For this month’s newsletter, Mark Fretz, Scribe’s Director of Editorial Services, interviewed Dr. Carey Newman, Director of the Baylor University Press. As is evident in the exchange, Baylor University Press is a client of Scribe, having adopted Scribe’s Well-Formed Document Workflow to create its publications. The questions and answers that follow detail the evolution of the press since its inception in 1897, the problems that were faced, and why Baylor University Press chose the Well-Formed Document Workflow as part of the solution to these problems.
FRETZ: We’re here to talk about Well-Formed Document Workflow and your choice of it. I wanted to start with asking about how you got into the publishing business in the first place, and then how you ended up at Baylor.
NEWMAN: The short answer is that publishing is, by its very nature, an accidental profession. I remember my first day. My own editor, Dan Reed from IVP (InterVarsity Press), called me and said, “Welcome to the accidental profession.” I didn’t really know what he meant by that until I had been in publishing for a few years. I was just a dumb old scholar working away on a publishing and teaching career of my own. I was out playing golf with one of my colleagues, and he commented that I would make a good editor. He took his phone, dialed his former college roommate who was the president of a publishing company, and I wound up with a job interview in a week. I took the job a month after that. It really was an accident. It was a career shift and change right in the middle of my career, and I could’ve never anticipated it.
How I wound up at Baylor in charge of the press is more a Jerry Maguire story. I was working in senior administration at the university, and the press director resigned. There was some discussion among the executive vice presidents about killing the press and cannibalizing the money. I wrote an e-mail that said, “No, no, no, no! Here’s what you should do with the press.” The next thing I knew, I was in charge of it as an interim director. I had no intention of staying on as the permanent director. Again another accident, if you will.
FRETZ: When you were put in charge as the interim director, what was the condition of the press? Was it that bad, or did they just need that much money?
NEWMAN: I’ll use a line that my old high school offensive line coach used. He would look at us and say, “You guys may be weak, and you guys may be small, but at least you’re slow.” The press was small and weak and slow.
The press had been around since 1897. The first thirty or forty years of the press had seen some significant publications. Specifically there was a cutting edge sociology textbook published in the twenties. The press had published, in those early days, some geological studies, some site reports, both in Mexico and in Texas. But the press was all over the map for its first thirty, forty, fifty years.
The war years were not kind to the press, and it did not enjoy the kind of growth in the post-World War II, Sputnik, moon-race investment, when most university presses either came into being or grew. Baylor sat out that period of growth. More recently, the press received an endowment specifically to look into separation of church and state. Baylor’s a faith-related university and so they tapped into this free church identity of our university to examine free speech, free exercise—First Amendment issues, really. That rejuvenated the press and gave it some direction.
By the time I showed up—the bad news is that we were publishing pretty awful books. The good news is we were only publishing one or two of them. So it was a garage in need of cleaning out; it was a house in need of renovation; it was a car in need of a paint job; it was a work in progress. The university was at a moment, in its own imagination, where doing something significant with the press was a part of its appetites. So I fell into the press at the right moment in terms of the university’s own aspirations. It was the absolute worst moment on the face of the earth to try and grow a press, with all the changes in publishing.
FRETZ: So, when you started trying to set the ship aright, as it were, what were your goals, what were your plans for the press? Where did you want to go with it? Did you have a title count that you were aiming for?
NEWMAN: Well, increasing the number of books. We were only publishing one or two yearly. So we set a goal of thirty or forty. We expanded all the way out to the high 40s in new titles, and then I pulled back on that simply for both economies of scale—you start losing some efficiencies as a small press and you enter into a netherworld or no man’s land of activity between thirty and sixty books.
The problem with publishing forty-five, fifty-five books off the personnel that we have is that everybody is too busy, and it really is operating at 125 percent of capacity all the time, and that just tears everybody up. So it wasn’t sensible. We were committed to letting personnel hires follow, not lead, our revenue growth. Title count contributed to revenue growth, so these two are interwoven. So we settled down to thirty titles. We’re a niche publisher. It fits us well to publish thirty titles a year. We strongly believe this. We don’t believe you have to be big to be significant. You just have to publish the right books.
FRETZ: In terms of the challenges that you’re facing now, as opposed to the ones you dealt with when you first arrived, how big is the challenge and complexity of the business that you’re in, with respect in particular to the production of your titles? In other words, one challenge, obviously, is finding the right book—the one that is a Baylor book and that’s going to be significant and is going to sell enough copies. But in terms of the production side of things, what challenges were you facing along the way?
NEWMAN: Traditionally there are three things you need to focus on. You need to increase your revenue, you need to cut costs at every stage, and then you need to operate more efficiently. In our high-growth phase, we were driven by cash infusion and by building brand and by acquiring books. The university was extraordinarily patient with us in terms of allowing us to make the significant investments. I think we have exited what I would call the first investment phase. I told the university it would take twenty-five years to build a decent press and they needed just to swallow the bitter pill of investing in the press for twenty-five years.
The investment phase is over. Now we’re looking at what I would call trimming the sails. We really do need to operate more efficiently and to squeeze out a percent here and a percent there. The level of our business is such that a percent matters. It’s not one percent of a penny any longer. A percent here, a percent there, really does matter.
When you ask about production issues, we do believe in that strongly, that we want our front list titles to be produced in traditionally offset high-quality printing, individually designed jackets, Smyth sewing. So we have value standards that we believe in.
But at every point along the production workflow, we want to save dollars if we can without sacrificing quality, and we also want to achieve efficiencies.
FRETZ: Tackling the issue of how to produce content is no easy task and workflow is no glamorous issue to deal with. When you talk to your colleagues as directors of presses, particularly in the AAUP market, I’m sure the first thing on the agenda isn’t let’s talk about workflow. There are other things that are more attractive. But the circumstances of dealing with workflow and starting to think about the workflow, particularly your thoughts about Scribe’s Well-Formed Document Workflow, how did you approach that issue internally so that you could indeed say here are the options that we have, and let’s choose this one.
NEWMAN: Let me go back to commenting on the sexiness of workflow. Another director from another major university press happened to be present at a staff dinner we were holding at an academic show, and the topic of conversation for most of the evening was workflow. I’m happy to say that this other press director, at a major university press, four times our size, is also a Scribe customer, and it was critical for us to hear what this director had to say about your company. So while not sexy, it is talked about.
Now to your other question, I’ll say this, Mark, it’s inevitable. There’s an inevitability built into the work that Scribe does for Baylor. We knew that. We knew that a year or so ago. Two years ago, maybe, we started talking about it. It’s a little bit like tapping your brakes at the top of a hill on an icy road. You know you’re going to the bottom. Even if it’s in slow motion and at one or two miles an hour. You’re going to go down the hill. There’s not a lot you can do about it other than hope you don’t careen into another car. That’s the way we felt about heading off into XML land, a little bit like tapping your brakes.
We knew that what we were doing worked. We knew that what we were doing worked well. We knew that what we were doing that worked well was delivering to us something that was usable across the board. But what we also knew was that it was cumbersome, it was old school technology, it was old school process, and it was inefficient. There was trepidation about trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.
But one day we were going to wake up and discover we had been left behind. We were going to be in the market behind those presses we compete with for the top authors. The inefficiency of the old technology workflow that delivered a predictable product to us and that we were handling fifteen different times and converting fifteen different times and paying for each one of those, that’s going to bite us at the end.
So the inevitability of XML led us to it, even for a small press. We really could foresee getting away with what we were doing for another three, four, five years. But at some point, we were going to be left behind when the next piece of the unforeseen presented itself, when publishing sales are up over the horizon. Another set of technological advances that no one has imagined yet will capitalize on the liquidity of files and books that Scribe provides to us. We just thought that we better go ahead and make the investment on the front end so that in the out years we both have efficiencies, savings, and options.
FRETZ: Why Scribe? What is it about what we offered you that was most compelling?
NEWMAN: I would say three things. One, we’ve known Scribe for a decade. You’ve done third-party work for us, typically very complex projects—projects where it’s like trying to swallow a Volkswagen. We just can’t dislodge our mouth to get it around the whole Volkswagen. And so you can. You’ve got the technical prowess and power to be able to do some things that we couldn’t do ourselves. So we handed off to you some of our more technical books, our larger books, our books that had multiple foreign language issues, books that needed a post-production liquidity in file structure.
We’ve used you before so we know your quality of work. Secondly, we know you—we know you as colleagues and as friends, and working with people that you trust. But the real issue for us is that Scribe has proven to have staying power in the market. When I go to Frankfurt every year, there’s some new company that’s got glitzy this, glitzy that, big announcements about what they can do. There are lots of known companies that come in with this and that and the other. They announce it here, announce it there. You know what? It’s gone the next year. Gone. The company’s gone, the platform is gone, the next e-this, e-that is gone.
What we appreciate most about Scribe is that you’re there, you’re going to be there, you’re there invested, the workflow that is most needed and has staying power. So it’s a marriage of our workflow to a company that is going to be there tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, and we know that.
FRETZ: If you were having dinner with another press director who isn’t a Scribe client, and they’re wrestling with the same issues you’ve been wrestling with, what do you say to them that says, well, we chose Scribe because—which is what you just answered, but what would it be, in your mind, that would be the most compelling answer you can give them as to why they ought to at least consider, if not actually go with Scribe? Particularly in the Well-Formed Document Workflow, aside from the editing and the complex books that we can do for you?
NEWMAN: I would say that we see three potential savings. We think that we’ll claw back about thirty percent of production staff’s time on our books. That will free us up potentially for doing a few more books or, in all likelihood, we’ll redistribute that time savings—thirty percent is nothing to sneeze at—a third of our production time. We’re going to be able to redistribute that over two other aspects of our workflow that could save us serious money.
The first is on the copyedit side. Now, this is a double benefit because what the Well-Formed Document Workflow does for us is it enables a copyedit to be enacted so much more efficiently, so much more thoroughly, that we’re thinking that we’re not going to have to outsource our copyedit anymore. We’re going to be able to use the Scribe process plus the time savings for our production staff to jump down on the copyediting side. That’s true, too, on the proofing side. So, in terms of copyedit, composition, and proof, this is all collapsing into one. We’re saving time, and we’re going to be able to invest that back on top of it internally.
So two things that we were paying outsourcers to do, we don’t think we’re going to have to do anymore. Or if we do, the kind of light dusting copyediting that will need to be done is almost going to be a negligible cost again. And we do think we’re going to be able to handle the proofing on our own side. So there’s significant cost savings in this.
Once the Well-Formed Document Workflow process is ingrained, it’s like a breathing pattern. You push back all of the things that you were trying to do post-production onto the pre-production side and into the production generation side. Then it becomes a breathing pattern, so it’s natural.
There are no more hoops to jump through at the end of the process, and this is the other huge savings. The conversion, printer-ready PDF to some sort of generic e-pub, and then to thread some needle out there, the reader device, and God only knows how many readers are going to be out there in five years, or which one of the readers might take over the market and then jack up the price for any kind of post-production conversion—it’s an unknown world. What this gives us is the ability to do all of that ourselves with the push of a button. It makes it easy and simple and cost-free. It’s frictionless. Once you invest on the coding side with the Well-Formed Document Workflow, the e-distribution side becomes just laughably easy, which, for a small press, is a huge issue.
FRETZ: I was going to ask, what repurposing ideas come to mind given that ability for you going forward?
NEWMAN: That’s a state secret. You’ll have to kill me for that one. I just think it’s everything that’s in front of us. All of us directors have our own understanding of what the market might look like and how our own books might fit into that market. Just leave it at this, that this gives us every option. Every option that might be presented is open to us with this. With e-publishing, we’re not going to have to turn ourselves inside out. It gives you the ability to turn on a dime or to turn on several dimes. It gives you maximum flexibility, whereas right now, we have to do some sort of gymnastic contortions to be able to take our printer-ready PDF and get ourselves up and running.
As simple as it may seem, we just had a university adopt one of our books for all of its classes—intro classes. It’s a sizable number of books—they’re going to be textbooks. They just happen to be in Australia. We want to be able to fill that request in the easiest possible way. You’re going to be able to help us do that, just overnight, poof, there it is. No longer do we have to do X, Y, and Z first before we can do that. That kind of a request can come in today and it can be done tomorrow.
Yeah, so it can be all the way from building our own readers to Frankensteining our books back and forth to taking existing books and making sure that they can be poured out in any market, anywhere, at anytime. The world is open to you with this.
FRETZ: The other piece of this, just out of curiosity, the other piece seems to be—the one side is the savings and the other side is the increasing revenue, and so it seems like even though the Well-Formed Document Workflow’s immediate purpose isn’t to increase revenue, because it doesn’t make selling books possible—you’re making selling books possible by your other activities—but because of the format, you indeed can sell more books. Is that what I heard you saying?
NEWMAN: Yeah, I think it opens up the door for that. That actually shifts into another part of publishing. I think we could sell books without the Well-Formed Document Workflow, but it surely makes the selling of those books a lot easier and a lot less costly. So it’s still the saving. I don’t know that the Well-Formed Document Workflow helps us sell more books, but the books that we do sell will and do encounter—it’s going to make it a lot easier and a lot cheaper and a lot more cost efficient. So maybe that’s the way I’d say it.
FRETZ: I was going to ask about the relationship of the Well-Formed Document Workflow to non-production issues, like metadata capturing, metadata embedding, and metadata to help the marketing and sales side of things in the production process.
NEWMAN: If I peer deep into the future, I think there’s going to come a day—I think it’s still quite a ways away—but I can see a day in which a chapter level metadata coding, inclusive of description in key words, will be a central feature of discovery. And what you’re helping us to do is to prepare for that ahead of time. We’re doing other things to prepare for that, and there’s a huge mountain to climb there because we’re going to have to claw back on our existing list to get to that level. But I think that’s what’s going to happen. I think people some day are going to be able to—scholars are going to expect, and on the discoverability side—and I think it’s going to be much more complex than this. I don’t think that discoverability electronically translates into electronic delivery of books necessarily. I think discovery and usage are still two separate items in the market.
But on the discoverability side, I do think that people are going to type in green socks, fried eggs, and Nietzsche, and expect every book, every article, everywhere, in all languages to appear on their screen and for them to be able to copy and paste down from the chapter level with the metadata traveling with it. I think that’s what everybody’s gaming for here, sooner or later. That, in other words, scholars who sit down on a plane flight from London to New York who are wanting to do some research on the over-the-pond flight should be able to search Google for those three items and expect to find books and chapters show up, and that they can work on their research right there. I think that’s the expectation. That doesn’t mean that they’re not going to wind up wanting that book, to consult it sooner or later, physically, but I do think that it does mean that on the discovery side that’s where it’s going, and that’s what you set us up to do. The elaborate coding that goes into a document on the front end enables all sorts of ability to make it liquid on the tail end.
FRETZ: A triplet comes to mind in what you said—discoverability, deliverability, and being able to be durative. Discoverability, deliverability, durability, as it would be. In other words, you, as a press, will ensure your longevity because you’ve made your content durable.
Discoverable, deliverable, durable.
NEWMAN: Yes, I think that’s probably right. Yeah.
FRETZ: Well, Carey, I appreciate your time. You’re in a very unique position in a way because of being a niche publisher. In other words, not only are you an academic press, but you’re also an academic press of a certain flavor by design. You’ve defined Baylor University Press to be X, not something else. And if you are right in playing your cards the way you’re playing them, then your choice about workflow is a choice about the future of the press. It’s not just about saving a few pennies here and there or adding a title or subtracting a title from a list. It’s really about is the press serious about being around twenty-five years from now?
NEWMAN: And being vital, yes.
FRETZ: Well, we’re here to partner with you along the way, and we, too, want to be here twenty-five years from now when you’re here twenty-five years from now. Whether or not you and I, specifically, are still here twenty-five years from now . . .
NEWMAN: I think there’s a good question on whether you or I will still be here, Mark, but that’s neither here nor there.
FRETZ: Very good. Well, thanks, Carey, for your time. Be well.