Written by on May 21, 2014

Natalie Rich, library student assistant, presents at the Independent Book Publishers Association Conference

This post is written by Natalie Rich, Kennedy Library’s digital communication & publishing student assistant for Digital Scholarship Services. She is helping shape the Earn by Doing, donor-funded position in its inaugural year. Her role is to coordinate interdisciplinary projects and develop scholarly resources that serve the campus. Natalie also supports Cal Poly’s academic publishing initiative.

My job at Kennedy Library

Before I could write in a straight line, I wanted to go into publishing. While other teens read Seventeen and Cosmo, I was thumbing the pages of Publisher’s Weekly. I chose to work for Kennedy Library because it is establishing itself amongst the most forward-thinking libraries in the nation by embracing the new library-as-a-publisher model. Thanks to my role within the library, I have contributed to and witnessed the growth of Cal Poly’s digital publishing program first-hand. For example, I have helped facilitate the launch of Symposium, a new, student-led research journal, and have developed STEM research poster communication tools. In March, I shared my experience at the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Conference in San Francisco.

Speaking at the Conference

I wanted to organize a session for the conference, so I reached out to Angela Bole, IBPA’s Executive Director. She put me in touch with Peter Brantley, an industry professional. Peter and I collaborated in the months leading up to the conference to plan our session: Libraries and Independent Publishers: A Collaborative Partnership, which introduced the library-as-a-publisher model to the indie publisher community. Take a look at my IBPA Session Presentation.

Academic libraries have had to rethink their role since the advent of the online search engine. The library-as-a-publisher model emerged as a reaction to economic pressures:

  • Academic journal prices out-paced inflation by over 250% over the past 30 years (Association of Research Libraries)
  • Library resources (both space and budgets) are being slashed
  • University Presses, who traditionally filled this role, are going under

Advances in technology, such as print-on-demand, and cultural trends, including the Open Access movement have also contributed to the formation of library publishing programs.

What is being published:

  • Academic, peer-reviewed journal
  • Conference proceedings
  • Technical reports & datasets
  • Monographs

How is this aligned with library goals?

  • Diffusion of knowledge
  • Content acquisition, presentation & preservation
  • Promoting open access & open scholarship
  • Serving the needs of our campus community

After the presentation, Peter moderated a panel discussion between Bill Newlin (Avalon Publishing Group, Perseus), Lisa Schiff (California Digital Library), David Wilk (Frederator Books) and myself.

Organizing and presenting at the Independent Book Publishers Association allowed me to analyze overarching trends in the digital publishing field, reinforced the importance of presenting audience-relevant material, and gave me the opportunity to peek into the professional world of publishing.

Many alternative publishing models were being proposed at the conference, alongside ours:

Type How it works Who’s doing it? Notes/Slogan
Open Access Academic libraries archive and publish work produced on campuses Members of the Library Publishing Coalition, including Cal Poly Often the work is stored in a digital repository online that anyone can access
Patronage/Angel Funded 1-2 patrons fund a book, but don’t make any money off of it Red Room Press Philosophy: important books need to be published
Crowd funding Many people donate to get books published Inkshare Authors pitch,the crowd funds,they publish.
  Unbound Authors pitch their ideas and readers choose which books get written.
  Beacon Reader Funds in-depth journalism and deep research projects, and donor gets to read all the stories on the site not just the one they donated to
Slicing Chapters or short stories are priced individually so that readers can slice, remix and publish a book that caters to exactly what they want Slicebooks Repurpose & remonetize content.
Subscription People pay a subscription fee, instead of a one time fee LeanPub Good for books that are constantly updated, or books that are being written a chapter at a time
Scribd Netflix for books model


Conference takeaways: the state of the indie publishing community

The publishing industry is under tremendous pressure right now. “There’s a limited pie out there for all of those entering the market,” said Christopher Kenneally, Director of Business Development & Author Relations at Copyright Clearance Center.

The conference focused on providing education to smaller publishers to help them compete with the large industry players. Session topics ranged from the inspirational to the practical, business strategies to technology talks. I soaked up information. But around me, many authors and publishers were less open to utilizing new methods. The comment that hit me the hardest was “multi-media publishing was a trend a few years ago, but audiences didn’t respond to it. It didn’t take off.” These audience members, professionals in industry, were dismissing what I envision as a viable future for publishing. I was crushed. Multi-media publishing has been my dream career for half a decade.

By the end of the conference, these disparaging attitudes and the resistance to change weighed heavily on me. Then it clicked. They’re scared, I realized. The publishing industry is absolutely terrified right now because disruptive technology has placed everyone, even the heavyweights, back at square one. Publishers were attending the conference to learn, but many of them were still clinging to the safety of what they are familiar with.

While some are fighting one another over smaller and smaller profit margins, others have struck out, exploring new possibilities and new publishing models. I am proud I represented an institution that is embracing the future and pushing the boundaries of publishing.









Read more on digital scholarship services, earn by doing, independent booksellers assocation conference, Libraries and Independent Publishers: A Collaborative Partnership, and natalie rich.

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