The theme of this year’s American Association of University Presses conference held from June 20-22 at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, Mass., was “Bridging Worlds.” In the wake of what happened in Missouri last year, the subject of one of the conference’s two plenary sessions, it could just as easily have been about telling stories. Effectively getting across the message of why university presses matter was one lesson that emerged after university president Timothy Wolfe shut down University of Missouri Press in May 2012. It reopened thanks largely to the efforts of Bruce Joshua Miller, 2013 PW Rep of the Year and president of Miller Trade Book Marketing; Ned Stuckey-French, assistant professor of English at Florida State University; and Janese Silvey, then a reporter at the Columbia Daily Tribune, all of whom received a standing ovation along with press editor-in-chief and associate director Clair Willcox for retelling their cautionary tale.
For Peter Berkery, Jr., who came on board as AAUP executive director earlier this year, making people on campus and off care about the story not just of Missouri but of all university presses is important, particularly at a time when so many colleges and universities are being run like businesses. “I want to focus on helping university presses get mindshare on campus,” he told PW. “The other thing I’m very worried about is on some campuses university presses are not part of the conversation. Getting the story out there is a challenge. At a DNA level publishers don’t publicize themselves, they publicize the title.” Last fall the AAUP tried a different approach to helping presses articulate the value they add to the academy with the introduction of University Press Week, which will be held for a second time the week of November 10-16, 2013. Many campuses have long valued their presses; Harvard University Press celebrated its centennial at the conference.
One of the speakers at the plenary panel on Three Big Ideas in Publishing, New Yorker writer Jill Lehore, David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard College and chair of Harvard’s History and Literature Program, addressed the need for academics to bridge the chasm between the life of the intellectual and others by calling for more public intellectuals. She cited Russell Jacoby’s 1987 look at The Last Intellectuals. Even putting forth the idea gave her pause, she said: “I’m worried that the big ideas and what they do to the slow, contemplative work scholars do.”
One of the panel’s other big ideas, posed by Jacqueline C. Charlesworth, senior counsel to the U.S. Register of Copyrights, was to rewrite the copyright act. The last time it was undertaken it took 20 years and former Register of Copyrights Barbara Ringer, who had worked closely on the 1976 revision, later called it “a good 1950 copyright law.” Michael Schrage, research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business and Imperial College (London) Business School, called for university presses to stop thinking of themselves as publishers or presses. “I’m not trying to be contrarian,” he said. “I read your mission statement. Most of your program isn’t related to scholarship. I think you’re overinvested in sessions on technology and underinvested in what’s the future of scholarship and scholarly communication.”
Be that as it may, many of the nuts-and-bolts panels were among the most popular. Several people cited a session moderated by Michelle Pullano, textbook marketing manager at MIT Press on Open Access Textbooks and MOOCs, as one that could well have been a plenary. In it Stanford University Press director Alan Harvey discussed his experiences publishing to MOOCs, and Douglas Fisher, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering at Vanderbilt University discussed how he uses them in the classroom, while Sanjay Sarma, director of digital learning at MIT described edX. Another well attended session looked at the implications for publishers of the Supreme Court decision on first sale in Kirtsaeng vs. Wiley. There were also workshops on social media strategy, collaboration between university presses and libraries, and digital piracy.
This year’s attendance, 787 people from ten countries, matched last year’s record-breaking numbers in Chicago. “The university presses are keenly aware of the challenges ahead—how to maintain and fulfill the mission of disseminating the fruits of scholarship; how to compete in a very rapidly changing industry, and how to adapt to sweeping changes in higher education,” said Sam Dorrance, publisher, director of marketing, sales and subsidiary rights at Potomac Books in Dulles, Va., citing why he and his colleagues value the conference and were there this year. For Tony Sanfillipo, assistant director, marketing and sales director at Penn State University Press, AAUP meetings are a “morale booster. Publishing is so pessimistic these days, in spite of the fact that the data only partially supports that pessimism.”
Next year the AAUP conference will be back in New Orleans from June 22-24