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.