The business model of punctum books. Last updated February 2022.
punctum books was founded in 2011 in Brooklyn, USA by Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy and Nicola Masciandaro as an open access publisher “dedicated to radically creative modes of intellectual inquiry and writing across a whimsical para-humanities assemblage (in which assemblage you will find humanists keeping rowdy and thought-provoking company with social scientists, scientists, multi/media specialists, artists, architects, and designers).” Since the beginning, punctum established itself as press fostering new lines of inquiry, cross-disciplinary research, and experimental modes of knowledge production.
By printing books print-on-demand, the press was able to be established without external funding, having no office space, minimal overhead, and with the founders working academic jobs to cover expenses. Initially, much of the press’s operations were based on volunteer labor. Thanks to book sales, donations, author contributions, and more recently support from academic libraries, punctum has been able to grow over the years into a flourishing publishing operation, currently incorporated as a public benefit corporation in California. It is at present headed by scholars Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei. Our recently updated vision statement gives our outlook as publisher.
punctum books is led by its two co-directors, Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei. There is an Executive Advisory Board that is consulted on business matters and an Editorial Advisory Board involved in the manuscript review process. A Library Advisory Board helps punctum improve its library program and services to academic libraries.
Besides the two co-directors, who supervise financial & business administration, acquisition, copyediting, typesetting, and proofing, there are two associate editors involved in copyediting on a freelance basis, as well as an associate director for library outreach.
punctum produces between 30 and 40 monographs and edited collections per year. In 2020, punctum published 36 titles.
punctum books has a two-stage peer review process. Manuscripts are solicited each year between May and August, after which they are first reviewed by the two directors, both holding multiple graduate degrees in the humanities and arts and actively publishing scholars. After this first level of peer review, manuscripts are sent to reviewers selected from the Editorial Advisory Board or externally, taking into account the nature of the publication and the author’s preferences. The peer review process is blind or open, depending on preferences of the author and reviewer, and is tailored toward improving the manuscript toward publication.
A secondary publication route is offered through one of the imprints housed by punctum books. Imprints are run by independent editors with separate editorial boards and peer review procedures.
Print books are distributed online via Amazon’s KDP platform to all large online retailers. YBP Library Services distributes our books to academic libraries, while Faherty Books & Associates facilitate distribution to bookstores along the US West Coast. Open access PDFs are available through OAPEN/DOAB, JSTOR, and Project MUSE.
The usage data of punctum books are publicly available online, showing downloads and book sales split out per platform, listed per month and per publication.
Below are the most recent data on book sales and downloads per month. Individual spikes in book sales may be attributed to particularly successful releases, while the dip in spring 2020 was caused by Amazon changing its algorithm during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we joined Project MUSE and JSTOR in late 2019 and early 2020 respectively, downloads have increased considerably.
KJ Cerankowski, Suture: Trauma and Trans Becoming (2021): Winner 2021 Queer Indie Awards (Nonfiction).
Julietta Singh, No Archive Will Restore You (2019): Finalist for a 2019 Lambda Literary Award (Bisexual Nonfiction) and a 2019 Firecracker Award (Creative Nonfiction).
Jonathan Alexander, Creep: A Life, A Theory, An Apology (2017): Finalist for a 2018 Literary Lambda Award (Gay Memoir).
Michael D. Snediker, The Apartment of Tragic Appliances (2013): Finalist for a 2013 Literary Lambda Award (Gay Poetry).
punctum books is committed to being a constructive member of the open-access scholarly publishing community. As such, it is member of OASPA and founding member of ScholarLed, and one of the participants in the COPIM project.
punctum books makes it publications available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license, without embargo and without mandatory author-facing fees. In common parlance, this is known as Diamond Open Access. punctum books, however, remains critical of the discourse around open access and its cooptation by large commercial publishing conglomerates as alternative profit generating model. We prefer the term “public access.”
The details below are taken from the punctum books Financial and Activity Report 2020. punctum books publicly reports on its finances and activities each spring over the previous book year.
Since its incorporation as public benefit corporation in 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. An important driver behind our growth has been the establishment of our Supporting Library Membership Program which continues to expand. Grant disbursements such as the COPIM grant have significantly added to our income, although nearly all of those funds are spent directly on staff hired within the project, therefore doing little to affect our bottom line. Furthermore, our website allows visitors to make donations, and institutionally affiliated authors are sometimes able to secure subventions to cover part of the book production.
Costs are split out in staff, taxes, overhead, travel, and production costs (Costs of Goods Sold, including printing and distribution). Note that the large tax expenditure in 2020 covered the period 2016–2020. punctum books pays out no royalties to its authors, since only a small number of publications generate enough revenue to cover their entire production costs (hence the need for donations and library support), though we are developing other ways in which authors can be supported (see below).
We have given an overview of punctum’s average per title cost in our 2016–2019 Financial and Activity Report: The average per title cost between 2016 and 2019 was $5,519.69, which is comparable to the costs calculated independently by Language Science Press ($4,000) and Open Book Publishers (£5,266).
In our experience, different books can have significantly different production paths depending on the type of book, its language, amount of images, single or multiple authors/editors, academic position of the scholar, funding requirements, external designers, and so on. There is no such thing as a “typical” punctum book. punctum is an author-centered press, and as such tries to accommodate, as much as possible, the wishes of the authors during the production process. Furthermore, since directors and editors often fulfill multiple and changing roles per book, and we refuse to impose time-tracking on ourselves or our staff, we have no specific data on “average” copyediting or “average” typesetting times.
It is our expectation that the punctum books will continue to modestly grow over the coming years as our Supporting Library Membership Program expands. Despite the fact that academic library budgets are continually under pressure and we see larger publishers entering the same market, we believe that the unique profile of our scholar- and queer-led press, together with its well-curated catalog, will continue to attract library support. At the same time, we will be continuing to expand the distribution of physical copies of our publications to bookstores via book distributors.
The additional income generated through these avenues will allow us to improve one of the major painpoints of our operation, the lack of financial remuneration for our authors. Traditionally, academic authors are expected to write their work pro bono as part of their work for the university. With an increasing number of our authors in adjunct or precarious positions, this is no longer a viable modus operandi. At the same time, a royalties system does not necessarily reward the authors who need support the most, while also being a relatively high administrative burden to the publisher. So instead we are planning to pilot in 2023 a grant system providing junior, adjunct, and precarious scholars to write and publish their first monograph.