Let’s Change the World

Our goal for Giving Day is to raise $15,000 and open one of our new titles to the world. Your contribution will realize that dream.

 

Give the gift of reliable knowledge to everyone.

Cornell University Press has been publishing high-quality scholarship since 1869–rigorously edited and voraciously read all over the world in print and digital form.

Your gift on Cornell Giving Day (March 14th) will allow us to continue our experimentation with open access and give back to the world. We already have 150 open titles being accessed across the globe in 150 countries by thousands of people. With your support we’ll make it 151.

A Cornell book stimulates thinking otherwise. The more of our books that we open to the world the more we can change it through that stimulated thinking.

Our books help effect positive change in the world. Deadly River from our ILR Press imprint exposed the UN’s role in the cover up of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. The award-winning Violence as a Generative Force brought an unknown genocide in Bosnia into the light of day. Continue reading “Let’s Change the World”

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Let’s Change the World

Reflections on America Fifty Years After Guns at Cornell

I was part of the 1960s generation that fought for civil rights, and we attacked rigid social mores regarding personal choices such as hair length and sexual abstinence before marriage. “Do your own thing” was the mantra of the 1960s. But while we rightly wanted freedom for personal lifestyle choices, did the “Me Generation” really intend to abdicate responsibility for defining and teaching basic moral standards of right and wrong essential for both the individual and society? Did we really intend to abdicate our responsibility to teach the eternal, enduring significance of values that celebrate personal responsibility, personal discipline, personal accountability, hard work, moderation, courage, and cooperativeness? Continue reading “Reflections on America Fifty Years After Guns at Cornell”

Reflections on America Fifty Years After Guns at Cornell

A Look at the List – Michael McGandy

As we move towards our new season of books (those publishing between March and August this year), we asked our acquiring editors to give us a little preview of their list. Here’s the third entry in the series, from Three Hills Editorial Director Michael McGandy.

ss19coverforblog

Continue reading “A Look at the List – Michael McGandy”

A Look at the List – Michael McGandy

150 Notable Books: In Our Own Backyard

At Cornell University Press, we strive to change how we think and act in the world, one book at a time. The world in question is sometimes the globe itself—for instance when we publish work on environmental policy and impacts that are not limited by borders. At other times, a book may pertain to key topics of history or politics in distant places such as Korea or Indonesia where geopolitics turns. And sometimes the subject matter is closer to home: New York State, the counties of the Southern Tier, and Ithaca.

150th logo basic white on red flat

Continue reading “150 Notable Books: In Our Own Backyard”

150 Notable Books: In Our Own Backyard

A Look at the List – Mahinder Kingra

As we move towards our new season of books (those publishing between March and August this year), we asked our acquiring editors to give us a little preview of their list. Here’s the first in the series, from Editor-in-Chief Mahinder Kingra.

ss19coverforblog

Continue reading “A Look at the List – Mahinder Kingra”

A Look at the List – Mahinder Kingra

$1,205,000 Mellon grant to expand the University Press Diversity Fellowship Program

Cornell University Press, University of Washington Press, the MIT Press, the Ohio State University Press, University of Chicago Press, Northwestern University Press, and the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) join forces to expand the University Press Diversity Fellowship Program.

A four-year, $1,205,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been awarded to the University of Washington Press to support the continued development and expansion of the pipeline program designed to diversify academic publishing by offering apprenticeships in acquisitions departments. This new grant will provide for three annual cycles of editorial fellows at six university presses: Cornell University Press, University of Washington Press, the MIT Press, the Ohio State University Press, University of Chicago Press, and Northwestern University Press.

This new grant builds on the success of the initial 2016 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which funded the first cross-press initiative of its kind in the United States to address the marked lack of diversity in the academic publishing industry. Graduates of the first fellowship program hold professional positions at university presses across the country, including at Columbia University Press, the MIT Press, University of Virginia Press, the Ohio State University Press, and the University of Washington Press. Additionally, for the four participating presses, the initial grant expanded applicant pools, improved outreach to underrepresented communities, created more equitable preliminary screening practices in hiring, and enabled dedicated attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion overall.

The 2016 grant also served as a catalyst for broader changes at the partner presses and within the AUPresses as a larger organization. “Diversity is one of AUPresses’ core values. As such, we are proud to partner in the expansion of this significant program,” says AUPresses Executive Director Peter Berkery. “Our participation in the original initiative over the last three years has led, not only to more inclusive programming choices at our annual conferences and webinars, but also to the formation of a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which will evolve into a Standing Committee to help us sustain momentum in this area of vital importance to our community, higher education, and the entire publishing industry.”

This new grant offers opportunities for more sustained engagement with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion among the new partner presses and the university press community more broadly. “Continuing the fellowship program will enable us to focus on longer-term issues of retention and leadership development among the program’s participants,” says Larin McLaughlin, Editor in Chief of the University of Washington Press and principal investigator on the grant. “With this new grant, we want to provide the opportunity for new presses to participate in the program while benefitting from the experience of the original partner presses.”

Gita Manaktala, Editorial Director of the MIT Press, commented, “The fellows have inspired a strong sense of responsibility among partner presses, which have demonstrated this in several ways: by developing more inclusive press environments, by opening processes to welcome the fellows’ perspectives and input into the daily work of acquisitions, and by providing fellows with focused career advice for job placement and professional development.”

The first and second grants combined provide for a total of thirty fellows in six years, which will generate marked shifts in acquisitions staff across university presses not possible without this kind of dedicated funding.

Gerald R. Beasley, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian at Cornell University said, “I am very grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for giving Cornell this opportunity to add a Diversity Fellow to the outstanding team at Cornell University Press. The Cornell University Library currently has three Diversity Fellows in its professional ranks; I am excited to know that we will now be adding a fourth in the Press’s acquisitions department.”

Dean Smith, Director of Cornell University Press said, “We are delighted to be included in this grant and to address the issue of diversity in academic publishing. This aligns us with efforts already underway in the Cornell Library and with Cornell University’s campus-wide diversity initiatives.”

$1,205,000 Mellon grant to expand the University Press Diversity Fellowship Program

We Were the First

 

We were the first. Not many get to say that. Well, we do! CUP is 150 years old. So we were around before all the other university presses.

From a marketing perspective this should be a dream. Easy hook, lots of promotion, and so on. But do readers even care? Do they know or want to know that we’ve been doing this publishing thing since 1869? Do authors? What about vendors and other stakeholders? Somehow, I struggle to believe Amazon is going to see we’re 150 years old and immediately order thousands more books!

Regardless, over the past year or so, the marketing team has been brainstorming and planning how to make people take notice of the fact that CUP is the first university press to the sesquicentennial mark. Colleagues from other departments have joined in and we’ve enlisted help from a variety of people on campus. We’ve got the main stuff covered: parties, events, logos, etc. We’ll use those things to let influencers on campus and in the University Press world know about the amazing things we’re doing. But what about the outsiders? Those who might not care so much? Time to get creative. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tell people our story and, perhaps most importantly sell some more books.

150th logo basic white on red flat

Being 150 years old is also an excuse to experiment, to push out some wild and wacky marketing campaigns that perhaps only tangentially use the 150th as their foundation. Videos, podcasts, blogs—content, in other words—will revolve around the 150th but won’t be consumed by it. This catalogue is full of 150th stuff but it’s not the main purpose of the catalogue, obviously! Our new website launched just in time for the 150th and we’ll use the confluence of these two things to move boldly into a content-marketing strategy more suited to the next 150 years (Weeks? Hours?) rather than what’s been done by book publishers for the past 150.

So, we’re 150! Yay, us. And we’re telling you all about it. Lucky you. But, really, from the marketing side of things, this milestone anniversary is all about being the first again. First to try new things. First to change. First to experiment. First to tear it all up and start again. And again. And again. We’re going to the be first to try a whole bunch of crazy things in scholarly book marketing and we hope you enjoy at least one or two of them.

Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director. He likes coming first; it’s a winning thing. This post was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 Cornell University Press Catalog.

We Were the First

150 Notable Books: The First Books of Cornell University Press

Every press has to start somewhere and produce its very first book. Tracking this book down for Cornell University Press, however, is an impossible task. In late 1869, America’s first university press was mainly a printing house. We produced lecture notes for professors, university documents, and student newspapers on a large steam-driven Hoe printing press. Most of these items were short, ephemeral, and any records vanished long ago. We do not know the name of the first item to roll off the press.

The publication chosen to represent the first book by Cornell University Press, and to be the first entry on our list of 150 notable books, is the 1869-70 University Register. This annual publication contained much of the information you would find on a modern university website. It was a directory of staff and students, a listing of fields of study and graduation requirements, and a description of the university’s founding, mission, and many fine amenities.

CUP first

The director of the press, Willard Fiske, wrote a letter to President A. D. White in August 1869 about his work on the register. He described the contents, gave an estimate for completion of proof pages, and explained his plans for raising money to pay for the publication by including a page of advertising—just as most of the British university presses were doing. Despite all the trappings of modern technology that surround publishing today, these basic elements have remained the same: develop the best possible book, produce it on deadline, and figure out how to pay for it!

In contrast to the unknown first publication from CUP, Comstock Publishing was formed in 1892 for the specific purpose of publishing a particular book. As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the inauguration of the university approached, two professors, John Henry Comstock and Simon Henry Gage, felt this would be a good opportunity to honor their former professor and mentor, Burt Green Wilder. Wilder, a Harvard medical school graduate and former Civil War surgeon, had been a professor of neurology and vertebrate zoology at Cornell since its earliest days.

Comstock and Gage contacted several of Wilder’s former students and asked them to contribute to a Festschrift, a contributed volume of essays meant to honor a respected academic—and the first such book published in the United States. The result was the Wilder Quarter-Century Book, a book of nearly 500 pages, with many plates and engravings. Contributors, in addition to Comstock and Gage, included Anna Botsford Comstock (naturalist and first woman professor at Cornell), David Starr Jordan (first president of Stanford University), Leland Ossian Howard (USDA entomologist), Theobald Smith (pioneering bacteriologist), John Caspar Branner (geologist and discoverer of bauxite), and William Russell Dudley (head of the botany department at Stanford).

These two first publications bookend (if I may) the educational journey at Cornell. The first CUP book introduced prospective students to the university and its many opportunities. And the first Comstock book showcased the many achievements of former Cornell students, out in the world, discovering and disseminating knowledge.

page from Comstock first

Karen Laun is the self-proclaimed press historian and an enthusiast of all things old and dusty. In her spare time she is a Senior Production Editor and also works in the ultramodern world of e-books as Digital Publishing Editor.

150 Notable Books: The First Books of Cornell University Press

And what is the use of a book . . . without pictures or conversations? (My first time @BookExpo)

I attended  BookExpo in NYC, last Thursday, for the first time.  I had no idea of what to expect, so I’m sharing here a recap of everything I took (and didn’t take) from BookExpo 2018:

The variety. People and books everywhere, I felt like Alice in Book Wonderland. Sometimes shrinking within the crowd, sometimes enlarging by book displays, only to find myself chasing The White Rabbit, always late for the next talk that I wanted to attend. What a fascinating conglomeration of publishers, titles, events, and everything that is new in the publishing world!

The networking. Whether in booths or in the long lines for book signings, the atmosphere was electric. I was delighted to talk to other colleagues with different interests and from the most varied backgrounds. The result: I walked out of BookExpo with fresh insights, new marketing tools provided by the speakers from Ingram, and more importantly, a handful of business cards with the contact information of people with whom I will collaborate in the future.

The University Press world. I spent my afternoon visiting the other university presses exhibiting at BookExpo. I met with fellow marketers and exhibitors, and we chatted about catalogue design, the most cost-effective merchandising for publishers, new releases, and last but not least, how to better promote our books on our social media platforms.

The food. More excited than the Hatter at the Mad Tea Party—and forgetting about that article with tips for first time attendees—I ate at the Javits Center’s food court. It had a surprisingly wide array of options, and even a vegetarian selection. Plus, I met a wonderful lady in line and we shared our lunch, talking about the importance of encouraging children to read from a very early age. Priceless.

The giveaways & galleys. My Queen of Hearts, both antagonist and favorite character. Even though I gathered some books and souvenirs, I felt a bit underwhelmed by the few giveaways available at the event. On the bright side, I found everyone at their booths to be very animated, always handing out a catalogue or business card when they didn’t have a galley to offer.

The maze. The King of Hearts. Even though by walking in circles I found exhibits that were not in my loop, I found the layout of the event to be a bit confusing. I spent a fair amount of time looking for the Midtown stage, with no BookExpo volunteers in sight to ask for directions, and a small map not suitable for a short-sighted person like me.

The wandering about. Finally, I just took the time to wander about. During this time, I wrote on the “What is the book that changed your life?” wall, entered a contest to win a book basket, wheeled my little bag around until I got a few children’s titles for my son, and even met a translator that recommended some books in Spanish that I will read in the near future.

All in all, I found BookExpo to be a success. I appreciate the contagious energy, the excitement, and the friendliness that transpired in that place. It reminded me of the magic worlds that open up with every page we read, and the fact that behind every book that is published, there is a story, an author, and a team of dedicated people who are working hard to bring it to life.

——

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is grateful to have attended BookExpo 2018 and more than anything, to the people at Sleeping Bear Press who gave her free cake for dessert!

 

And what is the use of a book . . . without pictures or conversations? (My first time @BookExpo)

#PWYW reflection (a recap of the most successful marketing campaign in CUP history!)

20,000 – number of impressions of first PWYW tweet

12,000 – number of reads of blog posts about PWYW sale

4,700 – number of books sold on PWYW day

1,500 – number of offers made on PWYW day

1,000 – number of views of PWYW mini movie

150 – number of website visitors every minute during PWYW

20 – number of hours team worked on the sale

10 – number of website visitors every minute when it’s not PWYW day

3 – number of pizzas eaten by marketing team

2 – number of videos made for PWYW by marketing team

1 – number of Inside Higher Ed articles written about PWYW sale

 

The dust has settled on PWYW Day so it’s time to take you through the most successful marketing campaign in CUP history.

When I first came up with the basic concept for the sale in February I thought it best to run the idea past our non-marketing colleagues to see what they thought. I didn’t want to run into resistance to the idea or miss something important regarding what was an extremely unusual marketing campaign for a university press. Overall, I received a lukewarm response. Some people raised concerns about logistics, some questioned the message it might send to customers and authors, some thought it gimmicky. I shelved the idea and turned our attention to a more typical end-of-(fiscal) year sale.

But the concept lingered in my mind. When the marketing team went through a strategic planning exercise last year, we created our own vision statement designed to push us to be the best possible marketers we can be. We focused on the words, pioneering and innovative. The pay-what-you-want sale idea seemed exactly that. We chatted again, as a team, and decided to use another of our deeply held mantras: trying and failing is not a bad thing. The PWYW sale was on.

Because of the slight delay between original concept and deciding to run with it, we had to push the sale through on a short deadline. All our scholars and academics shut down their computers and flee for vacations or sabbaticals in the summer, after all. Arbitrarily, we chose May 15th.

In the planning phase, I kept repeating to my team that because no other university press had done this before, we could not anticipate everything. We could lay out a solid foundation and project as best we could what might happen, but we could not foresee every eventuality, every odd email request, the reactions of the media, customers, our customer service team, and everyone else. We could though, focus on the promotional campaign. How would we get word out? Drip. Drip. Drip. The tease. A tweet, a video, progressively more detailed emails, more social.

And, obviously, as marketers, we didn’t focus on all the little, tedious details! How would our customer service team deal with the people who made offers, for example? Did we have enough helping hands? Would we use a central phone line? Had we even thought out the potential software glitches we could run into, or how to resolve the snafus of lost shipment?

We also, it turned out, completely underestimated the success of the sale. Prior to May 1 when we kicked things off with our first tweet—the one that got 20,000 impressions—I thought we’d maybe get a couple hundred offers. But once our social and email campaigns kicked in, we began to revise our estimates.

At the last minute we reconfigured the whole sale. Rather than receiving offers and pointing people in the direction of customer service to place their order, we created twenty-five special campaign codes to give to customers depending on what they offered. Those codes would then be used on our website directly. Customer service wouldn’t come into the picture until the aftermath: dealing with errors, issues, and fulfilling orders as quickly as possible. We ordered a gift basket from Zingerman’s for the CSRs.

A week before the sale, we went from thinking we’d maybe need three or four people checking emails on a semi-regular basis throughout the day to bringing the whole team (plus the director) into one room with laptops and desktops, putting all other work to one side, and barely leaving our seats or the room for twelve hours. And then Inside Higher Ed got in touch and published an article online about our no-longer-so-little sale.

On the big day, I arrived at 7:30am, closely followed by a colleague. We set up, sat down, and quickly realized we had no way of accessing the specially created email address for the sale to start responding to offers. We had decided to assign one team member to the email address and she would forward emails as they came in to each team member in rotation. I called and texted. No answer. Thankfully, our email forwarder showed up fairly soon; she had been walking to work and her cell phone was on silent. My mild panic reverted to excitement.

The “war room” quickly filled up and we had to make a little more room at the table as Dean Smith, our director, joined the fray with a perky (it was 8:30am!), “is there room for me?”

After the first hour it was already apparent that we hadn’t even come close to anticipating the response level we would get. We’d hit the 100 emails answered mark, and Adriana (our email comptroller) kept saying things like, “there are so many,” and “I can’t believe it.” Sort of to herself. Each of us, I think, had no idea how many emails she even had in her inbox.

A couple of hours in and we had established a rhythm and a system. What we had planned for went pretty smoothly. What we hadn’t planned for, we dealt with on the fly, creating new systems and procedures as things came up. By lunchtime the banter was quick witted, the music had already gone from jazz to rap to show tunes to big-hair bands and everything in between. I learned a lot about my team’s musical preferences. Four hundred emails had been answered.

By lunchtime it was undeniable that even with nine people working non-stop, we couldn’t keep up with the volume. We were answering emails that had come in four hours earlier in some cases and the sale inbox just kept filling up. This was another unexpected development, but, obviously, a good one. For us. We didn’t want customers to wait and wait and wait but we also didn’t want to conscript other CUP staff because there was a reasonably steep learning curve involved and the team was in a groove.

Many of the emails we received from people making offers included stories or explanations about why they were making this particular offer. Some of these stories were fascinating. Some emails contained profound declarations of appreciation for the sale and the opportunity to acquire some of our books. When a particularly good one came in, we read it out loud. Cheryl, our publicity manager, told us about a priest and his desire to read some of our books. An hour later she exclaimed, “the priest is back.”

The vast majority of people made good and fair offers and we accepted them. The team openly delighted in saying, “yes” to a person’s offer and sometimes felt sad when we could not accept one. A few people made offers that caused incredulity, and every now and then a team member would gasp or chuckle with wry amusement. “Twenty dollars for fifty books!” or something similar would bring a shake of the head and a “sorry, your offer isn’t quite good enough” email was sent.

On Twitter, #PWYW got enough attention that for the briefest of moments it trended. Colleagues from other departments made the trek to the third-floor war room to offer encouragement and to see what all the fuss was about and discover why they hadn’t seen a marketer for hours. These delightful interactions – online and in person – gave us more energy and on we pushed.

At 4:30pm EST we started using our social feeds to let people know the end of PWYW approached fast, and that if they didn’t hear back from us on PWYW day, we’d get to their offers as soon as possible. I had set up the special codes to be live for three days rather than one just in case something happened that we couldn’t predict. By this time in the day I may have been pleased with my foresight!

By 7:30pm on the 15th, when the last of us left for the evening, we had responded to approximately 1,000 emails. I spent the rest of the evening emailing the remaining 500 people to let them know we’d get back to them on the 16th. Anecdotally, the team thought that on average people made offers for three books and that most people made offers between $10 and $15 for each book. There didn’t seem to be a clear “leader” in which subject areas interested people or which books had received the most offers.

On the 16th we regrouped and spent another eight hours responding to emails. On the 17th we dealt with those we inadvertently missed.

Within a week, people started receiving their books. I’ve never seen as many pictures of university press books being ripped out of boxes or proudly displayed in a stack with comments such as, “just got my CUP #PWYW books,” “It’s Christmas in May!” or “Yes, they’ve arrived! #PWYW.” In essence we’ve received a second round of social promotion. This we did not foresee!

The Pay What You Want sale was a success. Simple as that.

We haven’t seen engagement with our brand, our books, and our people at such peak levels before. I don’t know, yet, if we can find them again with a marketing campaign, but we’ll certainly try. We know what this kind of success looks and feels like now and we’re all keen to experience it again. I’ve had people ask when we’re doing a PWYW day again. The answer, in all likelihood, is never. Certainly not for a long time. Part of the success came from the unexpected nature of this campaign, from the excitement it generated, from the agency people felt in telling us what they wanted to pay. I don’t want to try to recreate that success using the same formula. Instead, I want my team and I to be innovative and pioneering once again. I don’t want us to walk down the same path, even if it is a freshly trodden one. I want us to blaze a completely new trail.

Don’t worry, we’ll let you know when we put on our hiking boots again.

But what did we learn?

Well, people really liked this whole thing.

Grad students really liked this whole thing. It would seem that grad students want to buy our books but find the high-priced scholarly books they need too expensive.

Authors liked the sale. Perhaps less obvious but, anecdotally, the attention that some authors received went down really well. Yes, their books were purchased for significantly less than retail, but they’re being read!

Individual customers are willing to part with relatively large sums of cash for scholarly books if they believe they are getting a deal.

The act of making a deal is empowering.

Being told “you’re offer isn’t quite good enough” did not put too many people off; most people came back with a better offer.

Some people might have been trying to make a handsome profit off the sale by buying books as cheaply as they could and reselling them!

I’m not sure we learned much about the price points of scholarly books. The average offer was too low to be a sustainable business model for university presses. Perhaps, though, the average offer indicates that rethinking the pricing model used by most university presses is necessary.

You need a flexible and modern team of CSRs that is willing to go above and beyond in order to make this kind of sale work.

And, anecdotally, from the #PWYW team:

“PWYW was a sort of rejuvenation for me. I’ve been reminded, thanks to PWYW, that people still want to buy, and read, books. Given the overwhelming response we received from students, there is a whole new generation to pick up the slack.”—Nathan

“There was something exhilarating about directly interacting with so many ardent fans of our books in such a compressed amount of time. It felt personal and large-scale at the same time. I got into this line of work to help build communities of readers, and PWYW felt like we were doing exactly that.”—Cheryl

“It’s rare that publishers ever interact directly with their customers and I enjoyed hearing back from PWYW buyers who were deeply thankful and touched that we offered our books in this way. Late on the first night, a customer called us back and I helped her with a code and talked about her next book –an ethnographic study of living on the Afghanistan border in the early 2000s. It may end up with us.”—Dean

“My main takeaway is how unique an experience it was and how much fun it was to work together in one central *war room.* it was definitely one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had in 3 years of working at the Press.”—Elizabeth

“My impression of the PWYW sale was a feeling of gratitude from our customers. A positive experience for me and an affirmation of the importance of our books.”—David

“We received so many positive emails from students and professors deeply thanking us for this sale, and it felt really good to be able to help so many people get books they’ve always wanted.“—Jonathan

Recommended playlist (with just some of the classics that played on the afternoon of May 15th):

 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director at Cornell University Press and a freelance consultant charging inordinate amounts per hour to other university presses for advice about running a PWYW sale.

 

#PWYW reflection (a recap of the most successful marketing campaign in CUP history!)

May 15th PAY WHAT YOU WANT day is already a hit!

We announced it a few weeks ago and our PAY WHAT YOU WANT sale that is happening next Tuesday, May 15th, is already rocking the Sage House! So far, our first blog post has 1,631 views, our announcing Tweet made 10,498 impressions, and our promotional YouTube video follows with 385 views.

So don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to get your Cornell Press wishlist books, at the price you name:

TUESDAY MAY 15*U.S.A. only

 

Recommended watch – featuring all Cornell Press actors & film crew:

 

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She has been at the job for one month and is delighted to have directed a movie and helped orchestrate the most successful university press book sale ever, in such a short time!

May 15th PAY WHAT YOU WANT day is already a hit!

The reality of book sales (is an asteroid hurtling through space)     

In February, Publishers Weekly released data indicating that print book sales dropped 4 percent in 2017. The early-warning doomsdayers are looking skywards and believing they see an asteroid making its way towards the book publishing world. Perhaps. Although I don’t believe so. What I do believe, though, is that we’ve entered a new paradigm for book sales, particularly for sales of scholarly books.

cesar-viteri-426877-unsplash
Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

If we consider recent data, it quickly becomes apparent that what was once true is no longer. Sales of individual titles are just not the same as they were five or ten years ago. The reasons for the drop are myriad, of course, and have been discussed over and over. To list just a few, libraries no longer purchase as many books, new types of courses that use non-traditional materials emerged, there’s a perceived aversion to print books from both students and younger scholars (although I’m not truly buying that one), and, of course, there’s the internet. And so on. Regardless of the foundational reasons, the reality is that what we all thought to be our baseline for sales on any given type of scholarly book has changed.

My study of books published in the last twenty-four months shows a drop of between ten and twenty percent in expected first-year sales (XFS) over books published in the previous twenty-four months. It’s a relatively small sample size, but it’s still indicative in a way, and will cause us to evaluate how best to approach sales projections in the next couple of years. What this little bit of analysis doesn’t show, is the three-year projected sales (or beyond). I’ll look at trends there in a coming blog post, but my hope is that we can overcome the drop in XFS over the longer haul through focused marketing and new techniques and technologies.

This reality check isn’t all doom and gloom. Sure, we’d all love sales to be ticking upwards at the same rate as they fall, but that isn’t happening. But the end of the (book publishing) world isn’t yet here and I have cause for optimism. These new real numbers will, if anything, push us to find efficiencies across the Press, and to look for the very best of all projects that have the biggest upside and show an XFS of n+25% (or some other wonderfully optimistic number). We’ll be forced to innovate, finding new and creative (and inexpensive or collaborative) platforms to use to help us boost sales. To borrow an oft-used phrase of a few years ago, we’re going to have to “git ‘r done.”

Having reworked the marketing team over the past six months, hired three new people, and developed a nascent marketing strategic plan, we’re well positioned to face the threat of diminishing sales. Our invigorated team is constantly brainstorming and experimenting. We’ve even invited our colleagues to sit in on open marketing meetings to see how we’re attempting to meet our challenges. New technology, integrated marketing approaches, and an openness to ideas from outside are all ways in which we will address the drop in sales of print books. We refuse to stick our heads in the sand like marketing ostriches. And though it’s no use pretending sales are what they were five years ago, it’s also not an excuse for sitting back and waiting for the asteroid to come crashing from the sky.

 

Related article on the topic: “Three experts share publisher expectations for 2018”

Recommended watch:

 

About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is the Marketing Director at Cornell University Press. He has the crazy idea that we’re here to sell books. You can follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny

The reality of book sales (is an asteroid hurtling through space)     

Won’t you celebrate with me? 31 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month and the Academy of American Poets have come up with 30 different ways to celebrate it. The ideas are creative and include subscribing to a daily digital poetry series featuring more than 200 previously unpublished poems, chalking a poem on a sidewalk or memorizing one, and listening to Mark Doty’s talk, “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now.” NPR has claimed that “you can bet we’re not letting April slip by without a nod to the art of the verse,” inviting listeners to submit a 140-character poem on Twitter together with the hashtag #NPRpoetry, and at Cornell University Press, we feel the same.

Our 1869 podcast interviewing author Susan Eisenberg on her latest book, Stanley’s Girl, a collection of touching poems about gender inclusion, sexual violence and women in the workplace, has inspired us to add one more idea to the list. And for that purpose, we have invited two women at the Press to contribute their own poetic visions of the world. The result is insightful and exciting, and together with our selection of fine poetry books, they make us part of what has become the largest poetry celebration in the world:

 

Baltimore, You Are a Pocket Full of Copper Nails

by Cheryl Quimba

A lot of the time I want to push people

into giant manholes then fly down

to save them, introduce myself as their

long-lost sister who has finally sold everything

to come home. They would be confused but then

so happy for having found something they didn’t know

was lost, and it would feel like a piano playing

beams of colored light against the wall.

In your poems I’m always sad and saying

sad things but in real life I say I am the mountain

sitting on this park bench, so small a microscope needs

binoculars to find me. Baltimore is filled with dirty bathrooms

but no one cares because fun is happening.

Where I live the places where

people die are marked with stuffed animals tied

to lamp posts. There is a store called Hair Strategies

and little kids push strollers filled with

cans of soda up and down the medians.

I like to cross the street like

I’m walking through a casino.

The bells are ringing and ringing

and ringing goodbye.

Quimba, Cheryl. (2015). Nobody Dancing. Publishing Genius Press

 

Meticulous Landscaping

by Ana Carpenter

Here in the passenger side lie Wendy’s bags crumpled by boots

The gentle pungent mulch compacts beneath each nail

Picking at the leather seats to stroke the tattered brail

And decode Dad’s lesson of the day like stringed stray roots:

The ones you mulched over the mornings of summer through July.

Disembarking the diesel F450 with silver smokestacks,

You’re mapping on your hands the clay-dried, thorn-bruised cracks

Wiping the Wendy’s grease on your sister’s off-brand “Nike” slacks

Step out into the cicada-thick air where, like Wendy’s, you fry.

You let the grass prick your bare calves and adjust in the sticky bed

Wiping soil across your forehead, swatting away flying things

And quietly recoiling from the grubs unearthed as dad sings,

Something he beat-boxed under his breath about marriage and rings-

Wash your hands in the cold hose-water until they turn Wendy-hair red.

 

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Order Stanley’s Girl here

 

Other suggested media for our readers on #NationalPoetryMonth:

 

Cheryl Quimba is the Publicity Manager at CUP. She eats, sleeps, and breathes books (but loves a good movie or music debate any day). Follow her on Twitter @ cheryl_quimba.

Ana Carpenter is a member of the Cornell University Class of 2019 and Student Publishing Associate at Cornell University Press. In her free time she likes to sing, salsa, be in the company of dogs of all shapes and sizes, and collect mugs to home-brew cheap coffee.

 

Won’t you celebrate with me? 31 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month

Listening to People Talking About Books

Just under a year ago, we started the 1869 podcast. We’ve published 27 episodes so far and we’ve had modest but pleasing success in terms of listens and feedback. The most recent episode took on the cost of medicines in the wake of President Trump’s State of the Union Address and the two authors interviewed tagged Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau in their tweets about it. I would just love it if either one listened!

Of course, I knew we weren’t the only university press in the podcast world so I put a request out recently to see which other presses have taken the plunge and started using the ever-growing podcast trend to help market their books and their brand. Here’s what I have so far. If you know of more let me know. Continue reading “Listening to People Talking About Books”

Listening to People Talking About Books

Big Media!

How about a brief recap of the big media hits we enjoyed in 2017? Yes? Ok, then.

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Peter Conners’s Cornell ’77 hit all the right notes for maximum media exposure – perfect timing with the 40th anniversary, an eager audience of fans, and a serendipitous collaboration with Rhino. All of these factors, along with great teamwork at CUP, resulted in remarkable mainstream coverage in Rolling Stone, Spin, Time, Entertainment Weekly, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Review of Books, Relix, Vice/Noisey, All About Jazz, and, of course, High Times.

Our other major Cornell-related title this year, Forever Faithful, made the media rounds on a more local circuit, but hit all the media mainstays – the Cornell Alumni Magazine, the Cornell Chronicle, and the Ithaca Journal. Most notably was the month-long serialization of the book in the Ithaca Journal. A feature on the book was on the front page on September 29th, and excerpts were printed on the front page of the sports section on September 29th, October 6th, October 10th, October 13th, October 17th, October 20th, and October 24th. They even made a short video on the book which we’ve included on the book’s webpage.

Other highlights include New York Times articles on Marisa Scheinfeld’s The Borscht Belt and Goodier and Pastorello’s Women Will Vote as well as an op-ed from Fran Quigley; J. C. Sharman’s The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management being reviewed in The Economist and The Financial Times; Mark de Rond’s excerpt in The Times (UK) magazine; Brandon Keim’s appearance on NPR’s Science Friday; Quartz’s feature on Fran Quigley’s Prescription for the People; Alex Posecznick and Charles Dorn in Inside Higher Ed; profiles on Felia Allum and Mark de Rond in Times Higher Education; and Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution being reviewed in The New York Review of Books.

Big Media!

Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book

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Mapping the directions of John Cleese’s Escher-like mind. Drawing by Julia Smith.

By Dean Smith

In the fall of 2015, Cornell University Press hosted a folk concert in our offices at Sage House with author and Cornell history professor Richard Polenberg to celebrate Hear My Sad Story, his new book about the true stories of folk songs like “Casey Jones,” “Stagger Lee,” and “John Henry.” Sixty people showed up for the free event. Folk music enthusiasts jammed the foyer and sat knee-to-knee on the staircase all the way to the second floor. Polenberg played four songs on his acoustic guitar and the crowd sang along with him—a magical Ithaca moment—as the sunlight shafted in from all sides after a cold rain.

After the concert, I noticed three women at the top of the second-floor steps. We’d roped off access to the offices on the second and third floors. I asked if they wanted a tour of what had been Cornell benefactor Henry Sage’s mansion and the university infirmary for most of the twentieth century. I showed them our carved oak bats and owls, stained glass windows, and fireplace tile sequences featuring fairy tales such as Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin. Our managing editor’s fireplace is adorned with Arthurian characters such as Lady Guinevere and Sir Lancelot.

At the end of the tour, one of the women, Gerri Jones, told me that Professor John Cleese would like a place like this. At first, I didn’t think I heard her right. Continue reading “Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book”

Something Completely Different: Working with John Cleese on a Public Talk and a New Book

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Cover Copy

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In real estate, as we all know, it’s location, location, location. In the book world that location is the cover of the book and the websites on which the book is featured. In both cases, the prime real estate is where you find the descriptive copy for the book, in all its facets and aspects.

In design, use of space is crucial. It’s all about how you provide the information/content/user experience. What makes a design work is how accessible it is for its purpose. In the case of books, that design aspect applies particularly to how accessible the descriptive content is on the cover.

In politics, delivery of message is key. How a politician says what he or she wants his or her constituents to know, maybe perhaps even more than what is said, determines how well the message is received. In books, how we describe what’s in a book is tied closely to what we write, but delivery of that message is crucial. Continue reading “Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Cover Copy”

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Cover Copy

Adventures in #Acquisitioning: AAUP 2017

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Austin via South Congress, complete with guitar-playing cowboy (right)

By Bethany Wasik

Two months ago, for the second consecutive year, I represented Cornell University Press at the AAUP Annual Meeting. The discussion panels, networking opportunities, and ambient air temperatures in Austin, TX, were extremely positive experiences.

First, who am I and why did I trek all the way to Austin?

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Bethany Wasik

I have been an acquisitions assistant at Cornell University Press for approximately two years, recently making the transition to assistant editor. I landed here after receiving a Ph.D. in molecular biology and genetics studying beetle horn development from Indiana University and completing two postdoctoral appointments researching butterfly wing patterning at Yale and Cornell Universities (true story). As my second postdoctoral appointment came to an end, I realized my passion was with editing and publishing rather than bench work. I had the experience to justify such a switch, having published my research in several academic journals (still ongoing!), edited and peer reviewed manuscripts on a regular basis, helped students and lab mates with their writing, and composed grants for my own funding. Thus, unbeknownst to me, I was already performing some tasks of an academic editor even before walking through the Cornell University Press lobby. Continue reading “Adventures in #Acquisitioning: AAUP 2017”

Adventures in #Acquisitioning: AAUP 2017

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Seasonal Catalogs

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I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the future of marketing books. The possibilities of what we can or might do fascinate me because that’s where the fun in marketing books really lies.

Which brings me to seasonal catalogs: the traditional linchpin of book marketing. Confining our book releases to two artificial seasons (for some reason we couldn’t even keep in line with nature and do four) seems archaic to many people. The artifice of the seasons and their accompanying catalogs have long been derided as old-fashioned and unnecessary in the modern Edelweiss, endless media, perpetual publishing and buying model. Even though almost all university presses continue with the seasonal model, some have done away with the printed version of the seasonal catalog entirely.

But we’re not thinking about the seasonal catalog in the right way. We’re only looking at its constraints, its costs, its effect on the house and wider publishing industry. What about the possibilities and potential of the seasonal catalog? Continue reading “Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Seasonal Catalogs”

Doc Martyn’s Sage Marketing: Seasonal Catalogs

DOC MARTYN’S SAGE MARKETING: Shifting the POD Paradigm

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What if we’re missing the real revolution of Print on Demand?

Think about it. With POD we could:

  • Make almost real-time edits and updates to a book
  • Feed content from a blog or website straight into a book
  • Create a system for marginalia printed in a book
  • Change content based on critique
  • Change a cover to suit audience taste more easily
  • Personalize every copy of a book

Why would we want to use print books in this way? Isn’t it better to simply allow digital platforms to handle this kind of change? On some level, absolutely. Print books can’t do what digital ones do; they can’t be changed or edited in real time. But what if we tried to mimic the digital experience as closely as we can in print books? How would that affect how we perceive the printed book? In other words, it’s time to flip the print-to-digital paradigm on its head and see if we can apply some digital-like assets to a printed product. Continue reading “DOC MARTYN’S SAGE MARKETING: Shifting the POD Paradigm”

DOC MARTYN’S SAGE MARKETING: Shifting the POD Paradigm