Choose Your Own Adventure: Acquisitions and Marketing in the Modern University Press

This fall, I joined the AAUP for a semester as Social Media and Marketing Intern. I went into this position with limited knowledge of how the publishing industry functions and which publishing path I want to pursue after graduation. AAUP has allowed me to explore different areas of publishing in order to determine which positions are the most appealing to me. The two areas of publishing that have stood out are marketing and acquisitions. For this article, I recently spoke with Fredric Nachbaur, Director of Fordham University Press, and Gita Manaktala, Editorial Director of MIT Press, both of whom have valuable experience in each of these fields, and inquired about their roles within their presses and how they got to their positions. I hope this article is as beneficial to those who are new to university publishing as talking with them was for me.

Both Nachbaur and Manaktala explained acquisitions in a similar fashion. They consider their audience, author, topic, and methodology, as well as how each text fits into the ideals of their university press. It's not as simple as choosing which manuscripts they like or their personal preferences. They acquire texts based on the needs of their presses and then they develop marketing strategies that will be most beneficial to each book. As both Manaktala and Nachbaur explained, each press has an umbrella budget, meaning they have a monetary budget for each year. From there, they have to distribute various amounts of money towards the marketing projects for each text.

One of my key takeaways from the interview is that university presses are in a state of transition. They are becoming increasingly familiar with digital publishing and many are embracing it, creating their own digitized projects, to accommodate the rapidly growing field. When I asked both what problems scholarly texts are facing and how university presses can overcome them, they answered that one of the largest problems facing each of their presses is the continuing challenge of digital publishing.

"In some ways, this is a really good time to be a reader of any kind of text because there is so much available. It's also a good time to be an author because it's possible to reach readers in a lot of new ways. It's the publishers who are having the problem," says Manaktala. "Publishers are struggling because there's an information overload. It's ultimately going to erode the market for what we publish. Readers are selective of what they read and where they invest their time and attention."

Readers are able to flip through thousands of book titles by swiping their finger across a screen. They can read short excerpts from texts they find interesting. They can easily pick and choose texts because everything is so readily available. All this has caused marketing strategies to change as well.

"When you're dealing with print, you'll have a print promotion you have to design, set, and print the materials. With digital, it's a little more fluid. You're creating an e-blast. You're not restricted to the time frame of a printer, so we do things at a much faster pace," says Fredric Nachbaur.

Manaktala explained MIT's approach to marketing as, "part of the overall marketing strategy. There's not usually a separate marketing effort for the e-book. The intent of this strategy is to be format agnostic and allow the reader to choose."

While a format agnostic approach appeals to both, the lovers of print texts and the digitized community, its major appeal is to the readers.

"Professors and scholars really like the print book and want the print book, and a lot of younger scholars need it for tenure or tenure review committees. University presses are facing the challenge of: Are those books selling? How do we get a return on our investment? How do we reach the marketing changing?" says Nachbaur. "Librarians want the e-book. So we're trying to satisfy their demands, as well as the demands of the authors, professors, and scholars. We also have to satisfy the users."

Social media has become a university press tool, used to reach a diverse audience that may not have been previously considered as a target audience. As a twenty-three year old student, I'm guilty of spending too much time on my cell phone checking social media. I absorb the sidebar ads on Facebook and posts on Twitter, without realizing how much information I get from these sites. It is fascinating to me how Manaktala and Nachbaur use social media to their advantage to promote their texts online.

Manaktala says, "Social media has helped tremendously. It's a very different kind of marketing than sending a message to a targeted group of people who subscribe to a specific magazine or something like that. We still do all that traditional marketing, but the social media aspect of it is becoming incredibly powerful and helpful. It's let us enter the conversation of books and ideas that is going on. They're conversations that were already going on in the world, but we just didn't have access to them in the same way. Now we can really participate in them."

Nachbaur has had a similar experience, saying, "I think what we're witnessing is all the social media that's taking place and tapping into that. We're creating communities on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and developing a following."

Manaktala says they used an internet-friendly marketing strategy that was extremely successful for one particular text by computer scientist Noson S. Yanofsky, The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us. For this title, the press was unsure who the audience would be—scientists, leisure readers, or people in humanities. To solve this problem, MIT chose a marketing strategy that would reach out to a diverse group of people, in a format that technology-minded people responded to. "We did a big ad on the train and we included a QR code that would take you to the book's page on our site. This advertising campaign has been extremely successful. We used the beautiful cover of this book and a very enticing reading line, contextual trailer describing what it's about. We left it a little mysterious. We got quite a lot of interest about the book, a number of hits on our page from the QR code. There were people coming into the MIT Press bookstore asking about the book," Manaktala says. The marketing strategy allowed digital users and bookstore shoppers to each discover the text in their own way.

Overall, talking with Nachbaur and Manaktala taught me that university presses don't have to decide between print or digital texts. It's not about choosing, but about using digital resources to the press's advantage, like social media and e-blasts that allow publishers to reach wider audiences at a quicker pace. As a student, I'm drawn towards e-books for the majority of my class materials. They're easily accessible and search tools allow for speedier class discussions, but I wouldn't want to lose print texts either. I love to know that university presses are embracing the digital age and accommodating my needs as a student and a reader. They aren't choosing between digital and print, they're leaving that decision up to me, the reader. It's kind of empowering, having the opportunity to choose my own adventure.

Juliet Barney
Marketing and Social Media Intern, AAUP