8 highlights from AAUP 2013

Last month, I had the privilege of attending the Association of American University Presses' annual meeting in Boston. This opportunity was made possible through the generous support of the Pat Hoefling Memorial Fund. Pat encouraged me to attend my first AAUP back in 2006, one month after I was appointed the electronic marketing manager. That meeting helped me grow leaps and bounds in my new position. And while I'm not a newbie any more, I'm grateful that I had the chance to go to another AAUP meeting because I always come away with new ideas on how I can be a more effective publisher. This meeting provided a good deal of thought-provoking material (see the 28 pages of notes that I took!).


A beautiful day for a conference in Boston!

And now on to all the new information that I learned: I attended an excellent pre-conference workshop on digital marketing organized by IUP's very own Mandy Clarke and Amanda Atkins at MIT Press. Presenters included Laura Sell from Duke University Press, Colleen Lanick from MIT, Kristi McGuire from the University of Chicago Press, Ivan Lett from Yale University Press, and Brady Dyer from University of Texas Press. I've been following (and "borrowing") what many of these presses have been doing with online marketing for years, so I was excited to learn more from them in person. The top five new ideas that I'll be implementing from each press are:

  1. Create a social media army of staff members. Duke had success getting their staff members to help spread the word about their recent 50% off sale. They made it even easier for employees to share on Twitter and Facebook by creating a social media toolkit for them. It's a brilliant way to get everyone engaged and make them feel a part of the success of the sale.  
  2. Write more original content for the blog. MIT has an impressive 100% original content on their blog. How do they do it? They've also created an army—of bloggers. They ask authors to contribute to topics on their blog calendar and have MIT Press editors write about their experiences at academic conferences. They also have authors who can quickly turn around timely pieces when something comes up in the news. We do some original content on our blog already, but I'll be working on recruiting more contributors soon. Stay tuned!
  3. Give away more free ebooks. Chicago has been doing this for a long time with their monthly free ebook promo. I like how they make users give an email address before they can download a book. It gives accountability and helps grow their email list. Double bonus!
  4. Think smaller about multimedia if resources are limited. Yale has the luxury of a dedicated budget for outsourcing production of book trailers and free use of studio equipment on campus to record podcasts <sigh>. My favorite quote from Ivan's talk was that "easy doesn't mean it's bad." I've been going the easy route for much of our multimedia (coordinating with authors to create their own book trailers and doing podcasts for free with an app on my iPhone). When I heard him say that, I felt like he gave me a stamp of approval for my current approach to podcasts and book trailers. So thanks for that, Ivan!
  5. Partner with other organizations for social media campaigns. Texas did a very successful Facebook campaign for their Dwight Yoakam biography. They worked with Austin City Limits to host a book giveaway on its Facebook page. Texas also did targeted Facebook ads about the book to fans based in cities where Yoakam was appearing on tour. We have a plan to adapt this idea for one of our books. The details are still being worked out, but if you're a Jethro Tull fan, I think you'll be very happy. 🙂

The full meeting started the day after the pre-conference workshop. There was a TON of information packed into two days of sessions, but what stood out most for me were the two plenaries on big ideas in publishing and the story of the closing and subsequent reopening of the University of Missouri Press. Three challenges presented in these sessions were:

  1. To think about ourselves not just as publishers, but also as partners in advancing scholarship. Michael Schrage, Research Fellow at MIT and author of Serious Play, ruffled more than a few feathers in the room by basically telling us, "You're doing it all wrong." (Not a direct quote from him, but more or less the spirit of his talk.) But what I did appreciate was that he encouraged us to think differently about what we do: what does it mean to advance scholarship and what do university presses do better than anyone else? He also argued that "advancing scholarship is a better organizing principal than being better publishers" (now that is a direct quote). I would argue with him that this is every university press's central organizing principal (and the reason we exist in the first place). We're also trying to be better publishers so that we can better serve scholarship. But I do take his point that advancing scholarship means more than just publishing it.
  2. To communicate the value of university presses (using Missouri as a cautionary tale). Janese Silvey, the former reporter at the Columbia Daily Tribune who covered the closing and reopening of the University of Missouri Press, said the most important question to ask when reporting any story is, "Who cares?" If Bruce Miller and Ned Stuckey-French hadn't cared enough to rally supporters to save the press through their social media campaign, it may never have reopened. The story of Missouri shows the importance of communicating university presses' value to various stakeholders (authors, scholars, readers, universities, local communities, general public, etc.) so that they will become invested in what we do and become our advocates.
  3. To bridge the communication gap between scholars and the general public. Jill Lepore, Professor of American History at Harvard College, cited the need for more humanistic inquiry (and fewer pundits) in our society and challenged university presses to find ways to make scholarship more accessible to the general public. She described her experience working on Common-place, the online journal she co-founded with a colleague. She wanted the journal to be written to a more general audience, but what she discovered was that many academics weren't trained to write for anyone else but scholars. I see Jill's argument about accessibility of ideas closely tied in with point #2—getting people to care about what university presses do. Scholarly language can constrain ideas to the academy, but if the general public doesn't understand how scholarship impacts their everyday lives, how will we get them to care about us? It may be a challenge, but I also see it (and the other two challenges above) as opportunities to have an even greater impact on advancing scholarship. 

I've only scratched the surface on what I learned at this year's AAUP, but this post is getting far too long, so I'd like to end with one last word about Pat. She was a true champion of helping her employees reach their full potential. Although she is no longer with us, I'm glad that she can still have a positive impact on my professional development. My thanks to the grant committee for honoring me with this award.