Plenary I: Putting the University Back into the University Press

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Moderator: Terry Ehling, Director, Center for Innovative Publishing, Cornell University

Panelists: Joseph J. Esposito, Portable CEO; Laura Brown, Consultant

Description: The face of scholarly communications is changing, posing important questions for university presses. What is the proper role of the university press today, and how is that role likely to change in the years ahead? Related to this is the question of the "fit" of a press within its parent institution. Is the press a neglected offspring, a practical component of a broader system of scholarly communications, or a strategic partner in the pursuit of an institution's goals? This plenary session, organized as a dialogue between the speakers and the audience, drew on a series of consulting projects by the panelists in the academic publishing arena. Prior to the session, links to recent articles and reports by the speakers were circulated, inviting comments from attendees. Remarks and observations on this material were posed as questions during the session.

Panel Summary

The impetus for this session was a provocative article and in-progress study of the state of publishing within the university.

Joe Esposito’s article, “The Wisdom of Oz: The Role of the University Press in Scholarly Communications,” was published in the Journal of Electronic Publishing (10:1, Winter 2007):

Laura Brown is the lead author of the Ithaka study, “University Publishing in a Digital Age” (v.1, July 23, 2007). Both the The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed cover the release of the final report in articles dated July 26, 2007.

Over the last 6 months the authors have field questions from readers; they chose 10 to answer in real-time during the plenary presentation:

  • What do you think is the most important asset of a university press, and how would you exploit it?
  • In view of the fact that UPs have a cultural mission that does not apply to commercial publishers, should UPs strive to generate a financial surplus?
  • In your consulting work and research, what have you found to be the biggest challenge facing UPs?
  • How important is scale in publishing? How do you see scale in terms of UPs?
  • Inasmuch as smaller UPs operate under more constraints than larger presses, what role do you see for smaller presses in the larger arena of scholarly communications? How can they best work cooperatively with other institutions?
  • You’ve both talked about making the UP part of the university’s brand-management strategy. What does this mean and how would you go about it?
  • How should UPs navigate the transition to digital scholarship and publishing?
  • You’ve both recommended that UPs should look to new content types (formats and media); can you talk about what you envision?
  • You’ve talked about presses striving to be ranked as high as other units at their parent institutions. What are the proper metrics to define and measure success and how would you create them?
  • What is the most innovative UP project you have observed in the last 5 years?

Publishers Weekly and, to a lesser extent, The Chronicle of Higher Education [subscribers only], provided good coverage of the plenary and other notable events from the 2007 annual meeting.

Speaker Biographies

Joseph J. Esposito is President of Portable CEO, an independent consultancy providing strategy assessment and interim management to the information industries. Over the course of his career, Mr. Esposito has been associated with various publishers in all segments of the industry and was involved from an early time with new media publishing. He has served as an executive at Simon & Schuster and Random House, as President of Merriam-Webster, and CEO of Encyclopaedia Britannica, where he was responsible for the launch of the first Internet service of its kind.

Among Mr. Esposito's clients have been such technology companies as Microsoft and Hewlett Packard, various publishers of all stripes, and a growing number of not-for-profit organizations (e.g., Ithaka Harbors/JSTOR, the University of California Press, and the American National Standards Institute).

Laura Brown is an executive with expertise in publishing, not-for-profit management, and scholarly communication. She currently works with Ithaka, a consulting and business development firm specializing in entrepreneurial solutions to higher education challenges. She is the lead author of the report, “University Publishing in a Digital Age.”

Prior to her work with Ithaka, Laura was president of Oxford University Press, USA, American headquarters of the leading global scholarly publisher. In her more than 25 years at Oxford, and most recently as its president, Laura managed a staff of over 500 and helped to build a multi-faceted publishing program comprised of general interest, scholarly, professional, and educational publications. She oversaw the transformation of the company into a 21st century electronic force, and revitalized Oxford’s core publishing, producing a record number of prizes, including four Pulitzers in the last eight years.

scribed by Terry Ehling on 07/26/07

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