Big Ideas and a ‘Microrant’ for University Presses

At the Association of American University Presses’ annual meeting in Boston last week, a plenary session tackled “Three Big Ideas in Publishing,” including copyright, public intellectuals, and innovative business thinking. One of the speakers was Michael Schrage, a research fellow at the MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, who raised hackles by telling his audience to “stop thinking of yourselves as publishers and as presses.” A better “organizing principle,” he said, would be the notion of “advancing scholarship.”

The most provocative set of ideas to emerge from the session, though, came from a scholar who wasn’t even at the conference. Ian Bogost, a game designer and a professor of media studies and interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, caught the discussion on the Twitter backchannel (hashtag #aaup13).

The talk inspired him to come up with a tweeted list—he called it a “microrant sideline”—of “Principles for University Presses.” It has now been Storified and posted on his blog, and for anyone who follows or engages in university-press publishing it’s well worth a read. (“Ian Bogost just gave best #aaup13 talk—though he’s not actually there,” tweeted Barbara Fister, a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College.)

A few of the highlights from Mr. Bogost’s list:

3. Invent something new. There’s a huge open space between trite trade nonfiction and scholarly esoterica. Fill it.

4. Forget about the tenure issue. Work that matters produces impact and renown, which results in tenure.

10. It’s time for academic presses to have AUTHORS instead of just SCHOLARS as their writers. Force us to be both.

“I have very strong feelings about university presses, partly because I’ve been so fortunate at their hands, and partly because there’s still so much work to do,” Mr. Bogost wrote on his blog. Among his university-press books is Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, published last year by the University of Minnesota Press.

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