Friday, November 22, 2013

A Mild Case of Bibliomania

The publisher R.B. Russell discusses his collection, and his illness.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pretend Fights

Dueling Duo

Dueling Duo by peapodsquadmom

There's been a lot of consternation of late over a controversial policy statement put out by the American Historical Association recommending a 6 year embargo for dissertations of history grads. The rationalization for this recommendation, according to the statement, was the practice of university presses refusing to accept revised dissertations. And it's a very hot controversy indeed, including a call for the shaming of university presses who do this.

Now, that's kind of the barebones of the controversy. Professional organization seeks to protect its most vulnerable members from the consequences of a perceived publishing practice. But let's tear this controversy apart, maybe we could learn something from its pieces. Let's first look at the AHA's concern. Do university presses avoid publishing revised dissertations? On the surface it might appear they do, but I'm not sure that's actually true. Instead because university presses think that libraries won't buy books they can determine to be revised dissertations, when most university presses find one they want to publish, they scrub all signs of it being a revised dissertation from the manuscript. Remove the thanks to their committee and advisors in the acknowledgements, change the title, pull the anecdotes about grad school from the foreword, that sort of thing, but they still publish it—if it's a great piece of scholarship. Is the fact that it's in an electronic repository a factor? I don't think so, as long as it can be distanced from that original work. If the association with the dissertation will clearly impact sales I think it would be a factor, but if that impact can be mitigated through omission, as it typically is, I don't think it does impact sales. Either way, the upshot of this is university presses pretend they don't publish revised dissertations, but actually they do.

But that brings us to the next part to consider. Do libraries avoid the purchase of revised dissertations? I think they do, but if you ask them they will frequently tell you they do not. What I do know is that their largest supplier would like us to tell them if a book is a revised dissertation because it would appear that supplier thinks they do avoid revised dissertations. So perhaps libraries pretend they buy dissertations or their supplier pretends they don't, I'm not quite sure on that one, but it's not a risk that seems worth taking.

So, because those two parties—the university presses and their customer libraries—aren't really sure what the other is doing, the AHA has, frankly pragmatically, advised their junior faculty members to hide the fact that they have written a dissertation. I think the problem with the AHA's policy is that it assumes university presses are doing something that most are only pretending to do, and that libraries are doing something they may or may not actually be doing, and it encourages their junior faculty members, by limiting access to their graduate work, to also pretend they haven't written a dissertation.

So, what's at the core of this problem? Perceptions? Yeah, that's a big factor. But the biggest problem is the market. I think most university presses would love to not have to care about the market for the serious scholarship they publish, but as long as their home and administrative institutions (which in some cases is ironically their university library) require that they pay for the majority of what they do with sales revenue, then we will all continue to have to live with this charade and simply because of the market for the content, not because of the quality or origin of the content. We all need to stop pretending. And we need to stop allowing the market to have such a large voice in both the accessibility of the content, and even what gets published, and by extension, who gets tenure and why. Until university presses and the scholarship they produce aren't dependent on capricious market forces, this kind of response to uncertainty will continue. And frankly this pretending is child's play compared to the market impact that Demand Driven Acquisitions is about to have on university press editorial decisions. Then we'll limit what we publish to what's predictably popular at libraries, and no amount of pretending can change that impact on History.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

2013 AAUP Presentation, Print in a Digital World

Slide Notes:

title I’d like to talk today about leveraging print in a digital world and while yes, we’re not talking about ebooks—we’re talking about real physical books—we can’t really leave the electronic realm because while these are paper books, they’re digitally printed and distributed.

While the difference between offset and digital printing is getting harder to detect in the physical product, the way it changes manufacturing is worth taking a look at, and specifically, worth exploiting.

So just what are these differences and how might we exploit them, well let’s have a look:

Digital/Inkjet Printing

First, there are no plates, which means I don’t have to guess how much I need, I don’t have to print how much I guessed, and I don’t have to further guess if it’s going to be really big in Japan. Books can instead be printed as needed, and almost more  importantly, they can be printed where they are needed. So rather than shipping to the customer, they’re printed closer to the customer, typically in the same UPS zone.

When I talk to people about how we use POD people often get confused about the various players and the particular type of platform we’re talking about so as a quick review, I’d like to go over some basics.

Kinds of POD
How they Print
  • SRDP (really just humble digital printing)
  • One-offs (True POD, both with toner and inkjet)

How they Distribute
  • Direct Channel Partners (Lightning Source)
  • Drop shipping
  • Print in warehouse
  • Distributed Printing (or Freelance/Contract Printing)
At this point, this might be the best way to think about these two players.

Direct Channel Partners (Lightning Source)
Distributed Printing (Amazon/CreateSpace)

5 Lightning Source Direct Channel Partners: US (partial list)
•Baker & Taylor
•Barnes and Noble
•Your Customers, Contributors, Reviewers

6 Lightning Source Direct Channel Partners: UK (partial list)
•Your Customers, Contributors, Reviewers

7 Lightning Source Direct Channel Partners: Australia (partial list)
•James Bennett
•University Co-op
•Your Customers, Contributors, Reviewers

8 LS prints typically in their own warehouses, here in Pennsylvania, La Vergne, of course, they have a new facility in California, then over the pond to Milton Keynes, and now with Global Connect, they have partners in Brazil and Australia. It’s useful to note that those last two LS foot prints aren’t their own (distributed printing), but instead use established players in those territories, and then forging new partnerships like their Direct Channel partners in the English speaking territories.

Amazon, on the other hand, probably doesn’t have a lot of print capacity in most,  or maybe in any of their warehouses, (maybe in the spate of new ones?) instead the original BookSurge Model relied on large scale regional printers and negotiating long and short term partnerships created when and where capacity is needed. This doesn’t always work as is occasionally evident when parts of a season are particularly busy, like textbook season, or the holidays. This last couple of years, however, seem to indicate that they have worked many of those problems out.

You could think of Amazon as fairly large Web properties across the globe, who have super-secret printing and distribution capacity everywhere—and they know where we live, and have almost everyone’s credit card information. So, a really great ROI is possible for their CreateSpace partners, vs. say, their Advantage partners.

9 So after thinking about how these platforms worked, and the territories they covered, we decided to try something unusual, particularly to address the issue of libraries choosing paperbacks over hardcovers when simultaneously released. We started releasing hardcovers only in the US market, but putting both the paperback and hardcover in Lightning Source for the UK, and Australia, and in POD as a paperback in CreateSpace for Amazon's UK, German, and Japanese sites. While Lightning Source offers both hardcover and paperback editions from its platform, CreateSpace only offers paperbacks. So in essence, when a non-illustrated book is released, it is only available as a hardcover in the US, but it's available in both formats for a good portion of the rest of the world.

10 Any book that isn't an art book has been handled this way since 2010.

11 Using this strategy were were able to increase international sales by 22.5% in units, and 23.55% in net dollars.

It’s worth noting that this analysis not only evaluates our POD strategy, it also evaluates another unusual strategy we tried. Since our art books couldn’t be included in the POD program, we also moved those to a separate international distributor in 2009.

The drop between 2011 and 2012 is probably more likely related to a hopefully temporary 20% drop in new titles for that year.

12 Now, this isn't really a fair comparison because it doesn't actually take into account some factors that might actually show the benefits are actually greater than just the net revenue we're receiving from our partners. They don't include some of the benefits we see when selling a POD edition outside of the United States, like avoiding a wholesaler or distributor cut when selling a CreateSpace edition, avoiding the so-called "Amazon Advantage" program and instead selling the CreateSpace edition at a true short discount, and avoiding a lot of shipping charges. Also, net dollars in the case of Amazon is net after the printing charge. If we were to include the printing costs of the pre-2010 editions the increase would be significantly higher.

13 We also realized that since these titles were already in POD, we could offer another option for adoptions in the US beyond just the hardcover edition available in that market. We rolled out a program called the Early Adopter Program and what we do with this program is offer a low cost POD paperback edition, in the US dropped shipped from LS US, to the campus bookstore. They are sold non-returnable, and without a barcode.

To market the Early Adopter program we did two things:

First, we started notifying our authors about the program in the email sent to all new authors upon publication, which contains marketing tools for their book, and gives them a brief introduction to our marketing services. But some authors are already aware of the program having heard about it from their acquiring editor.

We also created a postcard which we distribute at conferences, especially to faculty members complaining about the price of hardcovers, and expressing a desire for a paperback for classroom use. This program has been very popular with authors and other faculty, and has been a useful acquisitions tool.

14 The production process for the Early Adopter editions involves removal of the barcode from the paperback file, and uploading that new cover file to LS. We then take the order from the bookstore and drop ship desired quantity to the store.

15 There are some problems associated with this approach, the first of which is Market Leakage,  and that refers to books from the UK crossing the ocean, so pricing must discourage this. This usually manifests itself in the form of an EU/UK bookseller listing it on Amazon's US site through Marketplace. Amazon will not remove 3rd party territorial violations from the Marketplace section of their site but the most frequent violator of this restriction is Book Depository and they will remove it when asked.

Your territorial distributor must be willing to go non-exclusive, or at the very least, allow sales through POD

CreateSpace, née BookSurge, has created a kludgee interface with publishers. Currently territories are indicated through marking a Y or N on a spreadsheet. But even that doesn’t always work. They have no idea why. *Surprised Face*

Also, you risk Amazon getting confused about the record, and even if CreateSpace takes the POD edition off the market, Amazon could  list the POD as Temporarily Out of Stock, at least until you turn it on in that market. This, obviously, does not benefit individual consumer hardcover sales. But if your hardcover is very expensive (for the library market) that may not really matter.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

And a Bookseller Shall Lead Them...

It is with pure delight that I pass on the news that Eric Papenfuse, bookseller, historian, publisher, and community activist, has won the Democratic Primary for Mayor of Harrisburg. Harrisburg has had it pretty rough of late, declaring bankruptcy in 2011, and even recently having its fiscal fiasco featured on a Planet Money segment on Morning Edition. I had coffee with Eric a couple of months ago and I asked him why? Why would he even want to become mayor of a city in such dire straights? He told me, "Because I live and work here. Look, all I wanted to do was make things better for the block where my bookstore is, but I began to realize that to fix my block, I had to start with the city." And I completely believe him. It's the kind of guy Eric is. We recently published a book on the little known Pennsylvanian, Mira Lloyd Dock, and Eric was so thrilled that this greatly under-appreciated figure was finally getting her due that he chose the book for for his monthly public radio sponsorship, then proceeded to sell it at or below cost in his store. There are other booksellers who sell below cost, but typically it's to destroy competition and grab marketshare. Here's a bookseller doing it to be able to teach his community about a neglected yet incredibly important figure in their own history.

He is a man of great intelligence and principle. And while he's only won the primary so far, he's got an excellent chance of winning in November. Congratulations, Eric. Harrisburg is really fortunate to have you, and the city has finally shown some real wisdom in this primary election.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Book From the Other Side.

About a month ago, the trucking company that my ex-brother-in-law used to work for tried to contact my nephew at work, but as he was not immediately available to the dispatcher for the police department he works for, the department operator transferred the call to my sister who works for the same office(it's Louisiana). The lady who worked for trucking company was trying to get in touch with my sister's children. Apparently my ex-brother-in-law, who had died a few years ago, had left 2 full pallets in storage that were about to be dumped because the trucking company was moving its location. The following weekend my nephew went to the company's warehouse to find out what was on those pallets. He called my sister from the warehouse and told her, "Mom, I think you need to come and look at this." So she went to warehouse, and to her delight, the pallets were full of lost or forgotten family artifacts. Piles of the kids' art works, homework, notes, letters, photographs, trophies, report cards—memories. He had saved it all. The warehouse supervisor told her that they were ordered to throw all of the pallet contents away. The supervisor, however, knew my nephew, as he worked for his father for a while before he died. So he let them take it all.

I was really sorry when my sister's marriage to him broke up decades ago, mostly for how hard it was on their kids, but it's really hard to be mad at him now. What an amazing story. What an amazing gift.

Here's a book they found among those piles that it seems I sent to my nephew when he was a toddler and I had just finished college. I'm embarrassed by the typos, but so glad this was rescued that I want to share it.

There's also this hilarious note from nephew to my sister.

Come on, Chris, just let this one go.

Thanks, Greg. RIP. Shipment Delivered.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rethinking the College Bookstore

Gettysburg College 2012 by Tomwsulcer
There was a lot of chatter in the book community a couple of weeks ago over an announcement that Len Riggio, Chairman of Barnes & Noble, made about his interest in buying back his company. Riggio has done this more than once since he first purchased the company back in 1971. But what I’ve found most interesting about the announcement is a detail I haven’t seen anyone else mention. It’s what Mr. Riggio doesn’t want to include in the deal. In what he doesn’t want, everyone seems focused on his exclusion of the nook platform, but what’s of much greater interest to me is the other thing he doesn’t want, the college bookstore division.

Now in thinking about this, let’s review specifically just what we’re talking about. Barnes and Noble currently has about 689 “regular” bookstores, but it also runs 674 college bookstores. Note that it doesn’t own 674 college stores, it manages them and in most cases the building the store is located in is part of the college or university, usually right on campus. Typically, Barnes and Noble won the concession in a bidding process from the home institutions, like Pepsi did at the stadium, and now it has exclusive rights to sell textbooks and t-shirts on the campuses of those institutions. If you’re talking about a large institution with a successful and popular sports program, like the one I work for here at Penn State, then the t-shirt piece of that can be as lucrative as the bookstore/textbook piece of it, probably more so, and it is very unlikely that we’re going to see that change anytime soon.

But there’s one thing Len Riggio correctly identified a couple of years ago which is that the textbook market is changing rapidly. Last year, at the George Washington Conference on Ethics and Publishing, Dr. Al Greco, Professor of Marketing at Fordham who specializes in the book market, predicted that the market for print textbooks would go from a $4 Billion market in 2012 to $173 million by 2017, about a 95% drop in the next five years. That trend toward digital learning materials combined with the end of what was once a captive customer base forced by geography and proprietary adoption lists to purchase their textbooks from the campus store, has led to an amazing decline in the profitability of college bookstores. This is why, understandably, Len wants out. He saw the coming boom in campus stores back in the Seventies when he bought the chain, and I think he now sees what Al Greco sees.

So what does this mean for those of us at an institution with a B&N managed campus store? Well, probably nothing right away, but eventually those concession contracts will come up for renewal, and if what’s left of B&N after Riggio buys back the brick and mortar bookstores is nook and B&N College, well I can’t possibly imagine the nook division wanting anything to do with selling team hoodies, art supplies, and Blue Books. So when those agreements come up for renewal, what should happen? Well, if you’ll indulge me for a minute, I actually have an idea about this.

If we could start from scratch with a campus bookstore, what would we want it to do? Well, who are the affected constituents? It would seem students, faculty, and authors. If you’re a student, your answer might include doing something about textbook prices. If you’re a scholar it would probably include access, typically to the most recent scholarship. If you’re a writer, and not surprisingly colleges and universities are filled with those, both in the guise of publishing faculty and paper-writing students, you might want tools and expertise. But above all, I don’t think any of these constituencies wants to see the books go away. Instead, perhaps it’s high time something else left the building, the t-shirts.

If we are to reimagine the campus bookstore let’s first talk about what it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t need to be a clothing outlet. Take the shirts and such out of the store and find a new home for it. It shouldn’t be difficult, there are probably already seven or fifteen or thirty other places on and near campus that can handle the distribution of officially licensed goods. Instead, let’s radically recommend that the bookstore handle what it says it does right in the name, books.

Next, let’s think about where else on campus books are a focus. Hmmmm. Wait, what’s that across the street? Is that the library? Might it be useful for the library to partner here? Are there efficiencies to be had? They both receive large quantities of books on a daily basis, process those arrivals, and then shelve them for browsing. They both collect course texts for students and distribute them at the request of faculty. They both purchase brand new material for their faculty and graduate students, so that they might have access to the latest scholarship being published. Well, yes, on the surface it does look like there are efficiencies to be had. But could this new kind of campus book place do more than just a bookstore or a library by combining some of what they each do? I think it probably could.

So let’s say for a moment that over the weekend I destroyed a giant, evil, purple, crystal Gorgon that had been tormenting a peaceable valley kingdom, and that as a reward for saving them, the people of the kingdom gave me this really cool golden magical wishing sword. (Yeah, I don’t know why they didn’t just use it themselves against the Gorgon, but whatever) So what would I do with it? Well, first I would ask for a million more wishes. It would then, of course, be pointed out to me that’s against magic wishing sword rules. I only get three wishes, and, oh yeah, they can only be used for good.

Okay, three wishes, and only for good. Hmm. What good could I do… Wait, how about those students and those high textbook prices? Can I use my magic sword to make things better for them? Well, now that I think about it, yeah, that would be kind of easy. And I might not even need to waste a wish on it. Under the current textbook paradigm, most textbooks are created and sold primarily by those with strong motivations to get the highest possible margin out of the sale those materials. What if we flipped that? What if we brought the librarian ethos to the textbook problem? Should libraries lend textbooks? In some cases that makes excellent sense, but ultimately why couldn’t students be offered both options, purchase or borrow? And if we take the profit incentive out of the retail sale of textbooks, and put librarians in charge of distributing these materials, might librarians have more incentive than B&N to help faculty find lower cost (or free) alternatives to higher priced learning materials? Might they even be willing to help faculty create those materials? Wait, libraries publishing? Who ever heard of such a silly thing?

So what else might I wish for that could help people on campus… How about the faculty, how can we help them? What if we offered them all of the latest books in their field at this bookstore? Imagine walking into a campus bookstore and actually finding books there, relevant books. That’s how I’d spend my second wish. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the university for new scholarship to be offered to faculty for browsing before either they or the library purchased it? As a bookstore, this could occur. The practice of returns in the book industry is a problematic one, though one that ebooks and POD are addressing, but in this instance, the ability to return an unwanted book makes a lot of sense. If publisher X University Press (XUP for short) publishes a book about say reliquaries, wouldn’t it make sense for XUP to send a copy to every campus with faculty who would be interested in that topic? If no one on campus needed the book, it could be returned, but if a faculty member wanted to read it, they might really like having the option to either borrow the book, or to purchase it. Either way, the campus bookstore would purchase the book from XUP, and if the faculty member wanted to borrow it, the library would own it after it was returned, and if the faculty member wanted to keep it, the faculty member could pay the bookstore/library for that copy. At which point the bookstore/library could decide if they’d like another copy, or not.

I suppose what I’m proposing is a little like the Patron-Driven Acquisitions model that a lot of ebook aggregators and wholesalers are experimenting with, but this would be done with physical books. And like the Lookstore model I wrote about last year, this one might make more sense on a consignment basis, with the onus put on the publishers to find which campuses, or more specifically which departments would be most interested in a new book in a particular field, and then sending the campus stores serving those departments a copy of the relevant book, on consignment for 9 months, after which it is either paid for and shelved, or returned to XUP.

Now, I’ve got one more wish left, and the last constituency on campus worth considering when rethinking the campus bookstore is writers—both students and faculty. So how might I use that last wish to help them. Well perhaps the most important thing we can do is keep the store open. Most writers seem to recognize that the recent disappearance of bookstores on the American landscape isn’t really a good development for them. Not only does it reduce the number of outlets where their work can be found, it diminishes book culture and reduces the overall number of commons devoted to books. Beyond just having books available though, I think a better use for some of the space might be for a writing and publishing center. Not only could it offer expertise for students, maybe it could also offer services to faculty. In fact, if libraries are serious about publishing and about Open Access, having a place on campus dedicated to offering publishing services specifically to their own faculty might be a way to ensure faculty are aware of alternatives to commercial publishing, are negotiating the best terms for the content, and using Institutional Repositories.

I realize that little if any of this is actually going to happen. I guess it’s the risk one takes when one’s call for reform is entirely dependent on a magical wishing sword. Nonetheless, Gorgon excluded, it probably should happen. I don’t know how many of those almost 700 campuses are going to find themselves without a campus bookstore next year, but I’m finding it hard to imagine a scenario where, like the independents before them, they aren't going to start to close. When talking about what we're going to do with those empty book buildings on our campuses, I hope administrators will at least be thinking beyond the concession contract and seriously consider the role that books play in the life and work of their community. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with textbook prices, perhaps all faculty already see all the new scholarship in their respective fields at conferences, and maybe writing and publishing centers aren’t something campus communities need. Maybe. But it seems much more likely that what most folks on campuses don’t need is another opportunity to purchase a t-shirt.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Make Good Books

Chip Kidd designed this great cover for the print edition of Neil Gaimon's University of the Arts commencement address for the class of 2012. This is just really great design. For a really great speech.

You can watch the video here: