How Going to the AAUP Meeting Paid Off

Chances are, if you're in sales and marketing, no-one from your department went to the AAUP meeting in 2007—less than half of the presses represented sent sales and marketing staff. Perhaps you felt that you just couldn't allocate the time and money. That's why I chose not to go.

Like yours, my schedule is maxed. A department of one, I'm responsible for every aspect of sales and marketing for the University Press of Colorado. A hundred good causes vie for every minute, and, worse, they tear apart every dollar. AAUP 2007 appeared in my draft budgets, but in the end I felt that I had to reallocate the money.

Questia, which awards three full-ride fellowships to the meeting for employees of small to midsize presses, gave me a grant, so I went after all.

To my surprise, I found that attendance would have paid for itself in directly related net sales within a month. The meeting also helped me free up time and will have long-term sales benefits. Colleagues offered information that contextualized my decisions and lent experience that helped me shape efforts in quickly changing parts of the field and areas in which I'm less knowledgeable.

Free time

Just before the meeting, I'd made a time-dictated change to advertising and exhibit planning that I wasn't certain would benefit sales. I had been planning ads and exhibits on a book-by-book basis that required extensive research and laborious scheduling. This year, I dedicated 90% of ad and exhibit budgets to recurring venues—journals in which we would advertise regularly and exhibits in our niche subjects. Long-term agreements with ad reps, recurring deadlines, and templates for journal and program ads saved a lot of time, but I felt concerned about narrowing our focus.

At AAUP 2007, speakers emphasized that in the current climate for university presses, publishing in niches and regularly touching base with target audiences in those niches is the best route to strong sales. The venues I'd chosen for ads and exhibits matched the lists that the director would highlight in the next strategic plan, so I set my concerns aside. Had I not attended, I might have continued to doubt my choice. Now, I can spin it as a shrewd marketing decision to brand the press through repetitive exposure and visual consistency. Really!

Other panelists also freed up time. I cheered (internally) when publicity panelists mentioned that we should just tuck materials into books because press kits get tossed. When colleagues shared their runs of review copies and galleys, which I'd assumed were higher than mine, it turned out that I could stand to trim. Time and money saved.

Free money

Ideas and information from AAUP 2007 gave a quick boost to our sales through bookstores and online vendors, helped me market the press back to member institutions (Colorado is a consortial press), and gave me key information that will support long-term projects.

The quickest boost came from conversations emphasizing the importance of promoting backlist. On returning home, I reviewed our sales with Barnes & Noble, alerting buyers to perennial sellers that B&N had dropped or sold an abnormally low percentage of. They immediately bought hundreds of books for a net sales boost of several thousand dollars. (It's not much, but it would cover a conference and it took one day.) I worked with sales representatives to develop a backlist promotion offer for independent booksellers.

Several sessions reinforced the value of robust book pages online, especially at Amazon.com. At home, I confirmed that Amazon.com sales have grown since we improved our pages recently. I stepped up efforts, incorporating uploads of reviews and blurbs into regular routines and initiating participation in Amazon's "Search Inside the Book." I gave Dial-a-Book the OK to post excerpts on prominent sales sites and ensured that our books turn up in Google BookSearch. These projects might have languished if AAUP 2007 sessions hadn't reinforced their importance.

For an easy basket, I adopted a speaker's suggestion to include names of supporting institutions in ads, promoting our member universities to thousands of people. Board members can use that information when they advocate for increased subsidies. Time required: three minutes.

Two long-term priorities for the press—increasing foreign sales and gaining course adoptions through direct mail—require me to build certain knowledge and skills. Related sessions offered the expertise of some of the most successful presses in each area, allowing me to take advantage of what they'd learned over years.

Profitable Conversations

Sales results of serendipitous conversations at AAUP 2007 would be hard to quantify, except to say that the meeting crowds were studded with the very wholesalers and review editors that we allocate significant time and money to meet.

Writers from six book reviews attended. I enjoyed broader conversations with a couple of them than typically occur in publicity meetings. The sessions helped me make more of their reviews, too. Now, I'm quickly posting them online and using them in e-marketing. As suggested by Blackwell's AAUP delegate, I emailed new Choice and Library Journal reviews to Blackwell and received an immediate response.

A spirit of collaboration drove the meeting: people shared detailed, useful information both in and out of sessions. At every turn, I found a happy chance to meet or reconnect with colleagues from other presses, wholesaler honchos, industry associates, AAUP staff, sales representatives, and consultants with coveted expertise.

In the hotel bar, consultant and former Oxford University Press U.S.A. director Laura Brown sat beside me and we chatted about library sales (a conversation with the co-author of the Ithaka Report on university presses and libraries that I certainly couldn't have budgeted). Here's my favorite of her suggestions: take a librarian out to lunch. She had lamented how few publishers talk one-on-one with librarians. The head acquisitions librarians of our public and university libraries were delighted to meet with me and each offered valuable information about recent and upcoming changes in buying methods.

See you next year?

Quick corrections and opportunities that came up at AAUP 2007 saved our press enough and earned enough to pay for the meeting. Long-term benefits of streamlined work and increases in sales will come from key information that people shared in sessions and casual conversations. If, like me, you chose not to go to the 2007 meeting (and if no-one handed you a free pass that made it impossible to resist), I hope I'll see you in Montréal this June.

Ann Wendland
Marketing and Sales Manager, University Press of Colorado