Wednesday, 16 June 2010

On International Marketing

I'm in the taxi on the way to Heathrow turning my attention to this week's AAUP Annual Meeting and in particular to structuring my thoughts for Friday's Export panel. At last year's meeting in Philadelphia I was somewhat stunned that although many American university presses were experiencing turbulent times in their traditional domestic market - barely any mention was made of the fact that the European market remained buoyant. Indeed I knew for a fact that several American scholarly presses were experiencing significant growth in export markets. I had always thought that not boasting about one's successes was a peculiarly British trait - but it seems it extends to the American scholarly publishing community too.

As I think about this year's meeting, and the panel I am participating in, I realise that I wish the title referred to "international" rather than "export". The word "export" is such an old fashioned word - heavily freighted (if you will forgive the pun) with the assumption of a "push" selling model. Which is not, I realise, what I want to talk about at all! I shall be taking a look at some of the factors that make for success in international markets and in an Internet-enabled world, that is as much about "pull" as it is about "push".

AAUP attendees would be mistaken if they think that this is a session for marketing personnel only. International success comes to organisations that adopt an international mindset as part of their overall culture. I suspect that this comes more easily to European presses for a number of reasons. We have many more centuries of international trade under our belt, we have the remnants of colonial territories or in the case of the UK the Commonwealth, and our domestic markets are comparatively small. Therefore I'm planning to take a look at some of the best European independent reference and academic publishers - to see what lessons can be drawn from them.

Last year the AAUP meeting seemed somewhat insular, downbeat and pervaded by a sense of genuine shock at the depth of the financial crisis, and the downturn in the domestic market for scholarly books. I am aware that this year some presses are feeling the knock-on effect with difficulty in agreeing budgets with their institutions, and the likelihood of deep cuts to balance budgets. It is encouraging, therefore, that this year's meeting in Salt Lake City has sold out its room allocation and looks set to be an energetic meeting. All the more reason to be taking a look at what can be learned about international strategy from the best of the financially independent sector. All press employees from directors to editors, marketeers and production managers need to be interested in the opportunities afforded them by expanding their international horizons and thinking entrepreneurially.

The good news is that university presses have huge advantages over many other publishers when it comes to finding international opportunities. The Academy is international, highly mobile, and committed to the value of the written word. In a world where intermediaries are being disenfranchised from the supply chain, and publishers are building direct two-way relationships with customers, many university press publishers have multiple opportunities for this kind of relationship building built into the structure of their institutions and wider constituencies.

"International" is a key strategic issue. Publishing iconoclast Mike Shatzkin talks a lot about "verticals" (cf. his recent post about a presentation to Harlequin). University Presses serve classic vertical markets, focused around specific interests. Vertical markets are liberated from the geographical boundaries of territorial markets. I'm hoping therefore that this year's AAUP meeting will feel less insular and be embracing a little of the modern flat earth syndrome. Export is no longer just another task for an over-worked sales or marketing department. It is an integral aspect of the overall strategic mindset that needs to permeate the whole press.

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