AAUP President's Talk

2010 Inaugural Address

Richard Brown, Director, Georgetown University Press

Brown, 2010-2011 AAUP President, delivered his inagural address on Saturday, June 19, 2010.

Thank you, Lynne, for that gracious introduction. Lynne is one of my publishing heroes and it seems almost incomprehensible that she will be leaving California and the AAUP at the end of the year. I'm grateful to her for all that she represents and all that she has brought to scholarly publishing.

I'd also like to thank Peter Givler and his colleagues in the AAUP Central Office for what they do for this Association and for this meeting.

And of course I'd like to express my appreciation to the Nominating Committee, the AAUP Board, and this Association for giving me this opportunity to serve as your president.

I've learned a great deal from both Kathleen Keane and Alex Holzman, my immediate predecessors, and I want to thank both of them.

I'd also like to thank my Georgetown University Press colleagues, several of whom are here in Salt Lake City, and several of whom, at this very moment, are requesting very strong cups of coffee. They know me too well. My appreciation for all of them, my debt to them, is colossal.

And finally I'd like to thank the Annual Meeting Program Committee, led by Greg "The Great” Britton, for developing what has been a provocative and rich few days for all of us.

I first met Greg at the AAUP Annual Meeting in 2002, in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a Thursday, as I recall, and Greg was in the hotel lobby recruiting meeting attendees to visit a nearby beach. The only problem was that he was doing this twenty minutes or so before the business meeting was to begin.

So there I was, barely off the plane, and I was thrown into a paralyzing moral dilemma:
Peter Givler and the business meeting? Or Greg Britton and the Gulf of Mexico?

When you think about the great issues of our day—XML workflow, digital rights management, open access and federal research grants, pricing ebooks, appropriate and inappropriate tweeting—those are a walk in the park compared to the choice that confronted me.

Well, I peered down into my moral compass and made my decision.

 

Two hours later, flip-flops in hand, I had learned just how persuasive Greg Britton can be. It is a testament to Greg and his committee that this meeting, according to reliable sources, is the best-attended meeting in our history—west of the Mississippi, that is, and if you consider Minneapolis not really west of the Mississippi.

Thank you, Greg.

On the "Crisis" in Scholarly Publishing

Last week I attended an academic conference in downtown Cleveland, a misunderstood city where I lived for a few years, a city I faithfully defend: once a Cleveland Brown, always a Cleveland Brown. During the conference I appeared on a panel to discuss the so-called "crisis" in scholarly book publishing. When I had been invited several months prior I had agreed to participate, but I made it clear to the organizer, a Harvard professor, that I objected to the term "crisis." I complained that the "crisis," at least as it pertains to scholarly publishing, is trite, vague, misleading, and ultimately destructive and demoralizing. Metaphors can illuminate, but metaphors can also deceive. "Crisis" is murky; it's not helpful.

How long, really, can we work effectively in "crisis" conditions? The very metaphor suggests that triage reigns, that we're simply hanging on for survival. Yes, some in our association are fighting for survival; the AAUP needs to join those battles and support its members. But that should not be confused with what's occurring in the publishing industry.

This is not a crisis, but a transition: a perpetual state of transition that will become, over time, as natural as the air we breathe.

I'm not so sure that speculating on where all of us will be in five or ten years is productive. I think a better approach is to look closely at what works—which the Ithaka reports have done, which Lynne Withey's Task Force on Economic Models is doing­­--and to build on those successes.

But how do remain on our toes and not our heels? The question that Leo Tolstoy asked in a very different context might seem obvious:
What then must we do?

We are witnessing, at this meeting, how Oxford and Chicago and a range of leading lights are responding to these challenges. But I'd like to ask a different question, maybe an even more fundamental question, whether we are Cambridge or Utah State or American Historical:
As a publisher, what kind of organization do we want to be?

Thinking carefully about this orientation—what kind of organization do we want to be—must continually accompany and must continually influence our publishing activities. This is not the province of directors or managers only; this is an issue that affects each one of us, regardless of position, in this association.

In this regard, scholarly publishing is a moral activity, an ethical enterprise. How we understand ourselves will ultimately determine what kinds of moves we make—and if we evolve and flourish over the long haul.

Of course we must identify and, better yet, create new business models. Of course we must find news ways to monetize content. The AAUP, through information sharing, committee work, birds-of-a-feather gatherings, and this annual meeting, is our best resource for this kind of strategic thinking.

The Morality of Scholarly Publishing: Three Orientations

I propose that there are three issues, or three orientations, that each organization within our association needs to confront:

The first is economic, or how we understand exchanges of goods and services.

The second is social, or how we engage certain communities around us.

The third is cultural, or what sort of organizational culture and identity and presence we want to live by.

Let me say a few words about each one of these orientations.

Economic Orientation

The question regarding economic orientation is this: What kind of blended revenue streams make sense for my particular organization? How much dependence do we have on the market, and what other sources of revenue and or funding can help sustain us?

Several years ago I spoke with Jim O'Donnell, Georgetown's provost, about the future of scholarly publishing. He wondered if university presses ought to think seriously about become service providers and not simply content providers.

That was a kick in the gut. I nodded, but inside in my mind I sniffed: The audacity! My academic sensibilities were deeply offended. Service providers?

Well, as usual, Jim O'Donnell was miles ahead of me. He was thinking creatively about our economic orientation; I was not.

I'm not sure offering publishing services is the right move for Georgetown University Press. But it may be right for some of the members of our association. If it's good enough for Harvard University Press and the University of California Press, it may well be good enough for others.

Being open to new ways of finding revenue: that's what I mean by economic orientation.

All of the presses within this association rely on the market, to one degree or another, to sustain operations. Competition is a healthy thing. But given what we do, and what we are asked to do, it's clear that revenue from sales alone will not allow us to provide the kinds of resources the scholarly world demands. All of us face increasing pressure, from a variety of users, to supply more and more unpaid content online.

And all of us also know, if we weren't aware before this conference began, that there is no "free” in "free access.” This is a message we need to convey to our parent institutions with missionary zeal. Somebody—the publisher, the provost, the library, the donor, the subscriber, perhaps an author—has to pay.

Of course copyright lies at the heart of the market, for all of us. Copyright is intended to promote scholarship; it's constitutional. But as Peter Givler has reminded us, copyright legislation is organic. And we have to ask ourselves: Does current copyright legislation truly serve the best interests of society? We need to look very, very closely at that issue in the months and years ahead. Because copyright legislation will continue to evolve, and as access to scholarship expands we need to have a voice at the table.

Copyright requires an economic orientation, and we will need to be clear where we stand as we simultaneously re-orient ourselves to explore new ways of revenue and operational support.

Social Orientation

A second orientation is social: the kinds of communities we seek to join and create. All of us in this association are involved, formally or informally, with a wide array of communities: scholarly societies, academic disciplines, our authors, and so on.

At Georgetown University Press, like all scholarly publishers, we put a great deal of effort into forging bonds with a handful of relatively small communities. This is a lens through which we see our markets: they are communities, and as such we need to align ourselves with their wants and needs. So we need to be asking them, regularly, How can we help you in your teaching and learning? What can we provide that you don't have?

And as we continue building these relationships with these communities, working toward common cause, we begin to sense moral obligations that challenge our stark reliance on the market, our stark reliance on the principle of subsidiarity, the notion that all activities and responsibilities should be handled at the lowest possible level of competence. As we align ourselves with these communities, we build a sense of solidarity with them.

Do we, as developers of scholarly content, owe something to these communities? Do we, as departments within our universities, have responsibilities and obligations toward them?

The principle of solidarity suggests that yes, we very well may have responsibilities and obligations to ensure that the fruits of scholarship are disseminated as widely as possible. And if the market alone cannot provide the revenue we need to facilitate this dissemination, don't our parent institutions, through their expectations of how we fulfill our missions, their expectations of how their presses contribute to scholarship, also assume some moral responsibilities and obligations?

That kind of thinking might resonate with librarians. And I want to propose that we understand academic librarians as a kindred community, one that shares with us many core values about the importance of peer-reviewed, reliable scholarship and the preservation of that scholarship, something they do so well.

In recent years the AAUP has taken significant steps toward forging stronger relations with the library community. We have a lot more in common with librarians, as Alex Holzman of Temple University Press likes to remind us, than we realize. This must be an ongoing priority for the AAUP and member presses: to find common ground with academic librarians, to listen, to hear them out, to acknowledge our distinct cultural differences, and to advance our shared interests.

Toward that end the AAUP has created—or more accurately, resurrected—a Library Relations Committee, which will be chaired this year by Patrick Alexander of Penn State University Press.

This is another case of community, of solidarity.

This is not saccharine, starry-eyed philosophizing. In very real and tangible and everyday ways we are all in this together: from parent institutions to scholarly societies to librarians to readers to all of the stakeholders in our industry and around this room—printers, distributors, production houses, aggregators, designers. In many ways our fates are linked. And the AAUP, your association, can help facilitate and strengthen these relationships in significant ways.

Cultural Orientation

The third and most important orientation I'd like to discuss is cultural--that is, the workplace culture of our own organizations. As we revisit our economic and social orientations, we must also consistently analyze and assess our organizational structure, relationships, how decisions are made, how we communicate, how we allocate limited resources. This, too, is a moral issue.

Everything we do begins and ends with the culture we create. Of course we have a range of press sizes and press types within AAUP, and by necessity some organizations are more complex and more hierarchical than others. There is no template.

But as we go about our strategic thinking, experimenting with hybrid models of publishing, how do these plans and aspirations align with our particular organizational culture? There is a strong and appropriate emphasis on entrepreneurial thinking in our industry. But are our organizations truly set up for that? Universities, for all their virtues, are typically not designed to facilitate entrepreneurial behavior.

And how much stress and strain will we place on our staffs with these new business models?

Traditional structures can truly constrain our progress. The workflow for complex multimedia projects, such as foreign language-instruction programs, make a mockery of traditional institutional org charts—not to mention budget responsibilities. I wouldn't recommend that any of you get into foreign-language instruction publishing; in fact, I would urge you not to get into this field! It's a genuine non-starter!

But seriously, a cultural orientation involves more than structure. It also puts a premium on process: on shared decision-making, on establishing an atmosphere of transparent communication, on treating professional development as a budgetary priority and not as a contingency—available "only if we can afford it.”

At this very moment several forward-thinking members of our tribe, including the several presses behind the Mellon ebook aggregation and the MUSE Editions initiative, are modeling the very kind of collaboration that will be essential for our survival. We are simply too small and too economically compromised, as Kathleen Keane reminded us yesterday, to go it alone; we will have to partner at various points along the publishing continuum.

But how effectively do we collaborate within our own organizations? In multimedia workflow, for instance, how easily does marketing coordinate with digital rights management with acquisitions with the video lab with the author with editorial and production? It seems to me that if we can collaborate internally on these sorts of complex projects we'll be much better positioned to collaborate externally.

Orientations and the AAUP

I want to turn now, the finish line in sight, and say a few words about the orientation of this association, the AAUP.

We are a remarkable community of scholarly publishers. The impact we have on the academy, the contributions we make to our disciplines, and to the broader society, is incalculable. We are all nonprofits, we publish peer-reviewed scholarship, and our membership is growing. But I wonder: With the explosion of digital media and educational resources, are we missing an opportunity? Could we welcome new members, perhaps new categories of members, and further expand our own community?

Membership—who we allow into our community, and why—is an issue that the Board of the AAUP will address in the year ahead. This, too, is an orientation issue. It is ultimately a moral issue.

Conclusion

I want to conclude on a note of hope. Not naïve optimism, but hope.

I don't mean hope for better sales, though that would be nice.

I don't mean hope for the bending of rhetorical swords into ploughshares, though that would be nice, too.

I mean an orientation of hope: the conviction that what we are doing, all of us in this in this association, all of us in our communities, is of ultimate significance. That what we do matters, that what we do is necessary for society, for the common good, and now more than ever.

Look around you. Look at the brains and skills and creativity in this room, and in this association. Collectively, this is an astonishing array of talent. Is it unreasonable to expect that we—our presses, our association, our communities, our stakeholders—will evolve and adapt?

Bumps, lurches, setbacks, maybe an occasional crisis. Yes.

But I am convinced that we have the capability to not only survive, but flourish. All of us on the AAUP Board, and in the Central Office, are committed to that.

May all of you have much success. And may all of you keep that content coming!

Thank you.