The starting point for an academic press

A year or two ago, we began to design a workflow system for publishing books. We decided we needed to acquire some expertise on the technical side so we wrote a brief for an organisation that brokered ‘knowledge transfer’ deals with universities. Various universities made pitches in response.

One of them appended some general advice about publishing. I was surprised, since that wasn’t what we’d asked for. I was even more surprised by the content of that advice. It got off to a bad start: e-books account for less than 5% of revenue, wrote the consultant, so he didn’t understand “why they want a paperless production system when Print on Demand would fulfil 95% of the market need.”

Well, if you can’t distinguish between digital processes and digital products (such as e-books), you’re unlikely to understand very much. But that’s not the issue here. The more interesting point was that he “advised caution against establishing a publishing operation which would cost at least £500k”.

Well, we don’t have £500k. And we’re not about trying to obtain £500k from anyone else. We don’t need it.

But if you want to set up a micro-press for academic publications, where do you start? The answer seems to be to lie in the selection of the market. I think for many people who start presses, this decision virtually makes itself – since, for good reasons, publishers entrepreneurs often start with a subject and a market they already know well and have a serious interest in and enthusiasm for. But in our case we want to diversify and publish into a field that is different from those that we provide publishing services and training for.

So we needed to select a market. And for that we needed criteria. It seemed to us – and still does – that the essential point is to select a market that is amenable to the kind of marketing we can realistically expect to provide. There’s no way a micro-press, especially an academic one, is going to command the attention of broadcasters or the press. And there is no way either that the retail chains are going to get us off to a flying start by stocking all our books. So we need a way round that and the only answer we can see lies in direct marketing.

So the next question is, what characterises a market that is amenable in this way? Which will be the question for the next post…

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