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We Got the Receipts: The Punctum Books Financial and Activity Report 2016–2019

Published onJul 07, 2020
We Got the Receipts: The Punctum Books Financial and Activity Report 2016–2019
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Introduction

Punctum Books was founded in Brooklyn, New York in 2011, and in 2016 the press was incorporated in Santa Barbara, California as a non-profit, public benefit corporation co-directed by Eileen A. Joy and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei. Punctum Books is a scholar-led, peer-reviewed, open-access (OA) book publisher devoted to cultivating trans-disciplinary academic work that takes risks with form and style, and to fostering authors both within and outside the Academy, including thought leaders at prestigious universities, early to mid-career researchers at a wide variety of academic institutions, precarious academics, independent scholars, artists, and others who want to push the boundaries of established disciplines and methodologies and who understand the importance of sharing their work with the Global Commons. Punctum’s catalogue, most broadly, comprises books in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Fine Arts, and Architecture and Design. More particularly, Punctum is dedicated to publishing work that is not only trans-disciplinary in innovative ways (digital poetics, or imaginary materialisms, or auto-theory, for example), but which also helps to bring new fields of thought into being (such as cognitive museum studies, digital capitalism studies, Anthropocene studies, speculative musicology, soft architectures, posthumanisms, medieval disability studies, fan theory, radical pedagogics, queer literary forensics, and more). Finally, Punctum is committed to supporting projects of translation and multilingualism across a wide variety of historical periods.

A part of our commitment to our readers, donors, and funders, we intend to publish, from this year forward, an annual report detailing our activities, production, policies, and finances. This first report will cover a longer period, from our incorporation as public benefit corporation in California on May 5, 2016 until December 31, 2019.

Activities

Publications

From 2016 to 2019, Punctum Books has published close to 30 titles per year, including books published through our imprints. All submissions are reviewed by the scholars who direct Punctum (with specializations covering Conceptual Art, Creative Writing, Linguistics, Medieval Studies, Old Nubian, Philosophy, Sanskrit, and Translation Studies1) and our Editorial Advisory Board.

All titles are released as reasonably priced paperbacks through Kindle Digital Publishing/Amazon (usually $20–$25) and as open access ebooks deposited in the OAPEN books repository.2 We are currently actively helping to develop open infrastructure and open source software for making books that will allow us to publish EPUB, XML, and other digital formats in the coming years.

During the reporting period, Punctum Books published titles in the following disciplines: Ancient Mythology, Anthropocene Studies, Anthropology, Art and Architecture, Classical Studies, Creative Nonfiction, Critical Forensics Studies, Critical Race Studies, Cultural Studies/Cultural Theory, Design Theory, Digital Humanities, Digital Poetics, Early Modern/Renaissance Studies, Economics, Environmental/Eco Studies, Experimental Philology, Fiction-Theory, Film Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, History/Historiography, History of Science, Linguistics, Literary Biography, Literary Studies, Media and Technology Studies, Medieval Studies, Memoir, Music and Sound Studies, Nubian Studies, Parapolitics, Philosophy, Photography, Poetry, Political Science/Polemics, Posthuman Studies, Psychology/Psychoanalysis, Radical Pedagogy Studies, Religion Studies, Queer Studies, Rhetorical Studies, Sociology, Television Studies, University Studies, Urban Studies, and Vegetal Studies.

2016 (short year)

2017

2018

Jonathan Alexander’s Creep: A Life, A Theory, An Apology was a finalist at the Lambda Literary Awards in the category “gay memoir.”

2019

Julietta Singh’s No Archive Will Restore You was a finalist at the Lambda Literary Awards in the category “bisexual nonfiction.” It was also shortlisted for a 2019 Firecracker Award.

Translations

Punctum Books actively supports translation of its works from English into other languages. Jonathan Basile’s Tar for Mortar and Erin Manning’s The Perfect Mango were both translated into Portuguese and released as Massa por Argamassa and A Manga Perfeita, respectively. A German translation of Michael Betancourt’s The Critique of Digital Capitalism was published by Wissenschafliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt as  Kritik des digitalen Kapitalismus and the same work has been also translated into Chinese and is forthcoming from Beijing Normal University Press. Sean Braune’s Language Parasites is currently being translated into Italian for Edizioni Kaiak.

Community Relations

Open Access

Punctum Books is actively committed to the advocacy of open access in scholarly publishing and the diversification of the scholarly communications and publishing landscape. We work diligently to help create communities within the OA landscape and to reach out to stakeholders in various discussions and debates around OA publishing.

Punctum Books is a founding member of both the Radical Open Access Collective and ScholarLed. The Radical Open Access Collective, established in 2015, is a community of over fifty scholar-led, non-profit presses, journals, and other open access projects offering a “radical ‘alternative’ to the conservative versions of open access that are currently being put forward by commercially-oriented presses, funders and policy makers.”

ScholarLed, founded in 2018, is a collaborative project of five scholar-led, open access presses in the Humanities and Social Sciences who are committed to developing open and shared infrastructures for open access books. This includes developing systems and practices that allow presses to provide each other with forms of mutual support, ranging from pooled expertise to shared on- and offline infrastructures. The publishers in ScholarLed — Mattering Press, meson press, Open Book Publishers, Open Humanities Press, and Punctum — share a commitment to opening up scholarly research to diverse readerships, resisting the marketization of academic knowledge production, and working collaboratively rather than in competition.

ScholarLed was the main initiator of the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) project, funded by Research England and the Arcadia Foundation, which was launched in November 2019 and will run until October 2022, with the aim of building a community-led ecosytem for open books in the Humanities and Social Sciences that will attend to all aspects of open infrastructures for publishing open books, including metadata, revenue models, governance, preservation, and the like.3 The 3-year project is designed to transform open access book publishing by moving away from a model of competing commercial service operators to a more horizontal and cooperative, knowledge-sharing approach.

Furthermore, Punctum Books actively contributes to the dialogues and debates surrounding open access through its participation in conferences and meetings such as the Library Publishing Forum, the biennial Radical OA conference, the Charleston Library Conference, and the annual OASPA conference, among other venues.

Open Source

Punctum Books believes that open access publishing will be unviable and unsustainable as a long-term solution for the democratization of scholarly publishing without robust open infrastuctures, built on open source software, facilitating not merely the freedom to read but also the freedom to author, edit, and publish.4

In 2018, we joined the Editoria community established by the Coko Foundation, actively participating in community meetings and beta-testing of their book-production software. Editoria is an open source publishing tool, combining the functionality of a collaborative editorial environment with the harnessing of in-browser PDF, XML, and EPUB creation through CSS templates. In the medium to long term, Editoria will allow Punctum Books to divest (at least in part) from proprietary software packages such as Adobe’s Creative Suite of products, which includes InDesign and Illustrator.

In November 2019, we made a further step in our transition to open infrastructure by partnering with Cloud68, an open source cloud service company located in Tirana, Albania. As a result, a large part of our production pipeline and internal management, communications, and administration systems now run on open source software managed by Cloud68.

The start of the COPIM, also in November 2019, signals a further step in our transition to open source, as key components of the project envision the development of open source solutions for workflow components such as metadata storage, management, and export.5

Digital Preservation

Up to 2019, downloads of open access PDFs were routed through the Dropbox account of Punctum Books, with download metrics provided by a Wordpress plugin. As part of its pledge to divest from proprietary platforms and in order to better facilitate the long-term archiving of our digital publications, receive higher-quality metrics, and expand its reach, Punctum Books joined the OAPEN repository in March 2019. All downloads from our website, except the journal issues, are now routed directly to OAPEN. Journal issues are stored on our own NextCloud, and some journals published by Punctum, such as Dotawo, host their journal additionally in online repositories such as the California Digital Library.

Collaboration with University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library

Since 2017, Punctum Books has been collaborating with UCSB Library. In the winter and spring terms of 2017, 2018, and 2019, Punctum directed, in collaboration with English professors, undergraduate students from a wide variety of disciplines, and librarians, the Arnhold-Punctum Publishing Lab, funded by the Arnhold Research Grant for Undergraduate Education. Over the course of two terms, groups of students were trained by Punctum co-directors Eileen and Vincent in the nuts and bolts of making open access books, from copyediting to typesetting to cover design to metadata management. The students worked on actual Punctum book titles, thereby gaining a hands-on experience with scholarly publishing. The students also received tutorials on the history of open access, the state of the field of academic publishing, intellectual property and copyright, design theory, and the history of the book, among other subjects related to academic publishing.

Since 2019, Punctum has been engaged in a pilot partnership with UCSB Library, in order to develop a non-author-facing fees open access book publishing model that privileges cooperative expertise and knowledge sharing between librarians, knowledge managers, publishers, and scholar-researchers. More specifically, UCSB Library and Punctum are working together to:

  • streamline and optimize Punctum’s publishing workflows;

  • develop “best practices” technical infrastructure for Punctum’s digital catalogue;

  • re-engineer Punctum’s website to support ADA compliance, ensure stronger privacy protections for users, and enable better technical efficiencies;

  • launch a Supporting Library Membership Program to sustain Punctum’s operations (consortial funding model: see below); and

  • share expertise and resources (technical, staffing, and otherwise) in order to better support open access books in the Humanities & Social Sciences, while also testing out a new library publishing model.

As part of this pilot partnership, UCSB Library joined Punctum Books as one of the primary partners in the COPIM project mentioned above.

Supporting Library Membership Program

In 2019, Punctum launched, with the assistance of UCSB Library, its Supporting Library Membership Program, in which university libraries can choose to support Punctum on a revolving annual basis, for which they not only get specific things that are highly meaningful to libraries (such as MARC, ONIX, and other records, usage stats, cross-referenced metadata, and the like), but they also help support the operations of a press that shares values with the research library community and wants to work in direct relationship with librarians and other knowledge workers in order to ensure its catalog is fully legible and integrated into universal research systems valued by librarians and other research-intensive organizations, including repositories and digital learning environments. At the same time, we also want to ensure our books’ availabibility to a global readership without economic or other barriers to either authors or readers. Therefore, Punctum does not charge mandatory author-facing fees, known as Book Processing Charges, as we feel those exacerbate already entrenched inequities in the academic publishing landscape. In supporting Punctum, libraries also invest in a more diverse, scholar-led, community-owned, and not-for-profit publishing ecosystem that we believe is crucial for the cultivation of more creative and diverse modes and forms of scholarship and their open dissemination and preservation as public knowledge. Libraries can also be assured that they are investing in a press that has established its role as a transformative actor in the scholarly communications landscape, as well as its economic and operational sustainability and integrity. Finally, the Supporting Library Membership Program adopts a consortial funding model whereby small annual contributions sourced from a network of libraries across the world form a robust revenue pool that enables an extremely cost-effective method for funding Open Access in which no single institution bears a disproportionate cost, and each institution determines for itself what is an appropriate level of support.

Punctum Books has currently 16 academic library partners through the Supporting Library Membership Program, and we are aiming to have 200 library members by the end of 2021. Library support, consortially sourced, is critical to Punctum’s sustainability over the long term.

Sales and Financials

Punctum Books sells paperback bound hardcopies of its publications mainly through Amazon and its Kindle Digital Publishing platform (KDP, formerly CreateSpace), which services Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es, Amazon.it, Amazon.co.jp, and Amazon.ca. Through KDP’s Expanded Distribution, our books are available to booksellers around the globe.

Owing to the merger of CreateSpace with KDP and the frequent redesign of their backends and reporting formats, it is difficult to get consistent diachronic data of book sales. On the whole, print book sales through the various venues offered by Amazon hovers between 200–400 books per month, with peaks due to specific bestsellers.

Since January 2019, Punctum Books’s print catalogue is available through GOBI Library Solutions, one of the largest suppliers of academic print books to academic libraries. GOBI places book orders directly with Punctum and they are shipped out through the KDP platform. These orders (about 50–100 books/month) are not reflected in the graph above.

Downloads

Up until December 2015, ebook downloads from the Punctum Books website were fully open access and free to download, and for each download, there was an automated plea for an optional donation of any amount. Starting in December 2015, we experimented with a “graduated open access” model, in which for the first 6 months of publication of a given title, readers were required to make a $5 donation for the PDF download, and once the 6-month period passed, the ebook was “unlocked” and made fully open access and free to download.

This “graduated” model was phased out after March 2019, when Punctum transferred its entire catalogue of ebooks (excepting journal issues) to the OAPEN repository. As a result, our exposure to scholars and other reader groups has increased 3,139%, from on average of 138 downloads per month through our own website in 2018, to an average of 4335 downloads per month through OAPEN.

To further increase the visibility and discoverability of our catalogue, Punctum joined Project Muse in May 2019. In August 2019, our publications from 2019 were uploaded onto their platform. During 2020, Project Muse will add the remainder of our catalog.


Financial Overview

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

Since 2016, Punctum Books has seen a steady increase in income from a variety of sources. A 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 conventional bookstores. Over the last four years, we have also seen a steady increase in subventions, or Book Processing Charges (BPCs). Although Punctum Books does not impose author-facing fees, we do ask authors and editors publishing with us to investigate the possibilities of procuring BPCs through their institutions once a manuscript has been accepted for publication.6 The increase of BPCs in proportion to our other sources of income reflects the slow but growing increase in academic institutions crafting Open Access publishing policies, with money being allocated for open monograph publishing.

In 2019, Punctum Books also launched its Supporting Library Membership Program (see above), with the initial incoming revenues visible in our accounting books that year. The sharp increase in revenue in that same year is the result of the disbursement of the first tranche of COPIM grant funds.

Until 2019, Punctum Books has operated annually with a relatively small net deficit. This changed in 2019, when we booked a modest net profit for the first time, as a result of both the increase in BPCs and the launch of the Supporting Library Membership Program. Most of the grant funding in 2019 was spent on hiring additional staff and diverting labor hours to the COPIM project and therefore had relatively little influence on our net profit.

Until 2019, the Punctum staff comprised co-directors Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei. They were joined in 2019 by Dan Rudmann, as Assoc. Director for Community Relations (whose salary is underwritten via grant funds). Production Costs comprise all costs necessary for the production of a title, including printing costs, image licensing, external copy-editors, and indexing. Our overhead includes items such as administration costs, office supplies and equipment, internet and cellphone usage, memberships, and marketing costs. Travel mainly comprises trips to various conferences and publishing events.

Punctum Books does not rent office space. Its staff all work remotely from home, spread across two (sometimes three) continents.

Per Title Costs

Ever since the introduction of open access, there has been considerable debate about the production costs of an open access scholarly monograph.7 A 2016 report found that small university presses (avg. 43 titles published per year) spend on average $30,000 per published digital title, justifying Book Processing Charges (BPCs) of $10,000 and upward.

Cumulative data from Open Access presses, however, show that these per-title costs may be inflated. Language Science Press, which has a highly standardized workflow and publishes only a single field of research, puts their costs per title at $4,000. Recent numbers provided by Open Book Publishers, a publisher comparable to Punctum Books, indicate a cost per title of £5,266 on average.

Financial data gathered by Punctum Books since 2016 are in the same ballpark as those provided by Language Science Press and Open Book Publishers. Following the methodology established by Open Book Publishers, we have calculated the average production cost per title (“first copy” costs) based on staff,8 overhead, and cost of goods sold minus printing costs.9 We then arrive at an average per title cost between 2016 and 2019 of $5,519.69.

Outlook for 2020

Since its foundation in 2011, Punctum Books has gone through many changes, but its foundational principle has remained the same: publicly funded knowledge should be freely publicly available, without technical or economic barriers to either authors or readers. As a publishing house led by active scholars, it has been our honor to contribute our part to making this principle reality – and we will continue to do so.

Henceforth, we plan on releasing a report much like the present one on a yearly basis, but we also wanted to provide a preview of some of the events that happened in the first half of this year.

At the beginning of 2020, Punctum Books unveiled its new visual identity, keeping the overall design of the original typewriter “P” logo while updating the typography using the Priori Sans font by Emigre Fonts.

In February 2020, Punctum Books presented its new Editorial Advisory Board, consisting of 90% new members compared to the prior board which had been in place since the establishment of Punctum Books in 2011. The new Board was designed to maximize a broad diversity of voices and intellectual backgrounds.

In March 2020, we signed an agreement with JSTOR, starting an open-access pilot with a first batch of 5 publications. The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 already has triggered a steep increase of downloads through the Project Muse platform, while visibly depressing hard-copy book sales. In the same month, Punctum Books also became a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA).

In May 2020, punctum books co-hosted the Open Publishing Fest together with the Coko Foundation.

It is our aim to produce 45–50 books this year and sustain this level for the foreseeable future. A further increase in production would risk damaging the important personal engagement with our authors and editors that has been a hallmark of our success.

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