It is my privilege to report on the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) Fiscal Year 2019-2020, my eighth report as your Executive Director. The year ended with the Association, its members, and indeed the entire planet facing unprecedented uncertainty as we struggled—and continue to struggle—to make sense of an overwhelming public health crisis. While it is human nature in such a situation to focus on what may lie ahead, I think it’s important not to allow the current circumstance to obscure all that we accomplished together in the 11 months before the pandemic turned the world inside out.
In the aggregate, FY20 was another year of building and growth for our community. As of this writing the Association’s membership is again at a new all-time high of 156 presses. During the year, we welcomed 6 new members, and I am in regular communication with directors at a half-dozen additional publishers around the world who have expressed an interest in joining the Association. It’s also gratifying to note that during the year one of our Introductory members, the University of Regina Press, successfully transitioned to Regular membership, while another, George Mason University Press, completed the transition to Affiliate membership.
The Association as a whole strives to focus on the strategic goals established by the Board of Directors with the support of an extraordinary Central Office staff. This team of dedicated professionals simply goes from strength to strength; I am in awe of their capabilities and commitment, and it is a privilege to work with each and all of them. I can’t recall ever being part of a team this high-functioning.
While the future is as unknowable here as elsewhere, currently the Association’s operations and finances are stable and healthy. AUPresses posted an annual net operating loss of $40,000, slightly better than our budgeted $66,000 figure. (A $63,000 variance in the anticipated performance of our investment portfolio, by contrast, put our bottom line slightly behind plan for the year.) Moreover, at the moment, our quasi-endowment appears to be weathering the current volatility in the markets reasonably well, thanks in large measure to the efforts and attention of the Association’s Investment Committee. As always, I refer you to the Operating Statement and Balance Sheet for complete details.
My press visits continued with trips to Minnesota Historical Society Press, Duke University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baylor University Press, Texas A&M University Press, the Texas Review Press, and the University of Hawaii Press. I generally am only able to dovetail these meetings off of conference travel—and my visit with the good folks in Hawaii occurred during vacation—but they are a highlight of my year. I do not know when such opportunities will arise next, but it’s always a treat to talk up-close with the smart and inspiring people who drive the university press mission forward each day—and it is what I am missing most as a result of the conferences that have already been canceled.
Over the past year I have represented AUPresses at meetings of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), Book Industry Study Group (BISG), Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), the Charleston Conference, Academic Publishing in Europe (APE), the Library Publishing Forum, the STM Publishers Association (STM), and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). I have also attended the book fair in Frankfurt, and I had planned to attend the London Book Fair, which was cancelled; participated in publishing conferences organized by the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) and the International Publishers Association (IPA) in 2019; attended the Project MUSE Publishers Meeting, P2L3, the Midwest Regional Scholarly Publishers Forum, the annual Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem (TOME) Summit, the Society for Scholarly Publishers (SSP), and the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP). I continued my work on a Working Group of the Universities UK (UUK) Open Access Monographs Committee. You’ll find details of other service to partners in the larger publishing and scholarly communities in Peer Organizations and Global Scholarly Publishing.
In a year awash in Association activity, there are three ongoing initiatives where the order of magnitude merits specific attention here: (1) our work to increase equity, justice and inclusion; (2) our tracking of and response to Plan S and similar open access (OA) mandates; and, (3) our expanding member advocacy efforts. Each of these topics and their importance to AUPresses is treated in-depth elsewhere in this report, but I did want to share a few personal observations.
Through our colleagues at Duke University Press, I had the opportunity in September to participate in a two-day anti-racism program in Durham. The experience was pivotal, essential. As soon as it is safe for us to travel again, the Board and the staff are committed to bringing similar opportunities to as much of the community as possible.
As far back as 2007, AUPresses has publicly supported sustainable open access. And in recent years our community has been a hotbed of OA experimentation. We’ve learned a lot—through our Open Access Task Force we are learning even more—and we see the opportunities open access can provide for our presses, our authors, and our readers. But we also see the risks. OA can create new inequalities—for independent scholars, for scholars in the Global South, and for readers anywhere without the resources to access this content. We know that mandates designed for STEM journals rarely work when applied uncritically to long-form content in the humanities and qualitative social sciences. We know that disciplinary differences matter. Most importantly, we have yet to identify complementary models of financial sustainability and publishing-lifecycle workflows that scale across size, discipline, and that produce equitable commitments to author, producer, and reader communities. As a community, we will continue to experiment, to learn, and to remind funders and policymakers that we are not there yet—but are drawing the maps and charting the stars.
Finally, I’m pleased to note that our expanded external communications capabilities clearly have begun to bear fruit. Op-eds and “think pieces” are appearing regularly in key industry publications. Our visibility with peer organizations is increased. President Kathryn Conrad and immediate Past-President Jennifer Crewe highlighted common themes that figured in this advocacy work in “The Essential Value of University Presses,” an opinion piece for Inside Higher Education in February 2020. And at the grassroots level, we have been better-equipped to champion and support several university presses facing existential risk during the past year, offering tailored responses to each unique situation, whether issuing public statements to mobilize widespread support or providing context, information, and guidance behind the scenes.
Which brings me to my annual reminder that the Association stands ready to support and assist any member facing adversity: a reminder that will be especially relevant in the challenging months to come. We can and will find our way through whatever lies ahead as we always have—as a community. Our single greatest asset is our generosity of spirit, of time, and of talent. That generosity, that sense of community, combined with the essentiality of the service we perform for the academy, positions us well—better, perhaps, than we realize—for whatever the future may hold. Please do not hesitate to contact me or any member of the extraordinary Central Office staff if we can be of assistance.
Executive Director, AUPresses