload in Indianapolis. MIT has worked with Open Courseware since the later nineties. AcademicPub allows scholarly presses to host their own content, in aggregate and on their own sites—direct-to-consumers. NB: AcademicPub allows scholars to self-publish works into the platform.

Research has indicated a correlation between improved metadata and increased sales. Permissions/chunks will likely be a greater portion of publishers’ revenue in the future. With each university press and each commercial press currently publishing thousands (and in some cases many thousands) of new “chunks” per season, chapter-level metadata (key words, abstract/summary) will be key in increasing the amount of revenue generated within custom pub platforms. In a separate context, Nic Newman, BBC, is quoted as having said: “You can’t afford to create a piece of content for any one platform. Instead of crafting a website [book], you have to put more effort into crafting the description of the different bits of an asset, so they can be reused more effectively, so they can deliver [generate] more value.” Early movers can gain leverage with enhanced, chapter-level metadata. E.g., Duke, who already has chapter-level metadata for all of its books.

Shorts & Briefs

Alan Harvey (Stanford u press) and Marjorie Fowler (UNC press) shared experiences with and views on eShorts and Briefs. Major takeaways: Both the UNC eShorts and the Stanford Briefs programs are driven by editorial and marketing working closely together; editorial makes final decisions. There is no clear answer as to whether either approach will drive sales & revenue; however, both presses are continuing the projects, and Stanford expects the new form may be attractive to certain disciplines, especially Philosophy and Lit Crit, providing a new product category for academics and u presses in the long run.

UNC eBook Shorts program: Though UNC has started with Shorts (excerpts/chapters from UNC books), they are looking to original shorts as well (a.k.a., Briefs). Editors have been discussing the approach with authors for a long time. They felt shorts would be the easier to bring forward as finished products, and strategic goals include driving book sales; so, excerpts again seemed a best fit, in the short term. To maintain a connection between short and long forms, “Excerpted from…” is included in the subtitle to each UNC eShort.

As to the question of whether this is all worth it = no clear answer. 100 total Short units have sold to date across all 7 titles. Not clear if Shorts have increased long-form sales. There was some thinking that shorts could be adoptable as texts. No results. They are looking at marketing them as such; but, value remains in question here as well. Selection of chunks from texts = the editorial department/director makes the final decision.

Stanford Briefs digital imprint: SUP noted that while long-form sales plummeted, rights/permissions revenue spiked. They started experimenting in-house with what else might be done to access “chunk-level” sales/revenue. Acquisitions editorial (Harvey in particular) observed that if one removes all the interstitial bits from a monograph: long intro; summaries; references/treatment of existing literature; traverses between sections of the text, you are left with a Brief draft of an argument. Here one hears faint echoes of both David Simon (The Wire) and Grant McCracken (Transformations and Culturematic) from last year’s meeting.

Business was seen as the most remunerative subject area and so is where they started: The Physics of Business Growth: Mindsets, System, and Processes. As mentioned, SUP feels Philosophy and Literary Studies lend themselves well to such lengths; Philosophy in particular might be receptive as a discipline. The form might also lend itself well to “updates” to an existing book.


beyond eBooks

The ineluctable modality of the digital is just getting started. Where it will go from here was the subject of this panel. Authors and colleagues at other u presses experimenting with new ways to create and interrelate scholarship; Harry Potter-style daily newspapers, with freely embedded videos in text taken as read, portal books and animated archives taken up for discussion.

Chair David Schiffman’s description and opening remarks framed the session well. Schiffman reminded us that following any fundamental shift, there is a period of an “evolutionary” reaction. eBooks are such an example. “Revolutionary” adaptation begins a pace beyond. We are entering the revolutionary period of adaptation: digital education, digital scholarship, primary interactivity. Per Schiffman, the revolution will be digitized or rather the digital will lead to revolutionized temporality and forms of scholarly publishing and revolutionized roles for authors and scholarly publishers. The changing landscape requires new skills; however, higher value (ROI for academe) rests in new solutions. We should equip ourselves accordingly.

Quotable moment: “Many eBooks are trivial interpretations of the medium of e.” – Jeffrey Schnapp

Schnapp was a great addition; having an active scholar on hand, who is both participating in and analyzing the phenomena of change being discussed, contextualized and grounded presentations. Schnapp is “writing to the design” of digital environments. He feels roles are increasingly porous, collaborative scholarship is on the rise, and the notion of authorship may need a revisit. He emphasized the fundamental shift in the temporality of publishing. And finally, noting the nascent trends and the infrastructural (institutional) commitment required, Schnapp says there is a need for a “risk-friendly approach to scholarship” moving forward.

Marguerite Avery, Senior Acquisitions Editor, MIT Press, and Sylvia Miller, Project Director “Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement," University of North Carolina Press, illustrated much of what Schiffman and Schnapp with detailed reports on the moving parts of their digital initiatives.

All participants invited contact. For further reading, the AAUP Digital Publishing Committee publishes important e-pub news on The Digital Digest, here.


PDA Mellon study

We’re not the only ones rowing this boat. Marketing minds and revenue stream strategists go to great lengths to know what their customers are thinking/where markets are heading. In this session, we had a seasoned acquiring librarian breakdown PDA from the library's perspective and a serial CEO/high-level industry consultant analyze how best to take advantage of the current and future situations from the publisher's point of view. A must-see set of slides and video recording ensued, covering this important opportunity in the academic library space:

Rick Anderson, University of Utah Libraries, provided the libraries perspective, here. Joseph J. Esposito, Publishing Consultant, shared results of a Mellon-funded study of the impact of PDA on book publishers, university presses in particular, here. Thank you, Terry Ehling, Associate Director, Content Development, Project MUSE, for chairing the session and providing salient framing commentary.

Not in the slides = Mellon study findings suggest that we will see ubiquity of PDA programs (across all research library collections) in 5 years.

Gist = if we are to steer this ship toward the best possible win-win (to maximize profits on sandy beaches), we’ll have to understand all oarsmen and row this boat in concert with them.

Articles on PDA at the scholarly kitchen, here, are recommended for further reading

Esposito closed with another plug for scholarly presses to field their own unified, customer-facing website, previously mentioned here. Why? This session, as with many others this year and last, is another discussion of managing a shift in leverage away from publishers (over the last twenty+ years). Archimedes is purported to have said: “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth.” A unified, customer-facing website is such a place to stand.