The Corner Office: Pressing Forward Into Digital Publishing
Mudditt: We have two major areas of investment in 2011, both of which are in the area of technology.
The first is that of back-office infrastructure. Our current systems have not been able to keep pace with rapidly evolving product and business models, and so our tracking, analytic and reporting capabilities no longer meet our needs and sometimes require time-consuming manual work-arounds. This is a common problem at most publishers, large and small, but we will be investing in building a new database system to significantly enhance our own capabilities.
The second is in online product development. Beyond continuing to invest in the online delivery of our current books and journals, we'll be developing two pilot "born-digital" products. We hope that these will be the first in a new and important sector of our business, but these pilot investments will help us to learn much more about the challenges of developing such products, and the needs and expectations of our customers.
● What are your greatest challenges right now as the director of a university press?
Mudditt: Scholarly publishing faces an interesting and inherently complex set of problems that will require a complete range of leadership skills. Many of these are driven by rapid, revolutionary changes in the ways in which information is disseminated and consumed.
There are also significant financial challenges: Our customers are still suffering the consequences of the global financial crisis, and we're part of the University of California system, which faces its own set of challenges right now.
● Is the demand for scholarly books changing? What do you think is causing these trends?
Mudditt: The market for scholarly monographs has been shrinking for at least a couple of decades. This has been driven in significant part by the allocation of shrinking library budgets: As the price of scholarly journals, particularly in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields, has skyrocketed, the available budget for books has become smaller and smaller. Over the past decade or so, the budgetary problem has been exacerbated by the dramatic technological and cultural shifts as information has moved to a Web-based, decentralized and abundant environment. In this world, the largely static, often print-only, scholarly monograph seems both isolated and out-of-date. The challenge for those of us in the scholarly publishing world is to find a way to reinvent the model in such a way that scholarly discourse can become more accessible than it has ever been—a vibrant hub of information and debate that serves not only the academy, but a much wider audience seeking answers to many contemporary problems. BB