Perpetual Motion: The Job of an Electronic Publishing Manager

As university presses are increasingly integrating digital publishing into their programs, new staff needs have arisen. Some presses, like the University of Wisconsin Press, have addressed this by creating the position of Electronic Publishing Manager. As this is such a new role, and an ever-evolving one, AAUP thought it would be valuable for me to share my own experience as one example of what the role might entail.

I should first say that the digital publishing job description at any particular press is going to vary considerably. There are no firm boundaries yet to the job duties. To an extent, each position description is crafted to fill the holes in the existing expertise at a press. While there may be some overlap in job responsibilities, there are just as likely to be differences. My position is in administration and reports to the press director, but similar positions at other presses are assigned to marketing or production departments.

The Press’s e-book program is out of its infancy, but still very young. We sell PDF-based e-books with most major institutional vendors and have, in the past year, begun selling to individual customers via Amazon’s Kindle store, Ingram Digital’s retail e-book program, and our own website. We are also in the process of adding additional vendors like Sony and Barnes and Noble.

Wisconsin’s Electronic Publishing Manager (EPM) position was created last February. Before that, I worked for the Press on an annual contract basis for two years. In the contract position, I assessed the scope and viability of an e-book program for the Press, evaluating the need for an EPM position and, it was hoped, giving the Press a better sense of the eventual scope of any such position. This ended up being an excellent exercise. For example, the Press’s initial attempt to create a job description included work related to establishing vendor contracts and e-book production, but severely underestimated the time and labor needed to evaluate and amend author contracts and book permissions, an oversight which was corrected in the final EPM description. I also requested position descriptions from Electronic Publishing Managers at other university presses, asking for their candid feedback on restrictive or unrealistic parts of the description. Lastly, the Press Director assessed the current expertise of the UW Press staff and customized the position to best help the Press. Since the long-time Rights Manager was retiring, the new EPM description includes significant contract review, permissions, and copyright oversight.

Broadly speaking, as the Electronic Publishing Manager, I am in charge of leading our digital publishing business—for both frontlist and backlist titles—while strategically planning for future innovation. On a day to day basis that takes many shapes. On any given day I may be doing work that falls into any of the Press’s departments.

Like acquisitions, I select titles that merit investment and/or seem likely to produce revenue. I answer author questions about e-book distribution and negotiate royalty rates. Mirroring the work of the production department, I manage conversion, ensure that we are working with the text used in the most recent printing, and implement appropriate author requests for changes. I track delivery of book files to vendors and assign EISBNs. I develop standards for, and do a final quality check on, new and unfamiliar formats like EPUB. As do rights managers, I review new author contracts and permissions statements to double-check that we are getting the necessary rights for electronic publication. I review and amend author contracts and update permissions to clear backlist titles for an e-book life. Like sales, I create and maintain relationships with e-book vendors—negotiating contracts, establishing discount rates, and seeking out promotion options. I assemble and send out metadata to our vendors. I enter price, EISBN, and format data into our website shopping cart system so we can sell e-books directly from our website. I work with publicity to encourage e-book press releases and special promotions and with our marketing manager to try to figure out how e-book marketing can be done most effectively. Lastly, I work with our business office to set up new accounting lines, pass on royalty information, and to track sales across widely divergent distribution streams.

I also manage special projects. For example, I work with our campus library’s digital collection and with the Google Books Partner project/Google Books Settlement (and author inquiries, objections, and confusion about both). I review tech and legal websites and blogs to stay current on emerging technology, sales trends, and copyright issues. While all of my colleagues find that their work is changing, the Electronic Publishing Manager is a position that is particularly in flux. Each industry update in metadata delivery, e-book format, electronic reading options, or newly registered lawsuit may mean reinventing workflow, or a change in my position description. Firebrand’s recent update to their metadata software meant that I had to entirely restructure the workflow for e-book production and deal with all the new problems that followed.  The Google Books lawsuit has added massive contract review and author correspondence to my job.

One of the most difficult parts of my job is to integrate e-books into the regular workflow of Press. There are many parallel processes, where e-book workflow naturally mirrors print book workflow, while other tasks are entirely divergent. I have been working with acquisitions, marketing, and production to figure out how best to integrate e-books into their processes, and we seem to be constantly tweaking our procedures to account for changes outside of our press. Thinking about how all of these procedural and technical changes accumulate into a “future” that my press is ready to address is also part of my job description.

Though I think about the future of e-books and digital reading all the time, it is harder to say exactly how it will affect my position. The process of winnowing through the backlist will wrap up at some point, freeing a lot of time and attention. I expect that as the e-book market grows up and stabilizes, many e-book production issues will be absorbed into their related departments as a normal part of workflow. However, new formats for digital products will continue to call for re-evaluating rights and economic models. The distribution of e-book workflow throughout the press will mean that we will need a digital publishing group to coordinate changes and innovation in workflow processes. I am also likely to be kept busy searching through our content, and looking for opportunities to re-purpose it into new combinations, delivered through new distribution models. Finally, as my position is located in administration and parallels the rights department, it also seems likely that as current tasks are moved into other departments, new work will take on a narrower focus—perhaps increasing my time dealing with copyright, contracts, and piracy.

For more on how different presses are handling the evolving staffing requirements of digital publishing, check out the “Staffing for Digital Initiatives: Transition to Sustainable Models” session at the AAUP Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, from 3:30-4:45 on June 19.

Krista Coulson
Electronic Publishing Manager, University of Wisconsin Press