During our SWOT mastermind discussion in Philadelphia, we shared common industry issues that challenge how we operate a university press. The Strengths of the SWOT analysis centered on peer review, curation, and scholarship, as well as data handling and project management.

The Weaknesses and Threats, outlined below, seemed manageable. Many of us have been dealing with them for years. On the other hand—and perhaps surprisingly—the Opportunities for innovation and new offerings are plentiful. Leveraging university press strengths to create training materials, continuing education, and internet publishing stands out for me. For example, the collaborative nature of the university press industry means that there are many opportunities to monetize open-access free content such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) through value additions. In other words, something akin to the “freemium” model.

You can find the list from our industry SWOT mastermind discussion below:


  • Peer review of scholarship
  • Acquisition of content
  • Curating university publishing—quality control
  • Project management and teamwork
  • Content development
  • University branding
    • Alignment with university mission
    • Outreach of university-branded content to communities
  • Passion for scholarship—advancing the careers of scholars and developing their credentials
  • Flexible business model exploration—a willingness to explore new ways to deliver content to stakeholders
  • Niche market ownership
  • High-quality design and production
  • Qualitative data analysis
  • Data management


  • Underfunded
  • Understaffed
  • Limited market reaches outside of established areas
  • Niche markets
  • Little to no economy of scale benefits—don’t see unit-cost declines or distribution expansion like larger book markets
  • Hamstrung on projects by host institution
  • Limited marketing budgets for internet publishing


  • Agencies willing to fund specific initiatives
    • Digital publishing
    • Shared infrastructure
  • Collaborative ecosystems—presses, libraries, universities, scholars, etc.
  • International growth for books and other content
    • Opening of closed distribution systems
  • Educational materials
    • High-level credentials and research-enhanced
    • Teaching teachers
  • Training materials
  • Continuing Education Credits
  • Affordable textbooks movement
    • Become part of mandated system of university and legislation to provide free textbooks
    • An unfunded mandate
    • Opportunity to bundle textbooks with tuition, like certain medical schools are doing
  • New audiences
  • Sell our publishing skillset to university departments as a service provider
  • Aligning press with host university strengths
  • Internet publishing
  • Restructure education organizations and accreditation to create new formats and business models
  • Fundraising for initiatives from donations and grants
  • Monetize non-sale content
  • Open Access—processing collaboration to add value for free content


  • Best-selling authors go to commercial publishers
  • Piracy
  • Amazon
  • Role of scholars among consumers is decreasing while among scholars it’s increasing
  • Library budgets shifting away from books and journals
  • Confusion about library versus press publishing roles
  • State budget cuts
  • Internet publishing—if we do nothing
  • Open Access
    • Decrease of backlist revenue
    • Revenue challenge

Now that you have an industry SWOT overview, I encourage you to have a SWOT discussion with your team. You can encourage positive change by guiding the discussion more toward your Strengths and Opportunities than your Weaknesses and Threats. The integration effect and the mutual progress toward your goals are well worth the time investment. I use this tool as a precursor to business planning processes in private industry.

I believe in the university press industry in its mission to share quality knowledge and scholarship. In the spirit of collaboration, I invite you to have a free 30-minute discussion with me to help achieve your goals and progress your mission.  We might discuss

  • Feedback on the SWOT for your press
  • Ways to move forward on opportunities
  • Staying unstuck while you innovate
  • How industry research applies to your press
  • The next steps or the plan for your press
  • Business therapy anyone? Just kidding.
  • Other?

Send me an email at john@pioneerbusinessventures.com and let me know a couple of times when you’re free—or use my online schedule by clicking here. Thank you for choosing me as your facilitator. Here’s to planning for your success,



John J. McAdam is the author of The One-Hour Business Plan (Wiley), an instructor in Strategic Business Planning at The Wharton Small Business Development Center, an association workshop speaker, and business advisor. For more information, visit www.pioneerbusinessventures.com