Book Signing by Dr. Joseph Congeni

Dr. Joseph Congeni recently published his book Cleveland’s Bitter Pill: A Diagnosis of Injured Title Dreams and Die-Hard fans with the University of Akron Press.  He will be doing a book signing at The University of Akron Student Union Bookstore on Thursday, November 5.

The book, which is a commentary on the resilience of Cleveland sports fans and the misery and heartbreak of Cleveland sports as told through injury and set-backs, is a provocative and informative read that sports enthusiasts would love. The book covers over fifty incidents of heartbreak, highlighting the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Browns, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Can’t wait to see you there!


States’ Rights and Wrongs: Obamacare and Gay Rights.

Union and States’ Rights…delivers a rare treat for American historians: thoughtful considerations on the abstruse but important ideas of interposition, nullification, and secession by leading constitutional scholars. Any historian who would like to have a thoughtful answer for the perennial student questions relating to states’ rights and southern history—Was secession constitutional in 1861? Is nullification legal today? What did the Founders think of interposition? and so on—will do well to consult Union and States’ Rights. Every essay brings forth interesting observations, startling facts, and greater understanding of the three states’ rights ghosts that have haunted the Union since 1787.

From The Journal of Southern History, Volume LXXXI, No. 1, February 2015.

Say Goodbye to the Cleveland Sport’s Curse

congeni03-01Now that the Cavs are in the NBA finals, will a championship come to town? It’s been a long drought since the Browns won it all in 1964. A first-class postage stamp cost five cents then, but who mails letters these days anyway. And the local pay phone call went for ten cents. But Superman can’t even find a phone booth anymore. And the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. Ancient history.

That’s how long it has been. But maybe, just maybe, Euclid Avenue will be filled with Clevelanders watching LeBron James and his teammates parade downtown as NBA champions. If you don’t know how heartbreaking Cleveland sports fans have had it, you have to read this and weep.

The Holidays are Here and I

The holidays are here and I’ve put together a little list of the gifts that most university press directors might want. I’m not sure if all of these items are readily available, but maybe some innovator will find the time to manufacture them.  Or perhaps, the Association of American University Presses will create a new research division to prototype and license some of them. After all, we need some new ideas every day!

  1. The End All and Be All Nano-Editor. This magnificent organism bonds with manuscripts submitted by scholars, a few of whom can write, and automatically digests the content, re-animates it into understandable chunks, and outputs the content into digital streams readable on all e-book platforms.  Or as one intern who worked at The University of Akron Press said – “I didn’t know you had to correct so many things from professors.”
  2. The Administrative Artificial Intelligence Robotron – A full-fledged, economically priced, artificially intelligent android that can answer questions like
    1. “So what do you do at the university press?”
    2. “Is this where I call to gripe about my professor?’
    3.  “Why don’t you publish books that sell?”
    4. “People still read?”
  3. The Full Body Proposal Scanner. A device that detects inane proposal before they can enter the front door of the Press. Depending on the specific technology, the scanner can turn away proposals from authors who
    1. have discovered a numerical pattern in the bible that foretells world destruction;
    2. have found a new set of micro-elements that a friend detected while drinking his seventh latte at Starbucks; and
    3. have uncovered a box containing letters from a twelfth-century mystic that debunks all of word history
  4. The Crown of Design Sense and Sensibility.  A remarkable product, based on galvanic principles, that, when placed on an author’s head, eliminates all interest in book design including dispelling the notion that a snapshot of the author with his or her parent’s at Machu Picchu is perfect for a monograph that deals with American elections.
  5. The Editorial Board Buzzer Beater. A small instrument that sends powerful waves to the brain’s pleasure center, and is especially useful in situations when one board member has objections to a project because he/she wants to play devil’s advocate, or she/he doesn’t like the spelling of the author’s first name.  The device needs to be used carefully because it could cause perpetual joy.

Of course we all need more money, but that will be under the next year’s budget tree.

Happy Holidays

University Presses: As Different as Their Books

Recently, the University of North Carolina Press was awarded a $250,000 grant from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to address challenges brought about by the digital transformation in publishing. The Trust located in Chapel Hill, NC has long been a supporter of UNC. The Press hopes the grant will allow them, in part, to develop sustainable models for university presses within the digital environment. For many small presses, $250,000 could enable them to run their operations for a few years.

As a press director of one of those very small university presses, I am fully aware of the continuous search for business models that are intended to fix the decline in scholarly books sales. I also know that the idea is pretty fruitless. Presses’ existences have been questioned since they started to crop at institutions of higher learning. The joke still goes around that university presses publish books that most people don’t read. In 1895 when the Ladies’ Home Journal released Five Thousand Books: An Easy Guide to the Best Books in Every Department of Reading, not one university press was listed under the respective publishers.  Popularity has never driven the university press world. Content has.

University presses, as other organizations that are built to be experts in particular areas, are facing a world in which content is being selected and valued differently. The rise of social sites has allowed individuals, who might not have the necessary credentials to define the value of movies, music, books, etc. This trend is not necessarily destructive, but when coupled with instant dissemination, opinions can be generated in vapid or speculative ways.  Once made public, those opinions are hard to eradicate.

Computer metaphysics also enforces black or white responses. Binary after all is a matter of off and on; zero or one; yes or no. Math and science, with their concrete answers, have risen above the humanities vague or fuzzy constructs. We do not place as much value on intuition or old wives’ tales. The digital revolution has given us a common language that excludes the outlier. The publication lists of university presses tend to suffer in this ecosystem

Studying the problem the UNC way is of some value, but statistical outcomes are not terrifically useful on a per-decision basis. Longshots beat favorites at the track and in the business world, too. That is, the conditions that might make UNC solutions viable for UNC Press might and probably won’t work for the University of Akron Press. The sample universes in which we exist are totally different making statistical outcomes less valid across the university press universe.

I’ll be happy to read the report that comes from UNC’s initiative, but I’d rather bet on the 30-1 sleeper in the eight race and also rely on intuition. For the University of Akron Press to remain relevant, we’ll need to:

  1. Incorporate the Press’s experience into online course development;
  2. Work to publish open-access textbooks;
  3. Find projects that represent the history and culture of Northeast Ohio;
  4. Offer traditional and e-books whenever possible and;
  5. Remember that better content equals better products.

Results speak louder than reports.