Valedictory Presidential Talk
Director, Johns Hopkins University Press
Thank you, Peter, for that generous introduction. In the same spirit I also want to thank the member presses who in voting for the slate of officers last June, gave me the opportunity to serve as the Association’s president for the 2009-2010 year. This was the closest I’ve been since high school to holding a political office, and it was a wonderful experience. There was not any advance fund-raising, nor a hard-fought campaign. There was simply an interesting job, and the AAUP staff helping me do that.
Last year at this time I said that I would work with AAUP staff and the Board to help the membership navigate the terrain of a recession, then just getting started. The AAUP obviously cannot change the global economy, or the dynamics of research and higher education, but it has an excellent, near 73-year record of providing a forum for exploring and discussing “the dissemination of the fruits of research,” which is our purpose, say the Bylaws. AAUP helps publishers through educational services to member staff, publicity and advisory support for presses, and advocacy for those public policies that appear best to support our own and the wider community.
While our fiscal years are not over yet, many would say that 2009-2010 was a bad year for university presses. Along with most institutions on the planet, we endured a second year of global recession. Academic libraries, a major market for many AAUP members, continued to operate in budget stagnation or with absolute budget cuts. Universities who subsidize many presses faced declines in state aid and decreases in endowment income, and many passed along these budget constraints or higher allocations and taxes to their university presses. An informal survey conducted in February revealed that about half of the AAUP’s member presses had reduced the sizes of their staffs through layoffs, early retirements, or by leaving open positions unfilled.
Without denying the hardships, I think that many of us feel a sense of relief that our operations survived 2009-2010 as well as they did. Consider these pieces of comparatively good news. That same informal survey that revealed the staffing cutbacks, also reported no negative change in the number of publications the presses expected to issue. Available usage statistics show the discovery of our online publications is increasing. Sales of university press books, according to AAUP’s consolidated sales statistics (from 66 reporting presses), were tracking 3% above prior year and 2.8% above budget for the nine months ended March 2010. Informal reports suggest that combined print and electronic subscription revenues for university press journals will hold steady for Calendar Year 2010. Yes, there were economic difficulties, and yes there were occasions when AAUP was enlisted to help member presses procure subsidy or other institutional support. More often this year, though, the talk on our listservs was about technology and innovation. Our staff members are focused on new formats, e-books, open access, creative types of university publishing partnerships, techniques for educating one another in new technologies, and the rise of social media. We are beginning to engage the readers and writers of the future through new and emerging channels.
The most practical way in which AAUP supports its member presses is through its educational programs. Several AAUP committees worked together to find efficient ways to support the membership in 2009-2010. Early on the Annual Meeting Program Committee (Greg Britton, Getty, Chair) coordinated planning with the Professional Development Committee (Nicole Mitchell, Georgia, Chair) and with the Business Systems Committee (Anna Weidman, California, Chair). In prior years AAUP and individual communities of professionals had offered a series of separately timed and located training opportunities, and these served us well. There had been a Financial Officers meeting and a Production Managers meeting and longer ago, some other “community” meetings. These were not feasible in 2009. Faced with a new climate and some encouragement from the Board, this year’s Committees agreed to schedule pre-conference workshops and a Financial Officers Meeting preceding the Annual Meeting. The AAUP central office staff supported this plan with a prompt announcement and marketing plan. By tailoring the offering to the probable budgets of the membership, AAUP aimed to encourage a level of participation that will be beneficial for the participating members and for the Association’s finances.
The result seems to be great! This Annual Meeting has over 500 registrants, an extremely strong result. We have outgrown the host hotel, and expect the overall participation level to exceed the budgeted level by a healthy margin. I want to thank the members of the incredibly hard-working and effective Program Committee: Greg Britton (Getty), Gita Manaktala (MIT), Paul Murphy (Rand), Leila Salisbury (Mississippi), Linda Secondari (Oxford). Also the leaders of the pre-conference workshops: Alan Harvey (Stanford) for the E Book Workshop, Colleen Lanick (MIT) for the Marketing Workshop, and Russell Schwalbe for the Financial Officers’ Meeting.
In addition to managing expenses carefully in a difficult climate, AAUP staff and Board continued to address the ways in which the economic landscape of academic publishing is changing. AAUP members constitute something like $2 billion of the publishing industry. While this amounts to 5% of total revenue, I think it represents about 10% of the books and a slightly smaller share of the journals published in English. The numbers are small and we need to recognize that we will usually be the ones adapting rather than dictating on most political and standards questions. Small we may be, but we should not be invisible. Bill Germano last evening gave us a charming talk about the history of the book. In it he reminded us that throughout that history scholars have shared utopian visions of how scholarship and its narratives should be widely shared. We must enter the story and find speaking roles saying how utopia might be paid for. As a group university presses have actual information and experience especially with the varieties of economic models that can support book, journal, and online publishing. This expertise should be brought forward in public debate about such matters as copyright law, research funding requirements, higher education funding, and related matters. In order to gather these, the Board last summer appointed a Task Force on Economic Models in Scholarly Publishing (Lynne Withey, California, Chair) to study these matters and prepare a report with AAUP’s recommendations. This Task Force received excellent support and information from member press directors. We will have a session to review a copy of the report tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. A copy of the report was in each registrant’s packet. Please read that and join us for a discussion tomorrow.
On a regular basis the AAUP Board and Executive Director monitor governmental actions that have the potential to affect AAUP member presses. In December the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy requested comment from the public in answer to several questions related to “public access to archived publications resulting from research funded by Federal science and technology agencies.” The request for comment included a general description of the NIH Open Access Policy and then a request for answers to nine specific questions related to Open Access. The AAUP Board studied the matter and crafted a detailed reply to the information request. In that reply AAUP endorsed a report on the same subject that had been issued by the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable (convened by the House Committee on Science and Technology). This Roundtable Report advised that plans to change access policies should be developed separately within each government agency, and that those should observe some common guiding principles and recommendations that would respect the interests of all parties in the system.
I want to thank the members of the AAUP Board for their diligence and patience in working through these policy questions with Peter Givler and me.
Throughout the year I was very often encouraged and buoyed by the intelligence, energy, and community spirit of our members. So far as I can remember, there was one instance of unhappiness on the listservs because it appeared we might have too many webinars on XML. There may also be a little wariness over the fact that there are several different initiatives going forward to develop ways of producing and selling e-books. Frankly, I don’t think these are problems! I think these efforts show a great wealth of talent, energy, and leadership. Many are moving forward to help our organizations evolve, and we are remaining open to the possibilities. That’s the good news.
While university presses may wish at certain moments for the simplicity of just a few partners, I think that the world of the web will not make that a desirable condition. It has never been a one-size fits all source for information. Just think of the all choices when considering e-readers. What an exciting time to be in scholarly publishing. The landscape continues to evolve rapidly and present new opportunities for reinvention. The future is rife with possibility.
We need to keep our eyes open and look for all the good opportunities wherever they may be.
Thanks again for the opportunity to work with all of you through the AAUP.