2022 has been a banner year for punctum books, with many new partnerships and a new imprint, as well as an archival/restoration book series developed in 2022 and launched this year, called Special Collections. Revolving contributions from libraries have expanded significantly, allowing us to hire one additional full-time staff member and one half-time staff member that will be expanded into a full-time position by the end of 2023.
Usage of our ebooks has grown exponentially in 2022, partly due to our increasing number of partners, and the ingest of our back catalog by platforms such as JSTOR, Google Books, and the Internet Archive. OAPEN continues to be the primary repository for our titles with over 174,000 downloads alone in 2022. In addition, both of our Directors, Eileen and Vincent, have been instrumental as team leaders for the COPIM project, a 3-year £3 million grant project, funded by Research England and the Arcadia Fund, to create new infrastructures for OA books. Vincent was one of the builders of Thoth and Eileen helped to direct the team that created the Open Book Collective, two of the most exciting platforms for managing and disseminating the metadata for OA books and developing collectivity-focused approaches to sourcing funding for OA books, respectively.
Both the staff of the press as well as our catalogue continue to be uniquely diverse and inclusive, and the subject matter of our books diversifies and expands every year. In 2022, we published English translations of Chinese poetry, Turkish poetry, and Romanian philosophy, a Japanese translation of a book about the politics of contemporary art in Albania, a dual-language Albanian-English edition about artists in Albania in dialogue with local miners, Old Nubian studies (the ancient language of Sudan), and a Klingon epic (true: it’s part of our interest in what are called conlang studies). Multilingualism continues to be a core component of our catalogue. In addition, we also published work in noise studies, early medieval history, queer studies, critical animal studies, critical race theory, the history and literature of fascism, disability studies, and hybrid memoirs that combine life stories with cultural critique. We are extremely proud to have also been a partner with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in producing an exhibition catalogue of art from Korea, China, and Japan that played an important role in the trans-Pacific migration and acculturation of Asian art in the American Northwest at the turn of the 20th century. More on all of this below.
2022 saw the launch of a new OA book imprint, Tangent, directed by Sean Gurd (University of Texas at Austin), Scott McGill (Rice University), Francesca Martelli (UCLA), Nandini Pandey (Johns Hopkins University), and Athena Kirk (Cornell University). The directors of Tangent explain the aims of their book series this way:
Our aim is to support and publish strong, compelling, urgent work about antiquity that says and does something new. We are especially interested in hybrid forms that engage with antiquity via adventurous and incisive writing. Our criteria are simple: Does it speak a truth? Is its urgency palpable? Is it beautiful or disturbing or compelling? As the name implies, our interest is in work that touches on antiquity, perhaps as minimally or as lightly as a straight line touches the outer curve of a circle. And we have an equally open sense of what “antiquity” might mean. We would like to open it far beyond the temporally and geographically limited sphere known as “the Greco-Roman world” or, somewhat more expansively, “the ancient Mediterranean.” Antiquity is far wider than the disciplinary boundaries of modern “classical studies” imply. We think this geographical expansion of the classical frame can also be accompanied by a temporal opening. “Antiquity” is typically defined according to an absolute time scale (say, 1,000 BCE–400 CE) or relative to events that prioritize European values and worldviews (the Roman empire as a condition of production for Christianity). Perhaps whatever is designated “ancient” is ultimately no more or less than the product of some “now” that evokes it; engagements with antiquity are always chapters in the history of the present.
In 2022, punctum books published thirty titles in a wide array of disciplines, as mentioned above, among many other (non-)disciplines.
In 2021, we created something unique that we feel fairly confident no other press — university-based or independent — has ever done. As we have articulated more than once, the ethos of care and self-care is the heart of everything punctum does. Stemming from that ethos, in 2021 we created a discussion and knowledge exchange group to bring together all of the authors whose books were accepted that year and would be published in 2022. The idea was that punctum staff and any authors who wanted to join us would meet monthly to discuss each others’ research and writing approaches, and to also range widely with us on themes that we would choose together for each month, such as “when and how do you write?,” “what do you do when you’re not writing?,” “how do you take care of yourself?,” “what obstacles do you face in your research?,” “what have you read that surprised you and changed your mind?,” “what do you do to unwind and relax?,”and so on.
We continued the author group in 2022 with new authors but as some authors from 2021 didn’t feel like leaving, they stayed on and we are thrilled with that. The author group has proven to be so successful that friendships and collaborative projects have emerged from within and outside of the group. We think this group is important because research and writing often feels like a solitary and lonely activity and a group dedicated to sharing their research and writing activities strengthens what we’ve always known is true but is rarely acknowledged in so-called intellectual environments: research needs to be collaborative and thinking does not just arise from singular minds. Everything we think comes from other minds and we want to more proactively enable this and make this more visible.
Our books received more attention in 2022 than in previous years, and in some of the most important reviewing and award venues:
Adeline Koh and Dorothy Kim’s edited collection Alternative Historiographies of the Digital Humanities was awarded the 2022 Garfinkel Prize in Digital Humanities from the American Studies Association.
M. Sellers Johnson reviewed Morgan Meis and J.M. Tyree’s book Wonder, Horror, Mystery: Letters on Cinema and Religion in Malick, Von Trier, and Kieślowski in the New Review of Film and Television Studies.
Sasha Lleshaj reviewed Armando Lulaj and Marco Mazzi’s Broken Narrative: The Politics of Contemporary Art in Albania in ArtMargins.
In 2022 we opened our own merchandise shop at Threadless, featuring a wide range of t-shirts, stickers, buttons, and tote bags that are produced on demand.
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 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 has picked up real steam and we now have close to a 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, and to do this, we can’t publish the hundred of books a year many academic presses publish, nor do we want to. We don’t think we need a staff of more that six to seven persons to accomplish our goal of publishing 50 books per year (we’re currently at 30-40 books per year), to curate new imprints (we currently have 13), and to create new OA book archival programs, such as Special Collections, inspired by Reveal Digital, more on which below.
To reach our financial goals over the next 3 years will entail signing up roughly 30 libraries per year from 2023 to 2025 and we think this is achievable because it’s not too high of a bar given how many libraries have signed up from 2019 to 2022. And it’s a much lower target than it is for other presses with similar programs for raising funds from libraries. By way of showing the growth of our Supporting Library Program, funding raised from libraries was $40,952 in 2020, $111,649 in 2021, and $216,173 in 2022. We’ve given a lot of thought to why our library support has shown steady growth in this way, and we think that even though we are smaller and do not have traditional status, libraries support us for these reasons:
Our singularly distinctive catalogue demonstrates our commitments to diversity and inclusivity, and our curation of books that experiment with the forms and styles of academic writing, are paradigm-shifting, and concentrate on emerging fields of thought and are not welcome at many presses.
The infrastructure of our digital catalogue follows cutting-edge technical standards and best practices for dissemination and discoverability and we are partnered with many organizations and companies that libraries trust and rely upon.
Our collaboration with partners around the globe, such as with ScholarLed, COPIM, and Open Book Futures to develop community-led open infrastructures for OA books demonstrates our leadership and good citizenship in the landscape of open scholarly communications.
Our highly visible profile in the landscape of OA publishing as public advocates for non-commercial open knowledge and as social justice activists, and as a publisher that regularly makes common cause with librarians, has endeared us to a wide variety of stakeholders in the landscape of open publishing and OA librarianship.
Librarians serve on our Advisory Board where they provide us vital counsel as we develop our long-term strategic planning and, in turn, we give labor in return, such as conducting and participating in workshops and other events organized by librarians. We also ask librarians to share with us their concerns around OA book publishing.
In May, Eileen and Vincent attended the Library Publishing Forum in Pittsburgh. Vincent represented Thoth with a presentation on “The Challenge of Disseminating Metadata on Library Published, Open-Access Books.”
punctum was also heavily involved in International OA Week, with Eileen coordinating and participating in multiple events with librarians, our authors, and other scholars:
First, with Pratt Institute librarian Matthew Garklavs, Eileen arranged a virtual dialogue with Guggenheim award-winning artist and punctum author Marina Zurkow to discuss AI-generated and transformative art and how this might be affected by the landmark copyright Supreme Court case, Lynn Goldmith v. the Andy Warhol Foundation, argued in October and still awaiting a decision. A law librarian who works for the firm that represented Goldsmith in an earlier trial joined the discussion.
Eileen was invited to Indiana University Library as a keynote speaker for an OA symposium, alongside Melanie Chambliss, whose work examines how institutionalized Black archives helped to forge and fracture historical authority during the early twentieth century, and how Black archives became sites of intellectual self-determination that enabled students, scholars, writers, and artists to challenge White supremacy. Also participating on a panel about why scholars should publish OA books was Ilana Gershon, a well-known anthropologist and the editor of the punctum volume Living with Monsters.
With Lidia Uziel, AUL at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library, Eileen coordinated an online seminar focusing on Climate Justice with experts in Marine Science, Environmental Studies, Game Design, Anthropology, Filmmaking, and Data Science.
Vincent 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.
In April, Vincent helped to coordinate a very well-attended OASPA webinar, “Shadow Libraries and Access to Knowledge: Origins, Policies, Legality, and Accessibility,” featuring Arul George Scaria (National Law University Delhi), Martin Paul Eve (Birkbeck University and Crossref), Marcell Mars (Memory of the World, Pirate Care), and Balász Bodó (University of Amsterdam).
In September Vincent transitioned to the membership subcommittee, where he assists in vetting new OASPA membership applications. In that same month, when we heard about Wiley Global’s “disappearing” of over 1,300 ebooks from library databases, without any warning at the start of the fall term, Vincent and Eileen co-authored the essay, “Veritas and Copyright: The Public Library in Peril.”
Through the COPIM project (Community-Led Open Publishing Infrastructures for Monographs), punctum remains actively involved in the development of the open source metadata management and dissemination platform Thoth, as mentioned above. During 2022, Thoth was incorporated as a Community Interest Company in the UK. Vincent is one of the three founding directors, joining Rupert Gatti (Open Book Publishers) and Joe Deville (Mattering Press).
Thoth also initiated a collaboration with the Internet Archive, who, thanks to Thoth, have been automatically ingesting and archiving OA books. More information can be found on the COPIM blog here and here. The punctum catalog on the Internet Archive can also be accessed here.
In 2022, punctum also implemented the usage of open source documentation software Bookstack, which has allowed us to better, and more publicly, document our internal processes. For example, it now features our style guide, full submission requirements, as well as an ever-growing FAQ.
Overall, 2022 continued the stable sales numbers of 2021 with an average of around 500 print sales per month. In January, we broke through the roof for the first time, selling 1,000 print books per month.
In 2022, we have updated our dormant collection at Google Books and added the Internet Archive to the repositories on which our ebooks are available, besides OAPEN, JSTOR, and Project MUSE. In particular, Google Books has significantly increased the exposure of our catalog, with over 50,000 views in December, growing to more than 100,000 total views in February 2023. In addition, readers in every geographical region downloaded our books, including Africa, Asia, Australasia, Canada, China, Europe, India, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Russia, Scandanavia, South America, the US, and the UK.
Downloads & Book Views for 2022
Downloads through the Internet Archive only began in November as our partnership with them was solidified just before then.
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 2022, punctum continued to see 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 ever more conventional bookstores. After a slump in 2020 these now appear to have fully recovered, rising above 2019 levels. As detailed above, we have also seen a more than steady increase of library funding commitments.
2023 will be the end of the COPIM project, after three years of incredible productivity and multiple outputs. COPIM’s work has been extended for three more years, under the banner of Open Book Futures, funded for £5.8 million by Research England and the Arcadia Fund, and punctum is a partner. We believe this has been a highly successful project, specifically because it uniquely brings together small OA presses, open technology developers, academic researchers, and librarians across regional divides: it’s truly global. After three years as a COPIM team leader for the Open Book Collective, Eileen will be stepping back, but Vincent will continue to work on the project, specifically with Thoth, but at a lower time commitment, and thus our grant income for the next three years will decline somewhat significantly. From 2020 to 2022, our income from the grant was $425,955. The hope is that we will recuperate this loss through library funding and other income sources. On the expense side, due to hiring new staff, our production costs per book (direct and indirect) now averages at around $6,000, much lower than with most academic presses where production costs (direct and indirect) average between $15,000 to $20,000.
As regards staff, in 2022 we were able to hire one full-time staff member and one half-time person who will be moved into a full-time position at the end of 2023. We do not outsource any labor to companies who do not adequately remunerate their workers or provide good working conditions, and whose services are often lacking in quality. We think it is also worth mentioning that we hire full-time or part-time staff at the level of Associate Directors who make a more than average beginning salary of $60,000 (compared to most publishers for entry-level staff), which salary is only about $10,000 less than the salary of our two Directors, because we believe in a horizontal company structure. We provide our staff healthcare, generous time off (6 weeks and 10 holidays), and paid family/sick leave if they need it. We want to note here that library supporters have enabled us to do all of this. They have helped us, not just to publish high-quality OA books, but to create equitable and humane working conditions
In January 2023, Eileen and Vincent attended the annual conference of the Modern Language Association, one of the largest humanities conferences in the US, with a big stack of books, stickers, t-shirts, and tote bags, and we had a blast. This is the first time we were able to exhibit our books at a conference (thank you again, library supporters!). The booth was booming and bustling with readers and authors alike — it felt like a party — and by the end of the 4-day conference our books completely sold out. It was wonderful to connect, for the first time after the COVID pandemic, with so many fans and supporters and authors and fellow publishers and we will certainly go back next year! Also, the first Scholarly Communications librarian to champion and work with punctum, Sherri Barnes, ran the booth with us.
In January, punctum’s team met for the first time in person in Santa Barbara to strategize for the next 5 years and to collaborate on writing an Employee Handbook and a Code of Conduct. We have recently added an Associate Director for Production and Design, Hatim Eujayl, who was not with the press yet when we convened our retreat.
In February, and inspired by Reveal Digital, which develops OA primary source collections from under-represented 20th-century voices of dissent, crowdfunded by libraries, we launched our Special Collections archival-restoration initiative to republish, in beautifully designed 2nd edition print and OA editions, the back catalogues of historically significant, independent presses founded and run by structurally marginalized persons and groups. The first press we are collaborating with in this project is Les Figues, a lesbian feminist press situated in Los Angeles. Over the next few years, we intend to re-release their entire catalog as OA books.