Can you explain how your press is essential to the university’s strategic directives? If you can’t, why not?

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of participating on a panel with several other university presses who shared a vision for strategically connecting with their host institution.   The actual name of the panel, Scholarly Publishing Services and University Presses assembled early entrants in the Library UP combined ecosphere Jason Coleman, Director of Michigan Publishing Services along with newer participants Annie Johnson, Library Publishing and Scholarly Communications Specialist, Temple University Libraries/Temple University press; John McLeod, Director for the office of Scholarly Publishing Services, UNC Press and myself representing the University of Cincinnati Press.  Each of us spoke of our unique and nuanced visions and programs all situated within a University Press.  There were differences between the programs but one thing was clear.  Each library and press recognized the need to establish a stronger connection to their host university, one that clearly supported the universities faculty, academic departments, university’s strategic initiatives and sent a message of collaboration and partnership.

It’s interesting to me how many university presses have not considered or even resist this approach.  In an environment of collegial spirit, and a culture which works the partnership relationships to garner precious funding dollars, with aspirations of connecting universities to global partners and ensure real world connections which  transcend the academy, scale, and serve a broader audience, many university presses have dodge such collaborations for varied reason from lack of involvement to concern with tarnishing Press reputations and upholding peer review as the Press’s unique quality.

In corporate industry, where I spent 12 of my 25 years in publishing, UX (meeting the customer where they are) and understanding the strategic direction of the corporate empire is critical to an employee’s ability as a mere spoke in a wheel, to survive.  If your program and your job do not play a key role in where the company is headed, and often it may not, you need to have a strong understanding of the ROI the company receives from your contribution.  Understanding that at any point in the future you might be asked to wind down your project, transition to another team or simply take on something new alongside your current job is always a possibility.  Universities go through their own version of this each and every year.

As a new university press, I have the luxury of starting from scratch.  No retrofitting of existing publishing programs and staff culture to transform into a new model.  Starting from scratch and creating sustainable processes which render the press an essential service to the university is among my concerns.  Because I know that positioning the press as essential to the university will help maintain strong support for the university press imprint which may not turn a profit and finish in the black.  By far, university press publishers are the most talented, knowledgeable publishing experts within the university and I would argue the industry today.  Without pressure of making a  profit on each and every publication, UP publishing guru’s can genuinely massage a raw manuscript into a work of art.  Yet the disconnect is often unnecessarily wide when it comes to sharing such expertise with The Press’s host institution.

Universities are businesses and are under extreme pressure to meet legislative and trustee expectations which may be based on metrics that a Press can simply not measure or worse yet, on metrics that do not actually highlight the impact they provide.  Precious funding dollars are scarce and without clear objectives that overtly show how your Press is engaging with and moving forward the strategic directives of the university, a press can find that their host university does not understand what they do, or why it is a value.

Partnerships are not unfamiliar to presses.  They occur within books, and they occur within publishing teams and with service suppliers and booksellers.  Co-authors come together to write a book because each brings a unique value to that book, the end product.  The fluid and well-thought out narrative would not hold up if co-authors simply wrote independent of the each others vision and direction.  In this case, the co-authored book would more closely resemble an edited collection where each contribution served a purpose and presented a viewpoint but any one could be dropped as it might not be essential to the end product.  Be essential I say!  Whether a press is partnering with their institutions library as is the case at University of Cincinnati, or remains separate as others have managed to do, make it your press’s goal to create actionable ways to move the university’s high level strategic directive forward.   In addition to filling a quarterly or annual report with author praise and prestigious book reviews to offset mediocre sales and losses beyond subsidies, create, yes, CREATE opportunities to provide direct and deliberate support to the universities directives.

At University of Cincinnati, President Pinto and the administration are have indicated that a key priority of the university is to bring the cost of textbooks down for students.  If the word BOOK is in a strategic directive of the universities, there’s a reason for our Press to be part of that campus-wide discussion.  While I’m not suggesting that any university press can publish or support every class taught on campus in an OA or OER model, but there are unique services that only our press can offer to move this initiative forward.  Educational workshops for faculty  on learning about CCC and OA contracts, copyright and policy, understanding preservation options and services within the university through Scholar 3 and OJS, peer review, manuscript development, author management, and broader distribution for OER developed on campus. .  If the Press does not have the bandwidth to take on large tasks, find ways to start small.  Partner with other centers, faculty and staff who the Press might train and can act as ambassadors to administration or the teams dispatched to move these directives forward.

You might be tempted to say that in the Press strategic plan you, the press has laid out their value and contributions to the university.   Let me be clear, this is a 180 degree shift in view.  In relocating my family to Ohio, I’ve spent a substantial amount of time counseling my 11 year old on how to make new friends.  While one is always tempted to jump in and tell people you hardly know, all about yourself and what is so great about your old home, and yourself, it’s an exercise in patience and relationship building to ask what the other person likes to do for fun, what interests them, where to find those types of activities.  And while we are all eager to impress, remember that if you don’t understand the what the other person is interested in, you are less likely to make a lasting  impression on them.   The same holds true for the relationship you cultivate with your host institution.  Make sure you understand what is important to them, what their pressure points are and how you can solve them.  If they understand that you are out to support them, they will be more inclined to champion for you.   A simple internal exercise to start might be entail asking senior management to identify the ways your Press is essential to the university’s directives.  Can they do it?  If so, please comment here.  I’d love to learn about how some of you are doing this.  #ucincypress @UCLibraries

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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.