Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


American Political Science Association 2009

APSA. When I first heard talk of it, I was amazed at how those four little letters could make even the most seasoned marketing associates quiver in fear. “How hard could it be?” I thought.

“It’s a trial by fire” I was told.

“The last day sale makes PhDs go crazy” a wise colleague warned me.

canada-ballBut despite all these daunting words, I was pre-registered, my plane ticket was purchased, my passport had been dragged out of storage, and I was off to our neighbor to the north, Canada, for the 2009 American Political Science Association annual conference. According to the APSA website, this would be the first time in its 105 years, the annual meeting occurred outside the United States. “The migration of the annual meeting to an international location is symbolic of the multiplicity of ways in which politics is in motion as well as our discipline,” was the official statement.

Most attendees were just worried about using different currency, making it through customs, and the effect the recession would have on attendance. Once a helpful convenience store employee showed me the trick to telling apart the “loonie and the twoonie” I didn’t have any problems. (Hint, the “twoonie” or two dollar coin is two colors, gold and silver, whereas the “loonie” or one dollar coin is all one shade…and has birds on it. Now you, too, are ready to travel in Toronto!) Attendance was as strong as ever, with conference organizers estimating the total number of pre-registered attendees at around 8,000.

And we felt it. From the time our booth opened at 9:30am, right through to the final receptions which often didn’t wrap up until 11 at night Cambridge University Press was in high demand. We held down a 6-booth, 15-table swath this year that showcased many of our award-winning political science books. Our textbook table was constantly a-swarm with professors eagerly seeking exam copies and despite the 5% GST we were required to charge for sales, books didn’t stick around long on our other shelves either.

In particularly high demand were Mobilizing for Human Rights, by Beth A. Simmons; Public Philosophy in a New Key Vol. 1, by James Tully; and Why Dominant Parties Lose, by Kenneth F. Greene. (It never hurts when authors make an appearance live and in person!) Also in particularly high demand were our hard-working acquisitions editors. I don’t think half an hour went by at this conference that I didn’t have some hopeful future author looking to submit a proposal. By Saturday morning I was on the verge of making myself a sign reading “I don’t sign books, I just market them.”

Of course, by late Saturday afternoon thoughts in the exhibit hall had turned from the future of publishing to the books physically on hand. Savvy APSA attendees are well aware that publishers don’t want to ship all of those heavy books home, and certain other publishers let the fire-sale-cat out of the proverbial bag early by starting their sales at noon on Saturday (You know who you are, fellow publishers). The Sunday of APSA is notoriously a free-for-all sale day for bargain-hunting dissertation-writing grad students. But with the exhibit being open only two hours this year, many were headed home Saturday night in an effort to be even more frugal. Add to that the fact that grad student attendance in general was down. We were worried the sale wouldn’t be as popular as past years, but we resolutely held out – no special deals until 9:30am Sunday. After all, we’ve been around 425 years; we have to have some respect for tradition.

Not to worry, the sale was pretty much exactly as crazy as promised. There are many moments where I look at the high-level super-academic books I work on and think “what a bizarre life – to work on such a niche product that, even at its absolute most successful will only ever have small audiences.” Working at APSA forced me challenge this assumption. It’s downright fulfilling to stare down a crowd of impatient faces who just can’t possibly wait a second longer to get their hands on that absolute perfect book. Neoliberalism in Latin America, for example, might not have appeal for everyone, but a book on it made at least one person extremely happy this past weekend.

That, ultimately, to me, is what APSA and all the conferences we attend are really all about. There are so few moments when I really get to interact with the people who actually purchase our product. How can I possibly market books to them, when I don’t know who they are? So now I have to say thank you to APSA and Cambridge for not only making me a classy international business traveler, rolly bag and all, but also for giving me the chance this past weekend to look literally thousands of people in the eyes and say “Thank you, enjoy your reading!”

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