University Press Redux Conference 2018 #redux18

February 13th – 14th, 2018 | The Knowledge Centre at The British Library, London, United Kingdom

Written by Christina Lenz, Managing Editor, Stockholm University Press and AEUP board member (Secretary)

Sign above the entrance to the British Library
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © PAUL FARMER – geograph.org.uk/p/1466319

The first conference University Press Redux Conference was held in 2016, organised by Liverpool University Press (LUP) and Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP). Every two year a new University Press Redux Conference takes place, so the 2018 University Press Redux Conference was the second conference with support from ALPSP and this time hosted by UCL Press.

The 2018 University Press Redux Conference gathered all kinds of university presses and affiliated organisations from all over the world, to learn about practices and the latest developments in scholarly publishing that have consequences on the way we work now and in the future. The slides and Audio files are available online, as well as the program and speaker biographies.

I will refer to and comment on some of the topics discussed at the conference in this AEUP blog post.

What do we do at university presses and what do we have in common?

That was a question raised at the conference, pointing out that we need to be more transparent. I couldn’t agree more, that is something we all need to be better at.

What do university presses have in common? European university presses as well as American university presses have widely varying organisational and cultural relationships with their host institutions. That’s what I learnt from Lisa Bayer’s (Director of UGA Press) keynote speech ‘Let’s Stay Together: A Taxonomy of Relationships between American university presses and their Host Institutions’ at the conference.

Lisa Bayer addressed the importance for UGA Press to cultivate a close relationship to the host university, so that the press can grow stronger and share the goals of common good for the community. This is something many university presses surely can agree with and have different experiences of, which could be an interesting topic to discuss among us.

Relationships are about communication and this is what Simon Bell (Head of Author Engagement Emerald group / Emerald Publishing) highlighted in his speech, “It’s good to talk”. Simon Bell pointed out that we need to understand the researchers’ world, which is a “competitive and tough cycle from funding to research to the sharing and articulation of that work, to the impact of that in the wider community”.

Another inspiring talk by keynote speaker Amy Brand (MIT Press) was that university presses need to embrace change, when we are going towards being more technology-centric, trying to be as “open” as possible, and still being print publishers, and strive to the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

Amy Brand also mentioned how increasing transparency around peer review based on creative commons-licenses.

“Is Peer Review Working at University Presses?”

Regarding peer review, Brian Haley (Senior Editor University of Massachusetts Press) had a provoking heading to his speech: ‘Is Peer Review Working at University Presses?’ All European Association of University Presses (AEUP) member presses apply “peer-review procedures”. Most of the time, the peer review process works fine at university presses, but it is a tricky process and all of us involved can always strive to become better.

A good recommendation from Brian Haley was to follow the Association of University Presses’ Handbook Best Practices for Peer Review. That is something AEUP can strongly recommend as well. There are always challenges with the peer review process which we need to discuss about and good guidelines can really help.

Publishing Open Access Monographs – how do we do what we do best?

This conference was mainly focused on books and one topic at a plenary was on Open Access Monographs.

Frank Smith from JSTOR pointed out that the demand for Open Access content is high, but there is no clear definition of an Open Access book and that there is still low awareness of Open Access books among faculty, students and even many librarians, and that funding for Open Access remains uncertain.

Funding, regarding the Open Access Monograph, was something Peter Berkery (Executive Director, Assocation of University Presses) addressed in his speech Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem. This is something that many European university presses struggle with, especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS).

An interesting speech was made by Allison Belan (Associate Director for Digital Strategy and Systems, Duke University Press). She talked about why Duke one topic was partnered with a commercial provider to create and host the new platform for humanities and social science publications. Alison Belan highlighted that university presses should keep doing “what we do best”, which is to focus on editorial processes and not have to deal with developing platforms.

This is something that will be discussed at the #AEUP18 workshop in Riga June 5-6. We know that it looks very different at European university presses, depending on business models, capacity, the relationship to the presses university hosts, etc.

The power of social media and a beautiful book

A panel run by Charles Watkinson focused on the relationship between the publisher and the authors. The authors Ilan Kelman,@IlanKelman, Laura Varnam,@lauravarnam, and Jane Winters @jwinters, talked about their experiences.

To sum up, this was about communication, how publishers can help their authors on all levels, in the editorial process, proof reading and how to make a beautiful book for them:

Authors and publishers also have a joint agenda for the dissemination of the work. A beautiful cover could help in marketing, i.e. used in social media. Social media as a marketing channel for both authors and publishers today could be huge, but publishers do not always have that expertise.

The importance, or let us say “power”, of social media was something many speakers discussed during the conference – none mentioned, none forgotten – and it was widely twittered about.

Commissioning challenges and cultural change in academic publishing

All university presses need to work with commissioning, in some way or another, whether it is to have new or “the best” authors (researchers), receive more book proposals, journals, etc. Katharine Reeve (Bath Spa University) talked about how commissioning editors can add value for authors, readers and the publishers. What they often meet is criticism from academics for being gatekeepers.

As I see it, we all need to have a dialogue with our authors, the researchers, pointing out a win-win-situation for both the press and the author’s work, whether we have commissioning editors or not.

The most popular and refreshing talk was made by Sarah Kember (Director, Goldsmiths Press / Professor of New Technologies of Communication). She was provocative in a good way, calling for a cultural change in academic publishing.

Sarah Kember’s main point was that open access has become about how to serve commercialism in the business models we now see, whereas it should serve for the better good. Branding, through identity and storytelling, should be for the good of society, not to gain more profit for commercial university presses.

“Who Needs Academic Publishers?”

The final keynote speaker was by Richard Charkin on ‘Who Needs Academic Publishers?’ He stated that “publishing is not about profitability, it is about your assets – your authors”. Richard Charkin also said that what we should do is “to put more money into editorial, cut technology and develop real innovation around research content.”

I think we can all agree upon that we should focus on content and never forget to ask ourselves: “Why and for whom do we do this for?” The answer for all university presses in my point of view – inspired by Sarah Kember – is for the public good and a better society – that’s what it’s all about.

 

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