In 2021, punctum books celebrated its milestone 10th anniversary. Beginning on April Fool’s Day 2011, when plans for the press were sketched out in a conversation among friends in an apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn — who were all wondering out loud, “Yes, I know the sorts of books I am supposed to write to get tenure, but what about the books I really want to write, and what about everyone who isn’t an official academic who wants to do intellectual work?” — and extending to where we are now, with floating offices in the US and Europe (official residence: the central Californian coast), punctum remains committed to publishing work that
shifts the paradigm in established disciplines;
helps to create emerging transdisciplinary fields; and
plays in the fields of creatively speculative thought.
In light of our reflections in 2021 upon this founding event, especially relative to our catalogue and our mission, we drafted a new Vision Statement that we released in January of this year:
Our commitment to open, public, and egalitarian access will never waver, even while the economic conditions for such are always precarious, and we are proud to say that we have been working hard, alongside other partners in the US, UK, and Europe, to create better infrastructure for the sustainability of open access book publishing worldwide.
We continued in 2021 to be leaders, for example, on the COPIM project, Community-led Open Publishing Infrastructures for Monographs (funded for 3 years by the UK government and the Arcadia Fund), helping to develop open infrastructures for metadata management, community governance, and economic solutions (you can see all of the open documentation of the COPIM project here). We continued in 2021 to also collaborate with other organizations (such as ScholarLed, Knowledge Futures Group, and the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association, among others) to further the venture of open access publishing around the world.
So, for us, 2021 was a year of reflection, catching up, and looking forward. After the year 2020, which saw a deadly pandemic envelop the world, locking our team in their respective residencies and posing certain well-being challenges as a result (both physical and mental), 2021, although still under the very dark shadow of Covid-19, allowed us to improve our operations in a variety of ways.
For example, we looked at our catalogue and sketched out areas we want to continue strengthening or ignite, among them feminist studies (for which we have a new imprint, MAI: Feminism and Culture), film studies, critical pedagogy studies (see below our imprint established in 2021, Risking Education), critical race studies, environmental studies, transqueer studies, economic studies, and critical digital humanities studies. We also decided in 2021 that we wanted to place an emphasis on soliciting work from female-identified, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and differently abled authors (with a special emphasis on trans authors). We are doing the same for 2022.
In 2021, we saw our team expand with Meredith North working on library outreach, Livy Snyder working on library outreach and social media outreach, and a new intern, Emma Regeni. In late 2021, when punctum co-director Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei was finally able to get into the US (early November), he was happily reunited with punctum co-director Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy at the punctum Pacific offices for four months, where they were able to start strategic planning for the next decade of punctum books, as well as walk along the beach together. At punctum, we believe in our floating offices, geo-located around the world (Chicago, Berlin, Brighton, The Hague, Tirana, Pittsburgh, Turin, Hilton Head, Paris, Santa Barbara, etc.), but being with each other in person brings us great joy. We look forward to when we and our staff can all be together in one place, if only temporarily.
Taking its direction from the example of Diogenes, Risking Education seeks to disturb the complacency of education, educators, and educated people. It takes aim at the pieties of education and the conceit of the educated, suspecting that these positions are upheld by little more than habit, false promise, and the fantasy of intellectual fulfillment. The first publication under the Risking Education imprint, Daniela Cascella’s Nothing As We Need It, is expected to be published in 2022.
MAI: Feminism and Culture seeks monographs and edited volumes that take an unabashedly feminist approach to a range of visual cultures and art forms, publishing writing that is radical, subversive, and experimental in its intent and approach. MAI is interested in multivalent critique and analysis that has its basis in intersectional feminism (proponents of postfeminism need not apply), cherishing and embracing feminist solidarity, collectivity and celebration of difference, particularly where this can support and uphold the struggles of other marginalised groups.
punctum also acquired its first (monumental) book series, The Complete Works by Margaret Cavendish, to be released in 20 volumes, edited by Liza Blake (University of Toronto), Shawn Moore (Florida Southwestern State College), and Jacob Tootalian (Portland State University). Considering that both punctum co-directors have scholarly specializations in the premodern period, this book series is close to our heart, and we are looking forward to an extensive cooperation with the editors to bring the twenty volumes into the world. A complete overview of this ambitious and important project, with dozens of individual editors involved, can be found here.
In 2021, punctum books published a record number of thirty-six titles in cultural studies, film studies, classical Chinese poetry, conceptual writing, art criticism, autotheory, and the digital humanities, among many other (non-)disciplines.
punctum books is an author-centered press. In 2021 we started for the first time a “new author group,” a monthly open zoom call for authors and editors whose manuscripts were accepted for publication in 2022/23. The group has been very successful in creating a sense of community among authors living in various timezones and continents, but who share a commitment to open access publishing. Each month’s author group meeting is centered on a theme, such as self-care, obsession, time off, etc. The idea is to bring our authors and ourselves together in a conversational mode to share concerns, ideas, preoccupations, and our research in order to further our mission to create more intimate and caring relations with our authors.
Furthermore, 2021 was a banner year for punctum authors who received positive public attention for their work.
punctum books are printed on demand, which means that their production pipeline has traditionally not been tailored to the offset print book cycle, including frontlist catalogs and representation in physical bookstores. This is now going to change, as in 2021 we signed an agreement with Faherty & Associates to represent our catalog to US West Coast book vendors. Faherty will represent the the punctum catalog to book stores in the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawai‘i, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada.
We are excited that Faherty & Associates are willing to experiment with plugging our print-on-demand model into the more traditionally oriented physical bookstore market. This collaboration has already born the first fruits, and you can track bookstores carrying punctum books via our website and through the map below.
Relative to our own present financial well-being, in 2019 we initiated our Supporting Library Membership Program. Through this program, university libraries collectively fund our press through small annual commitments (that range anywhere on average from $1500 to $3000 per year, according to what each library can afford) which is a community-led model for underwriting the operations of open access presses who, together with librarians, agree to collaboratively curate and safeguard public knowledge.
For a long while now, university libraries have been on the front lines of protecting and fighting for the community-led commons against its takeover and privatization by commercial-conglomerate publishers, and punctum wants to partner with them in this fight.
We started signing up library members at a good pace in 2019, but in 2020 and a good part of 2021, because of the pandemic, our library program came, for the most part, to a halt. Librarians were working from home, facing family and other challenges, as well as health challenges, mental and physical, and with few resources to take care of anything except that which was most immediately pressing work-wise or otherwise, as was happening for so many of us, including at punctum.
Towards the middle of 2021 and into 2022, our library program picked up real steam and we now have close to 60 supporting libraries in the US, UK, Europe, and Scandinavia (our goal is to have 100 supporting libraries by the end of 2022, at which point we will be able to expand our staff). What this means is that the majority of punctum’s funding now comes and will continue to come from university libraries through our Supporting Library Membership Program directly or via Jisc (UK/Ireland) or Lyrasis (USA/Canada).
Librarians also serve on our Advisory Board where they provide us vital counsel as we steer punctum’s ship forward on the rough seas of academic publishing. In order to survive these rough seas, the lingua franca is “scaling up” (with long-term success supposedly guaranteed by scaling up higher and higher and higher which requires platform capitalism). Happily, our librarians, as we do, see the value and quality of “keeping it small.” Every book we publish is a gift from university libraries.
punctum co-director Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei has continued his tenure as board member of OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association). In this role, he is also member of the webinar subcommittee, producing and moderating publicly available webinars on Openness and Privacy and Open Book Metadata.
He also appeared in a campaign organized by the Open Access Books Network, “OA Mythbusters,” in which he addressed open access printing in a YouTube video.
Through the COPIM project, punctum books remains actively involved in the development of the open source metadata management and dissemination platform Thoth. During 2021, Thoth published numerous new releases, expanding its capabilities and output routes.
Overall 2021 saw a strong recovery from the pandemic year with print book sales continuing its steady grow with an average of close to 500 print books sold per month.
In 2021, downloads of punctum open access ebooks via OAPEN, JSTOR, and Project MUSE have averaged between 25,000 and 35,000 per month during the academic year. This trend is expected to continue through 2022.
punctum books 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.
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.
The bounce back from Covid year 2020 is clearly visible in book sales, which are back on 2019 levels. Book processing charges (which at punctum are non-obligatory), however, have only increased slightly.
On the expense side, production costs have increased due to higher copyediting costs, as both co-directors were heavily engaged with work for the COPIM project. Taxes were less, as expected, considering that in 2020 we paid taxes over the entire period from 2016.
In January, we broke through the roof for the first time, selling 1,000 print books per month, a new record that shows that even with fully open access ebooks, print is under no serious threat. Everyone loves a paper book, especially our authors!
In April, OASPA also organized a very well attended webinar “Shadow Libraries and Access to Knowledge: Origins, Policies, Legality, and Accessibility, featuring several interesting presenters including our friend Marcell Mars from Pirate Care.
In May, co-directors Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei attended the Library Publishing Forum in Pittsburgh, Van Gerven Oei represented the COPIM project with a presentation on “The Challenge of Disseminating Metadata on Library Published, Open-Access Books.”