What does a publisher do? Interact with communities (again)

What does a publisher do? is a series of posts designed to answer that question, interpreted not in the sense of “What functions does a publisher seek to fulfil?” but rather “What operations does a publisher (well, this publisher at any rate) perform?” This is the eleventh post in the series.

The second post (‘What does a publisher do? Manage stakeholders’) in this series set out a framework for subsequent posts – a framework based on the types of  stakeholders a publisher needs to work with. The post on 23 January 2012 focused on one type of stakeholder, i.e. the community.

For the most part, that post defined ‘community’ in the way that it has traditionally been used in stakeholder literature, i.e. in the sense of ‘local community’ – though the discussion queried how useful such a conception is in an age when digital communication can dissolve distance.

Here we revisit the notion of community to consider other forms of community, beyond the local, and our relationships with them. 

Essentially, as academic publishers, we belong to two wider forms of community. First, there are subject associations. For example, as publishers in the field of creative writing studies, we belong to the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE). Membership provides a valuable source of information, in the form of e-mail newsletters and periodicals. It also happens to be fun.

The temptation for publishers is to think of such organisations solely as a resource – as a source of information but also as a marketing channel. Subject associations are indeed useful in those ways – the problem comes with the word ‘solely’: if one treats a subject organisation solely as a resource, one is unlikely to make the most of the opportunities they provide.

Membership represents a form of networking and around networking in general there is, I suggest, a kind of karma. That is, the more one contributes, ultimately the more benefit one derives – even though the link between the contributions and the benefits may be long-term, indirect, variable, and unpredictable.

By ‘contributions’ here I mean such activities as being curious, taking an interest in other people’s work, putting them in touch with other people, or helping them to access resources. And also, when requested, providing guidance on how to get published. 

Besides subject associations, the second of the wider forms of community we belong comprises industrial networks and organisations. Some of these are focused specifically on publishing. They include the Publishing in Cambridge Association (PICA). Others are more broadly based. They include the Wynkyn de Worde Society, named after the founder of Fleet Street’s printing industry.

I find the latter, broader, type the more rewarding.  The publishing village is a small one and the issues it faces are not so complex – the challenges concern implementation more than understanding – and so publishing chatter readily palls.

The advantage of a society such as the Wynkyn de Worde is the diversity of the members’ trades or crafts. They include printers, typographers, designers. I find this multidisciplinarity helps to stimulate fresh insights.

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