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.
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.
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.