Monthly Archives: March 2012

Princeton Shorts


In June 2010 our associate marketing director Leslie Nangle raised the notion of publishing short e-“works” – that is, content shorter than a book but longer than a magazine article. The thought was that with the explosion of smartphones, dedicated reading devices, and tablets, we had an opportunity to distinguish ourselves by providing short content to non-fiction readers interested in an in-depth look at a topic. Subsequent meetings took place and with management’s blessing we moved forward.

A committee was formed with representatives from all departments at the Press who would be involved and whose experience had some relevance to the venture: editorial, production, marketing, sales, rights/permissions, design, and digital publishing. We made sure to include people with lengthy tenures at the Press who have a deep knowledge of our backlist. Since it all begins with content, Executive Editor Rob Tempio (philosophy, political theory, and the ancient world) seemed the logical choice for chair.

Our Process

To get us to the point of actually releasing the Shorts into the marketplace, the following topics were raised, considered, and resolved – not necessarily in this order, and not necessarily with optimal forethought! After all, we were plowing new ground.

  1. Content selection. We briefly considered publishing for Kindle Singles, but since that program requires original content and we weren’t at the point of undertaking the full editorial process for “born digital” of any length, we decided to turn to our existing content for pertinent/timely/edifying selections. There is a successful print precedent at PUP for this approach – in 1963 we published A Monetary History of the United States: 1867-1960, by Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwarz. It quickly became a classic, and the chapter on the Great Depression caught on with economists. In 1965 the Press published it as a stand-alone book, The Great Contraction. (Our bestselling Short is The Second Great Contraction, taken from our bestselling both in print and e, This Time is Different, by Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff.)
  2. E-rights. Do we have them?!
  3. Frontmatter. Backmatter. What should the copyright page contain/look like? What introductory material did we want and who was going to write it? Who was going to edit it? Approve it? Should we have a series statement? Should we list the full works/other works in the Shorts series?
  4. Naming the series. Much discussion and ultimately a debate ensued about whether to include “e” or “electronic” in the series name. Finally it was determined that a reference to digital wasn’t needed, as these were to be published only electronically, so they were obviously, well, e-books. And better to keep the brand image simple and clean. (And if we ever did decide to publish these in print, we wouldn’t have to deal with a pesky “e” reference.)
  5. Designing the covers and content “pages”– the series “look.”  The goal of course was to maintain the look, feel, and integrity of the Press brand but with a treatment that says something new. Designer Jason Alejandro and an intern on premises at the time achieved this with elegance. Leslie adamantly advocated for live links from within the Shorts to web pages for their related full works, and to the new PUP web page for the Shorts.
  6. Titles. Should they reference the full work? We decided yes, and to manage this with subtitles, thus:  Title of Short:  From Full Book.
  7. Should the extracted content be repaginated or carry the page numbers of the original? We debated this as in some cases the Shorts selection referenced content in another chapter of the book. And in this first round we hadn’t planned on editorial intervention to the extent necessary to deal with those references. So we didn’t re-paginate, but regretted this later, as they looked odd and the conversion houses thought the source files were missing huge chunks of content, causing production and publication delays.
  8. Where should we sell them? We decided all retailers and all library aggregator partners. Why not test them everywhere?
  9. Metadata. We had to figure out how to construct metadata to associate but not confuse the Short, with the longer work. It took us awhile to work this out: some Shorts displayed on Amazon detail pages as hundreds of pages long (the length of the full book from which the Short content was lifted).
  10. Pricing.  In consultation with marketing, we decided no price higher than $4.99. Prices were ultimately finalized by Rob. We discovered that Amazon required minimum euro and pounds prices of .99 and .79, respectively. (Slightly higher than what we would have preferred for our $0.99 selection from Thoreau, On Reading.)
  11.  Conversion formats. Since we planned to sell them in the usual channels, we got the usual conversions – web pdf and epub for all.
  12.  Press databases. Our in-house programmers configured a new product type for our databases.
  13. Marketing.  Created web pages and catalogue copy. Advertised in catalogues, at academic meetings, through email campaigns and social media. Press release.  Ads in the Boston Review and NY Review of Books.

Challenges,  Rewards, and Measuring Success

All agree that this project was much more complicated than expected. This was uncharted territory in many respects, and we did not have a full production workflow in place from the start. Consequently and notwithstanding the enthusiasm and best intentions of the project team, at times steps were skipped; repercussions of missed deadlines misunderstood; and folks were fuzzy about who was supposed to do what – and why – and when.  Clearly, lifting content from existing books to produce short e-books involved much more than “cut, paste, and plop” (into a simple template).

As a consequence, a formal production process was put in place for Shorts Round II, and all is going swimmingly for achieving our April 16th release date. Designs of source files have been refined: Art Director Maria Lindenfelder has been bothered  by e-books in which frontmatter and backmatter are static, while the main text is dynamic. She’s overseen the design of a template for flowable PDFs, to create a more holistic design.

The jury is still out on how we will measure the success of the Shorts publishing program. We’ve enjoyed positive publicity, which is always a good thing. Authors are delighted. And the actual production costs are minimal – composition, conversion, and storage. But there is a real cost in staff time – human resources. Ultimately success will need to be measured in terms of sales. The measuring stick for units and dollars is unique for Shorts – we haven’t figured out what the threshold needs to be. Obviously they don’t have physical counterparts to drive sales in bookstores or online. And though difficult to identify, there may be an uptick of sales of the original work advertised within each Short.

In Conclusion:

We all came away with greater insight into what our colleagues in other departments do, and appreciation for the details and variables they contend with and of which we are often unaware. And it was a welcome change of pace to work with people we don’t normally get to work with. Team members’ comments follow:

 “since we were doing this de novo, we were in a sense inventing the wheel and there were lots of choices to be made”

“a short course in entrepreneurship and its transition to a mature business”

“I did appreciate that if I had an opinion about any of the areas I wasn’t an expert in, I had the freedom to make a suggestion”

“I learned how complicated e-book publishing is and also what a vast open space the possibility of e-books in all their variations has made in the world of publishing at large”

“many of the processes we have in place for regular print books are there with good reason and having to operate outside them feels a bit like anarchy”

“I really enjoyed seeing the whole thing launch and receive such great press”

“something that sounded easy actually required lots of problem solving and cross-departmental teamwork to patch together disparate elements into a digital product”

“I think the program may open the door for the Press to talk about other types of e-initiatives”

“digital does not equal easy despite what some authors may think”

“in the course of two rounds of Shorts, I saw change from a chaotic creative phase [Fall ’11  Shorts] to a more regulated production phase [Spring ’12 Shorts]”

“the name ‘Princeton Shorts’ has caught on, and we are seeing other publishers using the word “shorts” to describe their electronic content”

By Priscilla Treadwell, Digital Sales Director

Security shouldn’t be so hard to remember – considering the pass-phrase

One of the things we’ve tried to do at the Digital Digest is to address best practices on topics that are in the news. With the upcoming launch of Windows 8 and its new approach to passwords we thought it would be a good time to talk about password and pass-phrase options as they relate to the overall security of information on any network.

As computer systems are more important to business and pleasure, more hackers are trying to exploit those systems. Unfortunately the weakest link in security is often the human one – people still use simple passwords that are easy to guess, or when forced to pick a “complex” password they resort to writing them down or storing them in non-encrypted files.

There are many reasons for this, but the biggest one is that it’s very hard to remember things like “Xy3<$8yHl7@1”. Is that a capital “I” or a lower case “l”? These cryptic collections of letters, numbers and symbols are increasingly difficult to remember and to keep straight, so in order for someone to access the systems, they defeat the entire purpose of a password and write them down.

It’s good practice to have a separate password for your email and your financial accounts, another for your network, yet another for your work email, your work network, and so on… One way to avoid having to commit to memory so many cryptic confusing passwords is to use a pass-phrase for each system instead. A “pass-phrase” is a series of letters and numbers that mean something: “l3tMeln” for “let me in,” for example. Another example might be “TheSunWillComeOutTomorrow!” or “I<3MyDog”. Each of these pass-phrases is more memorable because it means something to us. It’s not just a cryptic string of random characters.

Software security guru Robert Hensing said the following in 2004:

So why are these pass-phrases so great?

  1. They meet all password complexity requirements due to the use of upper / lowercase letters and punctuation (you don’t HAVE to use numbers to meet password complexity requirements)
  2. They are so freaking easy for me to remember it’s not even funny.  For me, I find it MUCH easier to remember a sentence from a favorite song or a funny quote than to remember ‘xYaQxrz!’ (which b.t.w. is long enough and complex enough to meet our internal complexity requirements, but is weak enough to not survive any kind of brute-force password grinding attack with say LC5, let alone a lookup table attack).  That password would not survive sustained attack with LC5 long enough to matter so in my mind it’s pointless to use a password like that.  You may as well just leave your password blank.
  3. I dare say that even with the most advanced hardware you are not going to guess, crack, brute-force or pre-compute these passwords in the 70 days or so that they were around (remember you only need the password to survive attack long enough for you to change the password).

As more of us become reliant on computers and the cloud it seems more important than ever to guard your passwords and maintain separate passwords between systems. What better way to do it than using quotes from your favorite songs, tributes to your kids, or a shout out to your favorite movie monster – “I<3Godzilla!”? I should have listened to Hensing sooner and I’d have locked myself out of various websites a lot less.

Now, a friend or a hacker armed with one of those ubiquitous email “surveys” could still compromise the phrases discussed above. For even more security you can try a system like Diceware. Diceware gives you the ability to create random strings of words that are even harder to crack than a general pass-phrase.

Diceware™ is a method for picking passphrases that uses dice to select words at random from a special list called the Diceware Word List. A five-digit number precedes each word in the list. All the digits are between one and six, allowing you to use the outcomes of five dice rolls to select one unique word from the list.

All you need is five dice and the Diceware word list to have an almost uncrackable password.

xkcd had it right:


Ultimately we’re all responsible for the security of the data we touch, whether it’s ours or it belongs to others. We must find better ways to secure this data and to eliminate the temptation to write passwords down, or to use passwords that are too easy to crack.

Posted by Bonnie Russell, Wayne State University Press

Is Academic Publishing in a Downward Zombie Death Spiral?

When I was invited to the panel “Protests, Petitions and Publishing: Widening Access to Research in 2012,” I was on the fence about attending. Did I really want to spend two hours of my day hearing the debate on open access, anticipating that it would be filled with much controversy? Because it was close and I was confident that I would learn something, I made the short trek earlier this week from the Bronx to Morningside Heights, even scoring a parking spot in front of the Columbia building housing the event on a day on which alternate-side-of-the-street parking was in effect. The press release indicated that the event was meant to consider how Occupy Wall Street, the Research Works Act (RWA), the boycott of Elsevier journals by a growing number of academics, and other recent developments are informing the debate over access to research and scholarship on open access. The event was hosted by Columbia’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS) and included a diverse panel of speakers. I’ll do my best to summarize the session based on my notes drafted the old school way on a notepad in barely legible handwriting. (This exercise made me realize that I need to embrace the iPad more.) The audio will be available shortly, so I will post a link on the Digital Digest when it is. The issues are complicated, and there are no easy answers as was evident by the talk on Monday. Alex Golub from the University of Hawaii called current publishing models a death spiral. As most of us know, the hard sciences are very different from the humanities. The AAUP made an official statement about three pieces of legislation related to research policies that have resulted in a flurry of mixed responses from university press directors.

Here goes with my summary.

Allen Adler, Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs in the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), kicked off the talk by stating that the goal of the panel was to answer the following questions:

What is a journal publisher’s role in informing the public about research policies?

What are publishers’ achievements in this process related to innovation, technology, and business?

What is publishing with federal agency–funded research, especially by nongovernmental officers?

What does the government currently do to disseminate federally funded research?

Adler mentioned that the National Institutes of Health Policy requires that peer-reviewed articles be made open access one year after they appear in a journal.

He emphasized that we need to understand the diversity of the field.

Oona Schmid, Director of Publishing at the American Anthropological Association (AAA), gave her perspective as a representative from one of the leading academic societies in America and publisher of the venerable journal American Anthropologist.

I give her credit for talking to this crowd knowing that it was going to be a contentious conversation and that her society was not always looked upon with the highest esteem.

Schmid began her talk by emphasizing that AAA is interested in the dissemination of scholarly information, believing that knowledge can solve human problems. She made the following points:

  • The academic system is tied to peer review.
  • Authors need credit for their contributions.
  • Citations need long-term archiving.
  • Publishing needs balance: cost versus readers’ desire for visibility and widespread dissemination.

Schmid stressed that AAA has huge costs for publishing 20 journals, 600 articles per year, and 482 reviews because of duration, personnel, and overhead.

She said that 63% of journal costs are covered through the sales of library subscriptions, 36% through sales to members, and 1% through ads. Open access would wipe out that 63%.

She continued by saying that AAA could increase members’ dues but that’s unlikely to happen because of major resistance from members and key stakeholders at the association.

Schmid mentioned that author fees work well in biomedical fields and that anthropologists do not have a centralized grant funder.

She asked about nonresearch commentaries and reviews.

Possible support mechanisms she pointed out: Produce more informal scholarly content; make use of social media.

Her new funding ideas include charging for premium functionality and super-user fees.

Peter Woit, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Columbia University, was up next and spoke from the angle of a researcher and a professor.

He said that of the 7,500 scholars boycotting Elsevier journals, 1,400 were mathematicians, 1,000 were biologists, and 650 were physicists.

A major reason he cited is that Elsevier journals are expensive and there have been problems with quality.

He stated that monographs are important. (Smile on my face.) He showed a picture of his office with bookshelves behind his desk. Two bottom shelves were filled with books published by Springer, as was obvious by their yellow spines. Other key publishers in his field included Oxford, Cambridge, and Princeton university presses.

He said that high quality is expensive; Elsevier could go away and he wouldn’t care, but monograph publishers are a different story.

Woit made the point that middle-class students are taking big loans to pay for tuition at expensive universities.

He said that detailed, high-quality content doesn’t work on blogs because discussion is difficult and has a time constraint, going so far as to say that the “Global village has a village idiot. You can’t replace academic scholarship.”

He went on to say that Google is the elephant in the room. Google Books show a few pages with ads. They can run your e-mail and analyze your online activity and make purchase suggestions. What will Google’s role be in this?

Gail Drakes, a doctoral candidate in the Program in American Studies at NYU and Associate Faculty at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, spoke next.

She concentrated on the Research Acts, Elsevier boycott, and Occupy movements. She began her talk by saying that research was unavailable—behind pay walls—for her area of humanities, American Studies.

She talked a lot about cultural commons.

Drakes said that the RWA gives the government protection of funded research, causing the cultural commons to shrink, and that intense lobbying is taking place.

She expressed wild enthusiasm for the Elsevier boycott and said that it represents a tension between academic structure and for-profit publishers.

Drakes felt that academic publishers do enough for cultural commons and support authors.

She suggested that we all take a look at the Fake Elsevier Twitter account, @FakeElsevier.

Drakes also stressed that we need balance. In her own case, her professor omitted an important piece in the course pack because of its high costs compared with graduate students’ budgets.

She enthusiastically talked about how Occupy Wall Street created the people’s library that currently has 9,000 titles—check out Library Thing—which is an affirmation of the importance of access to information. The library started out as a box moving to a tarp-covered area (cleared during the raid) to a clear plastic–covered area. Now it is organized by librarians with Masters of Library Sciences degrees who are part of the movement.

Alex Golub, assistant professor of Anthropology at the University Of Hawaii, had some strong statements to make (via Skype).

He asked if authors and publishers are ready to embrace open access? His answer: No. Publishers: Never. Authors want open access and always have.

He continued by saying that scholarly research won’t ever be completely free.

Golub said that we need to innovate. Existing models don’t work. There is a forty-year chunk of stuff trying to get open access.

He didn’t hold back, stating that AnthroSource is slow and embarrassing. “Fig leaf covering the Wiley thing.” He continued by saying that the Mellon-funded AAA program is different from what was originally planned. He said that Wiley took over the journal American Anthropologist and has a different agenda. (It was formerly managed by University of California Press.) He thinks that academic publishing as outlined by Oona’s presentation is in a downward zombie death spiral. The AAA is broken—volunteers to pay scholarly publishers’ profits. AAA pub models don’t work and we need a radical rethinking of how we do things.

He emphasized that we can’t sit on the fence anymore.

He asked the following:

Do we need peer review, and who pays for it?

Is scholarship less true if some words are spelled wrong or the phrasing is unclear?

Do we need expensive annual meetings?

Alternatives he suggested:

Small regional conferences


Social media

Civil service and partners. Editors and librarians are at cross-purposes.

Golub was definitely animated and wanted to push buttons. I appreciated his candor and his challenging the status quo. I agree that publishers need to think of new ways to make scholarly content available while at the same time recouping the costs for doing so. I don’t have the answers, but I think it is beneficial to hear what our constituents are saying

There were some audience questions at the end but I’ll let you hear those when the audio is available.

I would like to share a comment (made by Jim Jordan, Director of Columbia University Press) that will resonate with a lot of university press folks. He said that 8% of his budget is subsidized by Columbia but the university wants it reduced by 4%. And that 90% to 98% of the library’s budget is subsidized. Universities should do more to re-fund their presses. I agree.

I’m still wrapping my brain around the whole discussion but am glad I made the trip. Academic and university presses need to be innovative and creative with publishing models and work with their libraries to determine how best to meet the needs of their patrons. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to research policies. This may all seem obvious but I think the more we hear it the more it will sink in.

Posted by Fred Nachbaur, Fordham University Press