The run up to #AAUP17

Nearly 10 years ago I attended my first AAUP meeting.  At the time, I was a newly minted marketing and sales director for Rutgers University Press.  At that point in time my experience bag was packed with 8 years with what’s now considered the biggest textbook publisher in the world and the had been at the biggest publisher in the world,  and three years at the oldest publisher in the world.  In 2007 I was had landed at what was neither the biggest, nor the smallest.  I often compared myself to a salmon swimming upstream.

Aside from knowing practically no one at this meeting, I’d never been to Minneapolis before in my life and didn’t know quite what to expect, yet my director insisted AAUP was a great meeting for new members and press directors.  Over the years I’ve gone perhaps half a dozen times, and each time I’ve met and reconnected with bright intelligent publishers and fascinating colleagues staying the course in this space called scholarly publishing.  With surprisingly little turn over, I look to learning about courageous entrepreneurs passionately breaking new ground in what could be described in an industry turned inside out.

I’ve thumbed through the pages of this year’s program, and see surprisingly few acronyms and silver bullet sessions.  In past years, everything was social media, or POD, XML workflow, or how to better align with your university.  This year the sessions seem more foundational, or perhaps those are the ones I’ve chosen to attend.  I’d classify them as a reenvisioning the nuts and bolts.

I’ve been in the director’s chair at The University of Cincinnati Press just shy of 150 days.  Forget posting every day.  My somewhat arbitrary goals of posting every week, once a month, on the momentous first 100 day were never far from my mind.  Dozens of words running through my mind, yet never taking the time to pause and put them down on paper.  No matter.  I’ve learned the burden of starting a new press is the first decisions made.  For a new director these decisions can define your directorship.  For a new press, these decisions become the foundation for the profile formed in authors and peer presses minds about The University of Cincinnati Press.  What’s that phrase about Rome and a day… No matter, the discussions and engagement both in and out of the university are moving forward and the road ahead is ready for breaking ground.

So here we are at nearly the halfway mark.  In 5 months in I’ve assembled 40% of the faculty board, created the framework the organization to come, spoken to a few dozen authors, set up a handful of procedures and grown from a staff of one including myself to what will become a staff of 5 by September.  And now, I make my way to my seat at the table amongst 140 globally savvy, fearless, UP directors.  No doubt I’ll be explaining why Cincinnati a few dozen times, what’s different, did we really need another university press?  All of these questions are important, and I am eager to invoke discussion with the University of Cincinnati Press vision ever present on my mind:

“The University of Cincinnati Press explores new modes of scholarly publishing which shrink the distance between author and reader and expand the traditionally published book dynamically using interactive data visualization, robust media-rich content and writing that goes beyond a discipline-specific examination to uncover common issues and create new lenses of discovery in a stable environment. The Press seeks to establish a highly sustainable collaborative, mission-based university press business model through the unique utilization of library and university staff in an effort to reduce cost and shift the footprint of university presses from ancillary to essential within their host institutions and academic fields. By fusing the efforts of the University Press with library publishing services and scholarly communications, The Press forms a publishing continuum of expertise, service, influence, and opportunity with strategic agility, innovative responsiveness, and lasting financial diversification.”

So when asking Why Cincinnati, you may just year, Why Not.

 

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Day one – A start up press

Written on day one — Jan. 9, 2017

Although I head into my thirtieth year in publishing, it still seems somewhat unbelievable that today I take the director’s chair.  On any given day during the years I worked for scholarly and higher ed publishers, dozens of ideas would cross my mind.  “How could we improve this model?”  “What’s next?”  Often the questions were much simpler.  “What if?”, “Why?, Why not?” “Could this book be published differently?”  “Is there a way to expand the market of scholarly publishing without doing a disservice to anyone, without selling out.”  Well here I am, day one… What now?

Opportunity led me to the University of Cincinnati Press, experience told me this was in fact a unique opportunity to create something new and contribute to the industry; make a different.  And so a girl from the lower Hudson Valley, brought up in Rockland County and educated in the Bronx who called New York home for 51 years has l followed a dream.  Moving 650 miles west, I set out to start a university press more sustainable, focused on accessible and rigorous content, appropriate peer review, attention to manuscript development and eye toward UX…  What? UX.  Who are the users anyway?  Authors and readers in fact.   With thoughts of building a university press to begin with a goal: build a publishing program which builds an intellectual common to engages users throughout the entire field from scholars to practitioners and students.  One which blends business principles with non-profit publishing, respects the academy, incorporates the modern reader, and remembers the mission.   I begin with a press which does not retrofit authors, projects and pipelines to a new vision.   I begin with the mainstay of my work style: clarity of goal, team effort, knowledge, understanding, and greater good.   I aspire to create a new press that collaborates with university administration, academic and service departments and educational and research initiatives, one that encourages scholars to write with clear voice and purpose; at times for fellow scholars and more often for public intellectuals and practitioners but always with minimal jargon.

Even before day one, I had started to list what became a spreadsheet of the hundreds of things that all need to be done, all seemingly at the same time.  To follow are the broad strokes.

  • Awareness – The press is here.  Who needs to know?
  • The Message – Why Cincinnati
  • Education – What does a university press do differently than a library publisher?
  • What’s different? – Mission, vision, purpose, objective, my philosophy
  • All active players – Drawing on experience and networks beyond the AAUP.
  • Publishing Models – Print, digital, platform, interactive
  • Content – Fill the pipeline.  When is the first season?  What’s the first book?  Back to awareness and education
  • Operations – Setting Up Shop; Creating EVERYTHING – but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water, Thoughtful assessment of how to integrate a peer review publishing operations within a library.
  • Business Models, Goals, and the dreaded finances
  • Staffing
  • Measures of Success – Metrics
  • Challenges – oh, they’ll be plenty
  • Reflections & Lessons learned
  • Limitations and Opportunities lost – yes, I’ll be honest here
  • Collaboration & Partnerships: Engaging the university –  Administration, Digital Humanities and Scholarship, OER, Social Science, Humanities and STEM departments
  • Wins
  • What haven’t I thought of – LOTS

Most of these posts will be basic journaling.  Other posts will focus on something very specific that I may be in the throws of figuring out.  It’s a way for me to reflect, gain insight and perhaps feedback. I hope to have comments from a few publishers, authors, or people interested in my start up journey or in sharing their own.  In fact, not unlike the intellectual common we hope to create in Social Justice, I hope to engage the industry.  The producers, suppliers and consumers.  I have always believed that the best results come from a representation of stakeholders with some unlikely participants mixed in to ensure I’m not just getting back what I put in.  In this case, that might be authors, readers of university press books, administrators, academic publishers, educational publishers and industry partners such as wholesalers, book store owners, and book reps.  Turn the key, turn on the lights and let’s start day one.