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Punctum Books Activity and Financial Report 2023

Published onJun 05, 2024
Punctum Books Activity and Financial Report 2023
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Lucky 13!

What happens when one launches an independent academic press without the resources that an already existing university press has, without institutional backing of any kind, and without a so-called angel investor or private foundation grants?

punctum books was founded on April 1, 2011 in Brooklyn, New York and that means 2024 marks our 13th anniversary — for us, a queer and lucky number, not to mention we are now teenagers, which means this is our moody-cheeky period. And we embrace that. We were fortunate last year to be invited by David Lewis and Michael Roy to contribute an article to a special issue of the Journal of Electronic Publishing on Open Access, and they were interested specifically in hearing about the history of punctum and the business models we have experimented with. The resulting article, “What Is Your Threshold? The Economics of Open Access Scholarly Book Publishing, the ‘Business’ of Care, and the Case of punctum books,” was published in May 2023 and can be accessed here.

Last year, we were also lucky to have two new members join our publishing team: SAJ as our new Associate Director for Editorial Development and Hatim Eujayl as our new Associate Director for Production and Design. We feel incredibly fortunate to have been able, over long years, to assemble our current team, a cohort that reflects the unique variety and sparkle of our catalog and author community and which is aligned with our vision of scholarly publishing: diverse, queer, and more sustainable than monogamy.

Publications

In 2023, punctum books published thirty-one titles on a wide array of subjects and disciplines and (non-)disciplines, including the philosophy of artificial intelligence, the political aesthetics of luxury living, queer kinship, medieval literary studies, early medieval history, the ethnography of monsters, transqueer theology, neurodiversity studies (including writing by autistic authors), Nubian studies, eco-disability studies, classical studies, queer superhero studies, cultural science studies, avant-garde literary arts, geo-philosophy, feminist studies, solar studies, and post-work studies.

Special Collections

In 2023, punctum books launched a new initiative, “Special Collections”:

There are many small, radical presses whose books have played important roles in shaping alternative forms of cultural life, thought, and resistance in the 20th and 21st centuries, but their books are not as findable, accessible, or as widely known as they could and should be. Many of these books eventually go out of print, and lacking digital editions, disappear from bookstore shelves and mainly reside in libraries that not everyone can travel to or from which readers are barred because they do not have the proper login credentials. Following the example of Reveal Digital, who have developed open access periodical collections from underrepresented 20th-century voices of dissent, Special Collections aims to curate and make fully open the unique voices of these culturally significant presses, not only in order to make those voices accessible to a global readership but to also enrich the domain of scholarly inquiry into the history of these presses and their authors.

The aim of the Special Collections initiative is to republish, in beautifully redesigned print and open digital editions, the back catalogues of historically significant, independent presses founded and run by structurally marginalized persons. The first press we have taken under our wing is Les Figues, a queer feminist press founded in Los Angeles in 2005 with a catalog of close to seventy books. Les Figues published poetry, prose, visual art, conceptual writing, works of translation, and mashups thereof, with a focus on feminist and queer authors working against the mainstream canon. Ultimately, Special Collections aims to curate and make fully open the unique voices of culturally significant presses, in order to make those voices accessible to a global readership and to also enrich the domain of scholarly inquiry into the history of these presses and their authors. With the bankruptcy in April 2024 of Small Press Distribution, who served as the distributor for all of Les Figues’s remaining print books, their entire catalog would have become inaccessible if it were not for the Special Collections initiative. We hope to add other presses to this initiative on a rolling basis.

We estimate the cost of restoring Les Figues’s catalogue to be approximately $350,000 and we have partnered with Lyrasis to raise funds from libraries to help us underwrite this project, which we expect will take 4–5 years to complete. The Special Collections initiative will focus on US presses and can be supported via Lyrasis.

Author Spotlight

Our authors were busier and in the spotlight more than ever in 2023. Some highlights:

Encounters at the End of the Book

In 2023, under the direction of Livy Snyder, our Associate Director for Community & Library Outreach, we launched a new video podcast series, Encounters at the End of the Book:

Building on the momentum of punctum’s author group, we are excited to announce a new series, Encounters at the End of the Book. This series is a space where authors come together, as the name says, to “encounter” one another and each other’s work after publication (“at the end of the book”), where new dialogues and collaborative brainstorms can be ignited.

Encounters at the End of the Book interleaves the working lives and living works of authors. Taking a deep dive into authors’ research and writing, the series cultivates a collective space for lively conversations between punctum authors, past and present. Encounters at the End of the Book testifies to the transformative power of an unbounded open knowledge commons. We offer a counterpoint to the myth that research and writing are a solitary path and instead embrace the hive mind, where thoughts rebound and volley. True intellectual nourishment stems not from the minds of supposedly singular geniuses, but from the richness of relationality and interconnection. 

Encounters at the End of the Book exists on a variety of platforms, including punctum’s Vimeo channel and Spotify, and hosts interviews, panel discussions, and readings.

Encounters at the End of the Book | A.W. Strouse Interviews KJ Cerankowski.

Encounters at the End of the Book | Nigerian Authors (ANA) Oyo State Chapter read from Tis Kaoru Zamler-Carhart’s The Goths and Other Stories

Author Events

While punctum authors participated in many readings and panels over this past year, several stand out:

  • A reading with KJ Cerankowski, author of Suture: Trauma and Trans Becoming, joined by Riley Yaxley and Noa Fields at Gerber/Hart Library and Archives in Chicago in November. This was punctum’s first event at Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, a non-profit that collects and preserves the history and culture of queer communities in the Midwest.

    Joela Jacobs, Agnes Malinowska, and Damien Bright at The Seminary Co-op bookstore in Chicago.

  • The book launch of Microbium: The Secret Lives of Micro-Matter at The Seminary Co-op bookstore in Chicago, also in November, with readings by the editors Joela Jacobs and Agnes Malinowska, joined by Damien Bright, who contributed a chapter on “Corals.”

Merchandise

We continue to launch new t-shirts and other merchandise in our Threadless shop, in a multitude of styles and colors, including our “Open Pride” tee to celebrate Pride Month 2023 and our best-selling “STET” tee for the old school editorial nerds among us.

Community Relations

Supporting Library Membership Program

Our Supporting Library Program, launched in 2019, has grown year after year at a rate that has had a serious and positive impact upon our operations. We started signing up library members at a fairly good pace in 2019, but because of the pandemic, in 2020 and and early 2021 our library program came, for the most part, to a halt. Librarians, like so many of us, were working from home, facing a variety of challenges including family, mental, and physical health challenges, and had few resources to take care of anything except that which was most immediately pressing.

Towards the middle of 2021 and into 2023 our library program picked up real steam, and in 2023, we had close to one hundred supporting libraries in the US, UK, and Europe. Our goal is to have two hundred supporting libraries by the end of 2025, which would provide to us roughly $450,000 a year from libraries in addition to other income sources, at which point we will have achieved full solvency, precisely because we have no desire to “scale up.” It is our aim to publish highly diverse, experimental scholarly books that are not like anything we see in the catalogues of most academic publishers and thus we address gaps in most libraries’ holdings; to do this, we can’t publish the hundreds of books a year many academic presses publish, nor do we want to. By way of showing the growth of our Supporting Library Program, funding raised from libraries was $40,952 in 2020, $111,649 in 2021, $216,173 in 2022, and $189,810.02 in 2023 (this amount appears lower than in 2022 due to a change in the way we account for multi-year subscriptions in our bookkeeping; in reality the number and amount of subscriptions increased).

Geographical distribution:

Conferences and Connections

Modern Language Association

punctum books attended the 2023 MLA conference in San Francisco. We enjoyed connecting with our authors in real life and bringing our catalog into the lives of those who didn’t know it yet.

Eileen with punctum authors Edmond Chang and Alenda Chang, and librarian extraordinaire Sherri Barnes.

(left to right) Eileen, punctum author Jonathan Alexander, David Wallace, and Vincent.

Vincent and Eileen with punctum author (and one half of Matmos) Drew Daniel.

International Medieval Congress

The punctum team also made its way back to the original stomping grounds of Eileen and Vincent (both recovering medievalists), the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, UK. Although met with a somewhat more subdued crowd compared to the exuberance of MLA-goers, we still had a good time meeting authors and inserting some much needed weird- and queerness into the IMC book fair.

The Charleston Conference

Lidia Uziel (Associate University Librarian, UC-Santa Barbara Library), Eileen, and Livy managed the Open Book Collective (OBC) booth at the Charleston Vendor Showcase. In addition to talking to librarians about the merits of supporting the OBC, Eileen and Livy brought selected books from punctum’s new Special Collections preservation initiative (see above).

(left) Eileen, Chris, and Jasmine (middle) Eileen with Dione Mentis and Lara Bowen of the Coko Foundation at the Charleston Aquarium (right) Eileen presents Les Figues titles at the OBC booth at the Charleston Vendor Showcase.

Because our Special Collections initiative was partly inspired by Reveal Digital, who have developed open access periodical collections from underrepresented 20th-century voices of dissent, Eileen organized the session, “Diversifying Collections, Radical Archives, and Open Access,” and she presented alongside Chris Freeland (Director of Library Services, Internet Archive) and Jasmine Wilson (Program Administrator, Reveal Digital). In her talk, “A Necessary Fund of Polarities,” Eileen argued that If we are dedicated to the project of diversifying collections, it cannot just be about adding content that, e.g., decenters whiteness or adds voices of color to the bookshelf or archive. It has to be structural, systemic, productively dissensual, and include decision makers who do not represent the hegemony of the system. She further argued that discussions about diversifying collections that don’t emphasize the importance of open access are absurd.

Livy presented a poster with Erica Finch (Scholarly Communication Librarian, Utah State University) titled “Closing the Knowledge Gap: Improving Open Access Knowledge Sharing between Publishers, Authors, and Libraries: A Case Study of Utah State University.” And during the virtual conference, Livy, Lidia, Toby Steiner from Thoth, and Dave Park from mediastudies.press presented “A Community-led Future for OA Books: How Can New OA Infrastructures Enable Libraries to Support ‘Scaling Small’ in Scholarly Publishing?”

Metadata Workshop in Bologna

Vincent attended the Workshop on Open Citations and Open Scholarly Metadata in Bologna, October 26–27, 2023, presenting the development of Thoth Open Metadata and its integration within punctum’s production workflow.

Open Book Futures

In 2023, the COPIM project (Community-Led Open Publishing Infrastructures for Monographs) ended its three years of feverish productivity. A follow-up project, OBF (Open Book Futures) was subsequently approved for £5.88 million, to span 3 years, by the Arcadia Fund and Research England. punctum books is again one of the main partners in the project, facilitating the part-time secondment of Vincent as director/CEO of Thoth Open Medatata.

OASPA

Vincent has continued his tenure as board member of OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association) and member of its Membership Committee.

Open Access Week

Postcard celebrating OA Week 2023 designed by Vincent.

If you are a librarian at a university library that supports us, you may have received one of our cheeky postcards to celebrate International Open Access Week, which happens every October. The theme for 2023 (continuing into 2024) was “Community Over Commercialization.” As the framers of the week put it, the theme represents “a growing recognition of the need to prioritize approaches to open scholarship that serve the best interests of the public and the academic community.” The theme strikes very close to the heart of so much of what punctum has been up to in the past several years, especially with the COPIM (Community-led Open Publishing Infrastructures for Monographs) and Open Book Futures projects, where we have been collaborating with other publishers, librarians, and tech developers to build open, community-owned infrastructure for OA books, such as Thoth and the Open Book Collective. So Eileen was thrilled to be invited by Kelly Cannon (Scholarly Communications Librarian, Muhlenberg College) to participate in a virtual OA Week symposium on the theme alongside Sarah Guilliford Kearns (Managing Editor, "Commonplace," Knowledge Futures) and Jeff Pooley (Professor, Media and Communication, Muhlenberg College), who is the Director of mediastudies.press, one of our fellow ScholarLed presses.

Eileen shared some brief remarks, “There Is No Such Thing As Community,” in which she problematized the term “community” and the ways in which it can be invoked without enough critical reflection on the fragility of the “we” invoked by any community. As she said in her remarks,

For those of us working in non-profit, open access publishing, the theme of this year’s International OA Week is more than welcome, because it not only shines a critical light on the commercial capture of academic knowledge production, but with the emplacement of the word ‘over,’ it also privileges community-led, non-profit knowledge production over for-profit corporate-conglomerate publishers, such as Elsevier and Wiley. The stakes seem so clear and so much ink has been spilled on the neoliberal logics of academic publishing and the slow yet sure colonization of the university and all of its functions by corporate raiders with no care for what is called the ‘public interest.’ And yet, I am skeptical of the term ‘community,’ and I would even go so far as to say, there is no such thing as ‘community.’ There are, of course, lots of communities and lots of different ways in which people come together and align themselves under certain beliefs, principles, shared projects, etc., but that doesn’t mean that they spend any time interrogating together what the term ‘community’ should mean, could mean, doesn’t mean, etc., nor all of the ways a community might be oppressive, break down, and cease to cohere, which means we have to listen for what, in the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, has gone unheard in community.”

Sales and Access

Downloads

In 2023 we were able to upload our entire back catalog to JSTOR, leading to a significant increase in traffic through their platform. We also continue to offer our books via OAPEN, JSTOR, and Project MUSE, reaching a total of more than 1 million downloads of our ebooks over 2023. This is a new milestone for punctum books.

Furthermore, our catalog is now also accessible via EBSCO eBooks, which will provide usage data to us twice a year. These metrics will be included in the overview once they become available.

Downloads & Book Views for 2023

JSTOR

Project Muse

OAPEN

Google

Internet Archive

JAN

8,461

5,131

14,335

79,529

1,657

FEB

8,705

5,173

14,830

59,601

1,930

MAR

11,198

10,257

13,651

57,175

2,199

APR

12,111

6,875

11,064

48,692

2,019

MAY

14,721

14,470

12,649

43,550

2,001

JUNE

11,003

3,118

11,030

44,166

1,277

JULY

9,867

4,068

7,133

37,558

1,191

AUG

9,178

6,005

7,974

40,835

1,447

SEP

13,310

4,464

12,051

39,214

2,757

OCT

18,646

4,547

16,023

50,515

1,576

NOV

18,870

4,607

16,322

54,825

2,156

DEC

15,909

5,130

15,338

55,657

1,599

SUB-TOTALS

151,979

73,845

152,400

611,317

21,809

TOTAL

1,011,350

Readers in every geographical region downloaded our books, with different distributions depending on the platform used to access the materials. We receive country data from JSTOR, Project MUSE, and the Internet Archive:

CrossRef Events

In 2023, we also started to track CrossRef Event data. These reflect moments when the CrossRef API was accessed, for example when a reference with a punctum books DOI was added to a Wikipedia entry. As more websites and databases connect directly to the CrossRef API these data should become more diverse.

The initial green Datacite peaks show when punctum books initially started to implement DOI registration via Datacite. Eventually, we switched to CrossRef.

In 2023 we continued with average sales numbers per month compared to the previous years. The numbers corrected somewhat from the bestseller year 2022.

Financial Overview

punctum is a non-profit, public benefit corporation registered in the state of California. All of our revenue is reinvested in our core business: producing widely accessible, high-quality scholarly publications.

In 2023, punctum continued the stable trend of 2020 and 2021. This stable part of our income is provided by book sales via Amazon and other online booksellers, as well as wholesale channels (such as Ingram) and even more conventional bookstores. 2022 was somewhat anomalous in terms of book sales and subventions due to a bestselling title and large subvention for an arts catalog. Reader donations and subscriptions, however, have been on a downward trend the last two years, so increasing those will be one of our focus points for 2024.

Although a considerable number of new libraries subscribed to punctum books, in particular through the Open Book Collective, this is not yet visible in the financial numbers, as multiple invoices were still pending by the end of the book year and we changed the accounting method around multi-year subscriptions in 2023. However, with 26 new library signups throughout the year, we are confident this number will continue to grow in 2024.

This year we received the final of the COPIM project. Grant income will be thus reduced in 2024, as punctum books’s participation in Open Book Futures comprises fewer FTEs.

In 2023 we also saw an increase of production costs. We hired a new full-time Associate Director for Editorial Development and also a part-time Associate Director for Production and Design. As a result of going through an extensive hiring process for the Associate Director for Editorial Development, we relied on freelance labor for a couple of months, which increased our costs. We expect production costs to even out in 2024, relying less on freelance labor while possibly expanding the Associate Director for Community and Library Outreach function.

Tax expenses have decreased in 2023 and we expect these to remain stable for the foreseeable future. Due to increased conference activity post-Covid, our travel expenses have increased significantly, and we are in the process of putting checks in place to make sure both our expenses and carbon footprint in this area do not exceed the reasonable. Also, since punctum books is a 100% work-from-home company, our staff leaves no commuting carbon footprint and we rent no office or warehousing space.

Punctum Menagerie

(clockwise from top left) punctum animal friends Lucy, Gene, Fishtopher, Jahannamiya, Tomi, and Maia.

At punctum, we are devoted to our creaturely companions, which include cats, dogs, and even snails! So we decided this year to create a t-shirt to celebrate our nonhuman family, and you can find it in our Merch Shop. Not that anyone would want to wear a t-shirt with other people’s pet names on it, but then again, you never know.

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