Roxanne Missingham at the Australian National University recently pointed me to a blog post sharing the results of a survey by the Library Publishing Advisory Committee of CAUL (the Council of Australian University Librarians). The survey sheds light on the “wide variety of practices and activity” that make up today’s library publishing scene in Australia and New Zealand. The key findings of the survey (to quote from Roxanne’s post) are:
- One in four university libraries in Australia is publishing original scholarly works in some form (mostly journals)
- Most are available online and are open access
- The publications are read widely (over 3.4 million downloads this year) and internationally
- New skills and services have been developed that support innovative publishing and scholarly communication
- Australian university publishing undertaken by libraries is world leading in terms of new forms of publishing, reaching wide audiences and innovation in practice
My interest was caught by the section summarizing the strategic objectives noted by the responding institutions:
- Dissemination of scholarship
- Open access – increasingly underscored by university open access policies
- Increased visibility of the university and university “brand”
- Enhanced engagement with scholarly communication
- Compliance with dissemination requirements of funders.
It perhaps won’t come as a surprise that I particularly found myself thinking about the third of these — visibility and brand, in relation to universities and their presses. Strengthening the brand is a time-honored reaction to financial pressures and we see all around us the evidence of universities seeking to take a more comprehensive approach to measuring, monitoring and maximizing their reputation.
But — perhaps because Roxanne’s post moves onto other things, and because “brand” is such a nebulous word — I wanted to dig a bit more into the issues around brand and reputation for library presses. Since I found it useful to return to marketing theory as a context for my thinking, here’s a simplistic primer:
- Brand expression. This is what “brand” means to most people – the visual and verbal identity: logos (the etymological root), straplines, color palettes, product names and (to an extent) the products themselves.
- Brand idea. Effectively the organization’s internal motto. If the (external) strapline crystallizes an organization’s vision (the “what we are trying to achieve”), the (internal) brand idea distills the “how we achieve it” (so for example, at Kudos our strapline and vision is “Greater Research Impact” but our brand idea is “better understanding” — this provides a sort of strategic framework for our activities and a useful litmus test against which to test all aspects of what we do — will this proposed new feature give readers a better understanding of this piece of research? Does my response to this user query show my understanding of their problem? etc.)
- Brand values. The behaviors and characteristics you (a) recognize as already existing within the organization, shaping its success, and therefore (b) encourage / seek in your staff so that they embody the brand idea and convey a consistent brand identity.
- Brand image. What people think of your organization, i.e. your reputation — in part a result of all of your efforts above but ultimately influenced by many wider factors too.
These aspects of brand theory are ranged along a spectrum, from the tangible to the intangible — and from those you can control (your visual identity), to those you can’t (your reputation). Most organizations have full control over those things in 1 and 2, and only begin to “lose control” in 3 and 4 (once the unpredictable behaviors and opinions of people — both internal and external — come into play). However, in pondering what the survey’s participants might have inferred in their use of “brand”, it struck me that library presses have less control over their brand ingredients than most. Presses that serve to publish the research outputs of their institution cannot make brand-oriented choices about their product; the range of research being undertaken within the institution, and therefore the range of material they will be asked to publish, may be so broad as to prevent the definition and building of a focused brand identity. Even if the strategic objective in the short term is to build the brand of the institution as a whole, it seems that most presses soon want to begin publishing work from authors in other institutions — Roxanne (in a separate email discussion with me) noted that increasing international participation is a goal for the Australian National University’s ANU Press, and that another relatively young, library-supported press at the University of Adelaide is already at the stage where over 70% of its authors are from other institutions.
This transition – from exclusively in-house press to publisher of a wider pool of research — is of course one that has already been made by the many established university presses around us, who (it strikes me) have achieved a level of brand independence (editorial independence? cultural independence?) that enables them to be more selective and/or strategic in what they publish, and therefore more in control of (and more focused on) their own brand. One might anticipate that the new wave of library presses could look to the experience of their older cousins, were it not for the likelihood that the more established university presses typically made their transitions in an era before “brand” would have been up there among the strategic objectives; possibly in an era before the words “strategic” and “objectives” were even used in relation to dissemination of research.
Thus our new library presses effectively face their brand challenges without direct precedent, and I ponder to what extent awareness of this challenge has influenced their high ranking of “brand” as a strategic consideration. Given that Australian libraries are often pioneers, and that library presses are flourishing in so many other countries too, I am curious as to the views of Scholarly Kitchen readers on the strategic importance of brand and the related challenges facing the new crop of library presses. To what extent do they need a brand identity separate to that of the parent institution? If this is necessary at all, is it necessary from the outset or should it be something that materializes over time (the brand platform, of course, being a tool that works best when it is an articulation of existing grassroots strengths rather than an attempt to impose new characteristics from the top down)? And ultimately, is it possible to create a focused brand identity when one core expression of brand, your products, may be so diverse as to defy easy unification, however consistent your visual expression, cultural characteristics, etc?