How Small University Presses Can Gain Scale Through Collaboration
This essay is part of the 2015 Big Ideas Issue. Find the complete list of Big Ideas essays here.
Big ideas often come in small packages -- sometimes just the size of a book, or a regional university press, or in the space of a 75-minute brainstorming session with creative publishing professionals. For many university presses, finding ways to compensate for limited commercial scale is becoming mission-critical. The members of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) are valued for their editorial independence and their unique regional or institutional roles, so corporate-style mergers are not a solution to the challenge of scale. Exploration of alternative models of cooperation has taken on a new urgency, and requires its own new ideas. At the recent AAUP annual meeting in Denver, we hosted a series of “Collaboration Labs” to kickstart new possibilities for working together, leveraging big ideas from presses small and large.
Individual staffers from AAUP member presses were invited to propose topics for these new Collaboration Labs -- with a goal of devising actionable ideas on cross-press or association-wide initiatives. On the schedule were topics ranging from handling metadata and managing peer review to developing cross-department training programs and innovative, social media and marketing campaigns. What are next steps for these ideas within our community? AAUP staff, our committees, and the Lab organizers have been reviewing feedback and pinpointing where a need might be met with an operational solution (such as expanding the #ReadUP Twitter campaign, or pursuing a shared exhibits program). We expect real collaborative efforts and new services to appear over the coming years -- and to repeat the Collaboration Labs format in future years to incubate more of the little big ideas that lead to our success as a community of independent presses.
To be sure, university press collaborations needn’t be micro. For example, the University of North Carolina Press’ pilot program (funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) to leverage its distribution subsidiary to create a full suite of publishing services has the potential to offer small presses the benefits of commercial scale on, well, a grand scale. Nor are our collaborations all new: At 20 years, Project MUSE (the scholarly content aggregation platform) remains one of the most notable collaborations in our community -- both between a library and a press, and between many presses. But for many mission-driven publishers big ideas increasingly will spring from small conversations.