Valedictory Presidential Talk
Director, Louisiana State University Press
Think for a moment about a time at the height of the great depression—no, not this one, the first one. It’s 1937. Publishers are reeling. Bookstores are closing. Something must be done. Some trade publishers come up with what turns out to be not such a great idea—accepting returns for full credit.
Nine years earlier, in a dark bar (when recounting the history of scholarly publishing, there is always a dark bar) publishers from a university presses band together over what seems a fairly modest proposal: they will publish a joint catalog of their titles to send to a shared mailing list.
One of those members later referred to this gang as “erstwhile bootleggers.” The early correspondence of the group focuses not on the future of publishing but on which hotel they should meet in, with one director citing his long-held ambition to lunch at the Waldorf. He won the argument, and they did indeed meet at the Waldorf and agreed to publish a catalog of their combined publications.
The group next approached Christopher Morley, who worked at the Saturday Review of Literature, and asked him to write a foreword that would introduce these university press books to an educated readership.
Morley agreed to do so and devised a title for the publication: Shelfward, Ho! with the tagline: “Their books push off from the wharf and cry ‘Shelfward Ho!'” (Well, don’t hold it too much against him. He had worked for a trade publisher, and he called one of his own books Pipefuls.)
Though expectations for this first combined university press publication ran high, sales from the catalog were lower than anticipated and costs were greater–thereby creating a publishing model still seen occasionally in scholarly publishing even today.
All too soon, the effort was being referred to as “an ill-fated joint catalog.” But, as with many of our less successful collaborations, an even better idea emerged: combining each press’s mailing list of scholarly book-buyers. This initiative expanded and eventually became the Educational Directory and provided a core service for AAUP members for many years.
In 1937, as the Great Depression ground on, the support these presses could find in cooperative action was formalized in the Association of American University Presses. (There is no note, however, of whether the vote was taken in a dark bar.)
This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of that founding moment of the Association of American University Presses, a vital collective voice for nonprofit publishing within and outside the university community. Though a member of that first gathering remarked that “to get a group of publishers to cooperate on anything is a miracle,” over the following years that has proved not to be the case. Today we can look back on 75 years of mutual support, cooperation, and a shared commitment to the dissemination of scholarly thought.
Through decades of changes in the landscape of publishing, our engagement with scholarship and with each other has provided an ongoing forum for sharing ideas and information. As we come together for our annual meeting, we’ll be reflecting on and building on those years as we prepare for the future.
One thing we know. As you look around this room, nothing can take the place of experience. There are many smart people, who work in publishing, but it’s that combination of intelligence and experience that gives such value to the advice, thoughts, and suggestions we receive from and the strategies we devise with our AAUP colleagues. And it’s that sharing of experience that we celebrate this year.
Rich Hendel, book designer emeritus, has created a special logo for our anniversary. We also formed a task force to organize publicity for our first University Press Week: November 11-17, 2012. Will Underwood (chair), Leila Salisbury, Mark Saunders, Michael Roux, Melissa Pitts and Colleen Lanick—working closely with Brenna McLaughlin from the AAUP central office—have devised a series of initiatives to highlight our work.
The task force also organized an AAUP-wide competition to design a logo for this week. Congratulations to Tom Eykemans for having his logo selected. You can see his design and read about the other plans for UP Week at the webpage on the AAUP site.
That site was updated and re-launched during this past year. We also offered our membership directory digitally as well as in print, the same way many of us also offer our books.
Even though we saw a statistical increase in ebook sales, our combined sales through March fell by an average of 5.3%, though returns were also lower at an average of 16.3%. We continue to look for sales increases where we can find them, and scout for promising revenue streams where possible.
Two presses have undertaken new consortium arrangements this year: the University of Nebraska Press now oversees publication, marketing, and distribution for The Jewish Publication Society, and University Press of Colorado publishes and distributes the work of Utah State University Press.
Ebook initiatives, of course, continued to find their way into our workflow this year: UPCC, JSTOR, CUP, OUP. (Sometimes it seems we are an organization of acronyms). We shared ideas about planning for and managing our digital world and we’ve examined /reexamined the future of our various lists, especially in the humanities.
It was my privilege to represent AAUP at a conference in Florence sponsored by NYU’s John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress. I can assure you all from the lively sessions at that conference that many constituents care deeply about the work we publish, and they are willing to work with us to find a way to continue to disseminate the fine work of our authors.
While the definition of university press publishing is not the same for all of us, we align more than we differ, and we gain because of our association with AAUP. We learn from each other more than we could ever figure out on our own, especially as we take on board our industry’s changes.
And the changes abound, from within and without. This year, we’ve seen announcements regarding the upcoming or recent retirements of several press directors. Peter Milroy of University of British Columbia Press, Penny Kaiserlian from University Press of Virginia, and Kate Torrey from the University of North Carolina Press all served a term as AAUP President, and Pat Soden of the University of Washington Press served on the AAUP board.
In addition, Richard Ziemacki retired from Cambridge University Press, Mark Linz of American University in Cairo Press, and Geoffrey Burn from Stanford University Press have stepped down from their directorial duties. We’ll also be saying farewell to Cynthia Miller of Pittsburgh Press and William Hamilton from the University of Hawaii Press over the next year. Please congratulate all of them on their retirements and thank them for their years of dedication to scholarly publishing.
And then there was last fall’s announcement by Peter Givler that he will retire next June. Guided by Doug Armato, the search committee for the new executive director includes Philip Cercone, Kathleen Keane, Barbara Kline Pope, Darrin Pratt, Rebecca Schrader, and Marlie Wasserman, working with Jack Farrell Associates. We are confident they will find the right leader to take our organization forward.
But a word more about Peter, whose retirement will mark the end of an era in our organization. Unequivocally, he is the most extraordinary leader I’ve had the pleasure to know: calm, fair, always eager to hear about a new publishing initiative or to reinforce the importance of the work of presses with administrators, I admire his sharp intelligence, evenhandedness, and boundless knowledge of publishing. He uses his position to tirelessly promote and defend us with grace and even humor. The AAUP’s debt to him is enormous, and I am one of many directors who owe him personal thanks as well.
You may not know all the specifics, since Peter often operates behind the scenes, but our entire organization has benefitted from his extraordinary efforts, as he has worked to represent us all. Our membership has grown under his leadership, and we all have reasons to be grateful for his work. We’ll have undoubtedly have further opportunities to recognize Peter’s contributions in the year ahead, but we should take this moment to give him the first of many recognitions of our appreciation and gratitude.
We must also take a moment to laud the efforts of Bruce Miller, who single-handedly coordinated and launched an impressive viral campaign via Facebook and Twitter in support of the University of Missouri Press. While others pursued quiet diplomacy, Bruce began an online letter writing campaign, a petition, and a tweet tag that received support from thousands of concerned citizens, academics, authors, and publishers. Many of us have worked with Bruce for over 20 years and know about his boundless dedication to scholarly publishing, but for these recent notable efforts we thank Bruce and recognize his tenacity and perseverance.
In addition, please recognize those who this year chaired our committees and task force. They deserve our thanks for all their volunteer efforts on behalf of all of us: Eric Schwartz, Martha Farlow, Mike Bieker, Mike Schwartz, Tracy Baldwin, Dennis Lloyd, Michael Jensen, Patrick Alexander, Levi Stahl, Kathleen Keane, Larin McLaughlin, Elizabeth Brown, and Garrett Kiely.
Thanks too to those who contributed their time and energy to this year’s meeting, through both the pre-meeting workshops and sessions. Sincere thanks to my very patient and supportive staff at LSU Press, to my fellow board members, and to the AAUP Central Office Staff for their consistent good work, and particularly to Susan Patton for making all of the arrangements for the annual meeting.
This year’s program promises to be one of our best, and for that we thank our annual meeting committee: Becky Brasington Clark, Lisa Bayer, Courtney Berger, Jane Bunker, Derek George, John Hussey, and Christopher Kelaher. They have given us a an impressive array of sessions covering the widest sweep of issues, and they offered tweaks to the program up until the last possible moment, to ensure that we covered even late-breaking news of interest to us all. Igniting the Future—an inspiring and positive way to think about the days ahead. Better to use our imagination and ingenuity to ignite our own future than sit passively waiting to be told what that future will be.
What an honor it has been to represent all of you this year. I thank you for that experience, and look forward to next year when Peter Dougherty will lead us onward.
Since I was a little hard earlier on Christopher Morley and his Shelfward, Ho!, I’ll now cite a better example of his writing, something that could be set as a credo for university press publishers moving into our next 75 years:
“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”
As members of AAUP, we strive to maintain the individual identity and health of our presses and we recognize that diverse thought is one sign of a healthy organization. Thank you for allowing me to speak for that organization over the past year.