The AAUP’s annual meeting (held back-to-back with the biannual museum publishing seminar in Chicago) on June 18-20 was not only lively, but oversubscribed following two dismal, gloomy years, and all attendees were in good spirits. As Jennifer Howard described in her coverage for The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The numbers created some logistical hassles but gave the meeting energy, too, tempering nervousness about how to feed the growing e-book market and how to convince budget-obsessed administrators that presses are assets, not liabilities.” This particular meeting also marked the organization’s 75th anniversary, as well as an opportunity to fete Executive Director Peter Givler who is retiring at the end of the year.
As with most “content” conferences these days, the digital departments dominated the attendee list, even with a bookstore panel titled The Changing Bookstore Landscape and moderated by Bruce Joshua Miller of Miller Trade Book Marketing. Still, tech was a popular discussion with panels ranging from International Sales in the Information Age to Tackling the Unthinkable: Digitizing the Backlist. (“We’re going to come full circle — from indie to chain back to indie,” Bruce Joshua Miller remarked).
The universities and their presses confronted the issue of “open access” in a way that for-profit publishers do not, notwithstanding the plea for “free” from an ever more vociferous public. Panels addressing ways in which textbooks can be delivered to students for nominal fees sounded suspiciously like smoke and mirrors unless coupled with the ever-present Mellon Foundation — and other nonprofits funding these initiatives — picking up their slack, as in one panel featuring a report on patron-driven acquisitions. Declaring the Pearson/McGraw/Wiley models to be broken — but aren’t they all?? — proponents of free content were adamant as they spelled out their future (discounted) agenda, for advanced learning.
One of the final sessions, IGNITE!, was a sort of speed dating roundup of sales/marketing/publishing/design ideas created to shake publishers up in their thinking about their publishing and sales. Jonathan Eyler-Werve from Community Media Workshop and in-house humorist at Groupon, a representative from the newly launched The Chicagoan, Christina Kahrl from Baseball Prospectus, Tanner McSwain from Uncharted Books, Hal Pollard from Laureate International Universities Publishing, and Tony Sanfilippo, Assistant Press Director and Marketing and Sales Director of Penn State University Press with his own ideas of the traditional bookstore of the future, all performed in front of a display of slides which changed every 20 seconds, requiring all to move much more rapidly than they would have done under different circumstances. (Afterwards, a numbers of Sales execs thought this might be a very useful format for editorial presentations at sales conferences — such as they are these days.)
On the digital front, one side was represented by Yale‘s David Schiffman and his panel looking beyond the ebook and “reflowable formats,” while the ongoing impact of “chunking” was explored in a panel overseen by Michael Cairns. Meanwhile, the often overlooked rights departments sang the praises of selling their antiquated downloadable PDFs, and their ability to garner income for the presses. The deplorable state of metadata was also lamented by Joe Esposito on the patron-driven acquisition panel.
As long as copyright exists in some fashion or another, clearing rights for all digital uses will remain a major earner in a business with seemingly less and less opportunities for making money. (A couple of independent booksellers bemoaned the fact however, that they can perfectly able to sell academic titles to their customers and would do considerably better if they could improve on the short discount, and if trade paperbacks were not priced at $29.95!)