AAUP 2015 recap: The Darwinization of Publishing

This week on the blog, we're featuring posts from some of our colleagues who attended the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) 2015 conference last month. Today's post is by Sarah Jacobi, Interim Regional Sponsoring Editor and one of this year's Pat Hoefling Grant winners.

AAUP stuff

AAUPs, much like the finches once studied by Darwin in the Galapagos Islands have learned to change the shape of their beaks in order to survive. For AAUPs, the beak is our books. The days of high print runs for monographs, non-POD printing, physical bookstores, and no e-books are gone forever. More than ever before, the world of book publishing is continually changing and university presses are on the front lines of that change. 

Innovation. Collaboration. Modification. Those were all buzzwords at the 2015 annual meeting. The panels this year were focused on a wide variety of subjects. One of the most informative was on the joint project decisions made by acquisitions and marketing. 

It was during this panel that two of my new favorite phrases of the annual meeting were uttered: “where the rubber meets the road and sometimes small animals get killed” to describe book proposal meetings and the relationship between acquisitions and marketing was “bloodier than blood.”

For me, one of the best things about the meeting was hearing about how other university presses handle routine publishing procedures and tasks. This was especially true at this panel. At one press, the contract meeting until 1.5 years ago, was a closed door affair involving just the acquisitions editors and the director. No additional input from other departments was requested. At another, there are weekly contract proposal meetings. One senior editor described the acquisitions department as having to constantly pivot inward and outward within the press.

I was able to attend the collaborative lab on how three Michigan university presses have worked together—members from each press talked about how they’ve collaborated for conferences, advertising, and author events. They even passed around a collection of seasonal postcards they are thinking about sending out. Each postcard focuses on a season and a couple things that make Michigan great during that time of year. I was intrigued by the idea. There was also lots of discussion about the pros, cons, and how-tos when working with another university press. Regional book events and mailings were targeted as a good collaboration area for same state university presses. University presses can also work together if they have a mutual author in common.

Confidential Agent in Old California

Another really fun panel was “Does It Have to Be Blue?” which focused on the purpose and evolution of book covers. The cover is no longer an ornament of the text but a billboard. I especially appreciated the designer who showed several examples of the same book cover from the last 30-40 years. In several cases the original cover was more interesting than the current one but had fallen out of favor due to expense or relevance. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for those old book jackets.

This entire experience was made possible when I was chosen as a 2015 recipient of the Pat Hoefling Grant. I was both stunned and honored to be chosen. Pat was an amazing person and full of fun and positive energy. This scholarship is a wonderful tribute to her.

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