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Peter Berkery visits Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Missouri UPs

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.


by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

So, I am light years behind in sharing comments from my ongoing series of member press visits–which now number in excess of 50!–but in fact I really have been keeping a running tally of (what I hope are) useful observations. First and foremost, then, apologies to anyone who feels justifiably dissed by the lack of reporting; please rest assured your hospitality is deeply appreciated, and moreover your insights have been extremely useful as I think about both reporting back to Mellon for their support of this tour and trying to move our enterprise forward. In the fullness of time, I still plan to give voice to all that I’m learning. I’ll pick up right where I left off, my late February visit to central Texas–specifically, the presses at UT, A&M, and Baylor.

My first stop was Austin, where Dave Hamrick and his team at University of Texas Press offered great food and even better conversation. The topics ranged from Mellon’s “Big Idea” (the foundation’s evolving investigation into the possibility of “flipping” the financial model for academic monographs from pay-to-consume to pay-to produce; more to come), through approaches to prioritizing the various opportunities for university presses to work consortially, and to how we can improve our relationship(s) with independent booksellers. Appropriately enough, all three of these items have a home on the agenda at AAUP’s upcoming Annual Meeting. Our colleagues at UT talked in depth about how each of these matters could affect their press in particular, as well as the broader spectrum of AAUP members, helping to clarify my own understanding of these important topics.

After Austin, I headed east to College Station for a day at Texas A&M University Press. Again, more good conversation, but this time with a new twist: TAMU Press had recently completed a significant production systems migration, and I was able to get a deep-dive on life before, during, and after. Data conversions that were supposed to be programmatic requiring manual intervention, heroic efforts to add legacy date in order to take advantage of new capabilities, and lots of nights and weekends turned a medium project into a large one. The TAMU team is happy with the results, of course, and is looking forward to increased productivity from the new platform’s enhanced capabilities. Hearing how disruptive such an implementation can be at even a mid-size press was a useful reminder; since AAUP members of all sizes face a number of these adventures in the months and years ahead, it is always useful to find ways to have a committee or a listserv leverage prior experiences.

I also had the opportunity to learn about TAMU’s significant distribution activities on behalf of a dozen or so smaller scholarly presses in Texas–only some of whom currently are AAUP members. I wonder whether or not there’s an outreach opportunity for us there.

From College Station, I turned slightly north for the drive to Waco, where the good folks at Baylor University Press rolled out the red carpet! Carey Newman and his team laid out in wonderful detail how their artisanal approach to acquisitions, editorial, design, and marketing produce books of extraordinary quality. As many of you know, Carey has adopted (what sounded to me like) a take-it-or-leave-it approach to doing business with Amazon and, with an extensive and strategic deployment of Baylor’s bright interns, developed something of a bespoke approach to marketing new titles – the latter making the Press less dependent on the former in order to achieve sales targets. Moreover, all of this is consistent with Baylor’s philosophy that small presses have to compete on quality in every facet. The passion for the work in Carey’s office is palpable. Also, the potlucks kick a**!

Before closing, I should note how, in different ways, all three presses have worked hard to create deep ties to their campus and local communities. From fundraising boards comprised of prominent individuals through detailed (and handsome!) annual reports to deep engagement with faculty via advisory boards and how-to-publish seminars, all three presses are working to raise their profiles and broaden the understanding of the value they bring to their institutions and regions.

I’m looking forward to return engagements in the Lone Star State, so I can catch up with some of our member presses north of the Brazos!

Shortly after my week in Texas, I found myself in Missouri for the inaugural Library Publishing Forum. I took advantage of my proximity to Columbia to pay a visit to University of Missouri Press. I’ll share three encouraging observations here. First and foremost, things appear to have stabilized remarkably well under Dave Rosenbaum’s strong leadership. The team is in rebuilding mode, and morale is good. Next, Dave believes he has his administration’s support for the work that lies ahead in no small part, that’s probably due to the great job he does reporting and managing up. Dave has created detailed strategy documents for his administration that lay out both the challenges and opportunities the press faces, and that identify a clear path forward. Consequently, his university understands that the recent disruption in press activities will impact the frontlist (or lack thereof) for at least three more catalogues. Which leads to my final observation: in order to at least partially offset the lack of a frontlist, the press is implementing some solid specific tactics–including discipline-specific catalog sheets and targeted marketing campaigns–in order to try to improve sales from the backlist. Especially the recent backlist, which necessarily was under-promoted during the press’ months of turmoil. All in all, the team at Mizzou is making great progress toward an even greater comeback!

Peter Berkery visits Alabama, Mississippi, and Lousiana State UPs

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.


by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

The “southern leg” of my Listening Tour found me motoring through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana shortly before the holidays. While each of my three stops–Tuscaloosa, Jackson, and Baton Rouge–was unique, I’m going to depart from my usual convention of discussing each press separately, focusing instead on some strong common themes that emerged during my conversations.

The first common denominator in my meetings at the University of Alabama Press, the University Press of Mississippi, and Louisiana State University Press echoes a theme by now common in my visits: three presses clamoring to embrace the digital disruption head-on, but without the benefits of scale. This led to the usual lively discussion about the potential for increased consortial activity and shared services within our community. In particular, I was impressed with the amount of time our colleagues in Alabama have devoted to thinking about how scholarly communication’s digital future will require increased collaboration among university presses.

A second commonality: I’m happy to be able to write that each of the three presses I visited is well-integrated into its campus. Or campuses, as the case may be. For example, as a system press, Mississippi faces the customary array of challenges accompanying that status, but our colleagues in Jackson work hard to maintain a high profile both on the eight member campuses they “represent” and within the state’s rich literary community. At LSU, a Press Advisory Board (separate from the press’s editorial board) comprised of campus and community supporters serves the dual role of raising visibility and fundraising.

The next recurring topic of conversation was decidedly unhappier: the lack of a press at any of the nation’s HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) since the closure a few years ago of Howard University Press. While several AAUP member presses have commendable publishing programs in Black History and African American Studies, including the three on this segment of the Listening Tour, it must be recognized as a deficiency that there is no HBCU with a university press. In answering Philip Cercone’s call to found new university presses, addressing this gap would be an excellent place to start.

Each visit also saw extensive discussion of how the potential migration of our business model from pay-to-read to pay-to-publish (pay-to-publish in many ways being another way to think about open access) could impact the work we do. Not surprisingly, there was no shortage of perspectives on what such a future might hold, but there was a common denominator: assuming a stable source of pay-to-publish funding (an enormous assumption itself, as all were quick to observe) we’d be trading the prospect of greater financial stability and revenue predictability for a host of unknowns. Would publishers eventually come to compete for authors through publishing terms? How should the potential loss of backlist revenue from course adoptions factor into pay-to-publish business models? Similarly, what about textbooks, as well as the titles with cross-over trade potential? Or our regional publishing programs: the critical role of university presses in documenting the natural and cultural history of the communities we serve must be protected. As the seemingly inevitable march toward open access continues, advancing more squarely into our publishing programs, these are questions that need answers, or at least more considered evaluation, and it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that enquiry occurs. There’s opportunity here for many of our members, but clearly there’s also risk.

I can’t close without noting one final common theme: gracious southern hospitality. From lunch at Alabama’s Faculty Club to a private tour of Eudora Welty’s Mississippi home (with AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show catalogs proudly on display) to a truly lovely dinner party at the Baton Rouge home of an LSU Press Advisory Board member, I was received with genuine warmth everywhere I went. Thanks to everyone who made me feel so very welcomed.

The generous hospitality I received bodes well for our upcoming Annual Meeting in New Orleans. I stopped by our host hotel on my way home from Baton Rouge, and I’m happy to report that we will be well cared-for during our stay in The Big Easy!

Berkery at the Eudora Welty House in Jackson

Berkery at the Eudora Welty House in Jackson

Peter Berkery visits U of Nevada Press and Beacon Press

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.


by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

Two very different Listening Tour stops reminded me how important the perspective from AAUP’s “front lines” can be: our smaller member presses sometimes can feel most acutely the twin challenges of the technology disruption and corporatization of the academy.

A late October visit to Reno allowed me to meet the small but extraordinarily dedicated staff of the University of Nevada Press. UNP is a state-system press, and I could sense some of the special challenges that come with that status. It can be particularly difficult for system presses to maintain mindshare with their administrations (and faculty), and it may be useful for AAUP to continue to explore ways both to leverage successes and undertake advocacy initiatives specific to the needs of this group.

The other important learning to emerge from my time in the Silver State: university presses fulfill missions in ways beyond academic credentialing. To be fair, this isn’t exactly news, but it was elegantly emphasized by the publishing program at Nevada. I think sometimes it can be easy for our colleagues in the academy to overlook that a university press well may be the sole curator of the history and culture of a region. That’s certainly the case in Nevada, where series on the urbanization of the American West inspired by the explosive growth of Las Vegas, and on mining history–growing out of Nevada’s mining heritage–would otherwise have little to no scholarly record without the hard work of Joanne O’Hare and her team. It’s a vital function, and one that deserves more credit than it sometimes receives.

Fast forward from a glorious autumn day in the Sierras to early December, the first wintery day in New England, when I found myself crossing a slippery Boston Common to visit Beacon Press.

Beacon is an AAUP Associate Member, whose mission is linked to its host institution, the Unitarian Universalist Church. Consequently, titles related to social justice figure prominently on their list: for example, an exclusive partnership with the MLK estate to publish “The King Legacy.” And although many of these titles result in course adoptions, the retail market is critical to Beacon’s performance. The conversation that flowed from the orientation of Beacon’s list highlighted how important certain copyright issues–permissions, piracy–remain, even in a world where many of us are beginning to incorporate Open Access into our publishing programs. What a challenging dynamic that creates for our association!

Another common theme between these two different members: the recognition that greater consortial activity would benefit their programs. Interestingly–and this is a theme that’s been common throughout the Listening Tour–that doesn’t necessarily translate into agreement regarding which specific activities might productively be accomplished cooperatively. There are solid reasons for the various perspectives taken by each individual press, but at the organizational level this will pose a challenge for AAUP when the time comes to set priorities.

In the end, I think the most striking similarity between these two very distinct presses is their common desire to identify new and better ways to engage a very specific sector of the consumer market: the educated reading public. In Nevada’s case, it’s to preserve a history and a culture; in Beacon’s, it’s to advance the human condition. Such endeavors are other important parts of a university press’s mission, and expanding the ways programs that support them should continue to be a part of AAUP’s mission as well.

Peter Berkery visits U of California Press  and Stanford UP

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.


by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

I enjoyed two unique perspectives on the potential impact of technology on our community during the Bay Area leg of Listening Tour II: first, a focus on innovation at the University of California Press that resonates with my own prior publishing experience and later, some provocative new ways to think about how AAUP can serve its members from the folks at Stanford University Press. Both experiences were gifts, and I’m grateful to the many Left Coast denizens who shared their time and talent in order to make them manifest.

First stop, Berkeley. Alison Mudditt and her team are literally reinventing UCP, in ways that are exciting and–from my perspective–essential. Let me begin with some background: my career in legal publishing spanned those heady years in the late 90s when we migrated our product line from print to electronic (first, over proprietary dial-in lines, but as soon as Al Gore invented it, then the via internet). There are two significant features from this experience that are relevant to UCP’s (r)evolution.

First, the same publisher still owned the content, customers, and its central role in the process when the migration was complete. It’s caused no shortage of sleepless nights for me contemplating the possibility that the same centrality of all our university presses may not be a given once the technology disruption and its consequences achieve critical mass in our neck of the publishing woods.

Second, the truly revolutionary thing about our migration was what followed it. Most customers found the initial journey painful. After it was over, however, and they had settled into a life of online research, they began pushing us to go further, to make our content do more. For example, in the print world, we would provide binders full of sample forms and clauses for estate planning attorneys. Not long after we digitized that content, cutting-edge practitioners and authors began asking us to also automate the underlying workflow by developing document assembly software.

Under Alison’s leadership, UCP is following a similar trajectory, and their plans strike me as having similar logic. The UCP team is rebuilding in ways that will support their goals, including the recent hiring of a Director of Digital Business Development. Like legal publishers back in the day, UCP has a vision for how technology will transform scholarly communications. They have a strategy and an execution plan; as my old boss at that legal publisher used to say, “I like their chances”.

But the patina of general inevitability I’ve attached to the evolution that occurred specifically in legal publishing gives me pause today. Most university presses lack the scale to successfully undertake such large-scale initiatives; even the few Group Four presses who’ve attempted apps have been humbled by the experience. I can’t shake the feeling that a common platform automating the scholarly workflow may be critical to maintaining our centrality in the digital age. I hope to flesh this out more on future Listening Tour stops, and I welcome your thoughts on the notion.

Back across the bay, my visit with Stanford University Press yielded a completely different, yet equally exciting and challenging revelation. After touring their impressive new digs, still awaiting its finishing touches, I met with the staff in a groovy open-plan meeting area. (And I mean groovy: I quite literally found myself sitting in a “Doctor Evil” chair!) We were having an interesting exchange about my role, what AAUP is, and what it could be, when Chris Cosner, their IT Manager, began to articulate some of the limitations of our current listservs: listservs are hard to search … communication is too linear and hierarchical … collaboration is virtually impossible … email triage is a challenge … and so on.

As he was speaking, I began drawing parallels between what Chris was saying and the periodic soul-searching the association undertakes with our committees. Despite seemingly biennial reviews, it appears to me that we labor under the recurring belief that whatever AAUP’s current committee structure happens to be at the time, it doesn’t serve us optimally: there are too many committees, a few have outlived their purpose, one or two never have a clear understanding of what they’re meant to be doing, communication is a challenge, and so on. Don’t get me wrong: the association is blessed with an abundance of talented and dedicated volunteers who devote countless hours to AAUP committee business, but still—at a macro level—we seem unable to shake the sense that we’re not always as well served by committee efforts as we might be.

Then it struck me: perhaps AAUP needs to reinvision how technology can automate its own workflow–evolving from listservs to true online collaboration tools, from committees to communities. Just as technology reinvented lawyers’ workflows, and just as it is reinventing scholarly communication, perhaps it’s time to think about how it can revolutionize the ways in which the association provides platforms for its members to collaborate. The notion of communities really resonates with me, and when I shared it from my groovy chair, I think it resonated with others as well. To the extent this realization qualifies as an epiphany, full credit goes to the folks at Stanford who brought me to it. In any case, the discussion was a gift, and I am thankful for it. It will take more input to validate, and even more of that time and talent to implement, but it was one of those special conversations that makes me grateful for the opportunity to visit so many presses in person.

Next up: a report from Group One …

Peter Berkery visits Purdue UP and Indiana UP

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.


by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

The first stops on the autumn leg of my Listening Tour were in Indiana, just as students were returning to campus for the fall semester.

Purdue University Press is a fully integrated unit of Purdue Libraries; in many ways, the structure and activities there have the potential to serve as a model–not just for library-press collaboration, but also for how a university press can add value for its host institution. In addition to the academic monograph and scholarly journal publishing activities familiar to most university press employees, PUP staff leverage their expertise to publish student journals, conference proceedings, and other scholarly materials that do not meet the criteria for the PUP imprint under a separate “Scholarly Publishing Services” moniker. The library is the press’s advocate with faculty and administrators, zealously guarding both the press’s funding and the PUP brand. The broader university community benefits from the press’s publishing expertise, economies of scale, and consistent design, branding, and marketing decisions. Charles Watkinson, the director of PUP, reports into the library and holds the dual title of Director of Purdue University Press and Head of Scholarly Publishing Services, Purdue Libraries. He is also in charge of the institutional repository, Purdue e-Pubs, which acts as an online publishing platform as well as a place to deposit faculty pre- and post-prints.

The model is a clear success at Purdue. In some respects this must be attributed to the bonhomie of Charles and PU Dean of Libraries James Mullins; as is so often the case in these situations, success depends–at least in part–on the goodwill of the personalities involved. It’s unproven whether the Boilermakers’ scholarly publishing model can scale, but in the right set of circumstances other institutions would do well to explore it.

Next I arrived in Bloomington on a glorious late summer day, along with thousands of new and returning Hoosier undergrads! Change is very much in the air at Indiana University Press. With support from the Provost, IUP has become a part of the Office of Scholarly Publishing, a strategic campus-wide effort to develop and implement a coordinated university publishing strategy. (In addition to IUP, the OSP includes IUScholarWorks, the IU Libraries’ open access publishing program, and an IU faculty authored e-textbook initiative.) While this particular chapter hadn’t been completed as of my visit, the commitment to IUP was enthusiastically echoed by everybody I met, from the CIO and the provost through to faculty committees and librarians–and, of course, among IUP staffers themselves.

The university is also proactively encouraging the press to embrace the opportunities presented by both new technologies and potential campus collaborations. A recent move to IU’s Wells Library better positions the press to leverage the university’s librarian expertise and advanced IT resources, responding more nimbly and with more coordination to the dramatic changes in scholarly publishing. While IUP has a track record of collaborations, it’s clear to me that the creation of the OSP and its inclusion of the press will encourage innovation by integrating resources to create a publishing environment that can grow to serve more robustly both the university and the broader academy.

While IU continues to fine-tune its model, I left Bloomington confident that the future is bright for this respected university press.

Next stop: Reno and the Bay Area.

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