The Stars Shone Bright

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!

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.