James Maurer is a science and technical publishing professional and entrepreneur. Upon completion of his M.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he relocated to New York, where he took on the position of Managing Editor for Charles Scribner’s Sons 16-volume reference publication, Dictionary of Scientific Biography. At Scribner’s, Maurer also published The Album of Science series and other science reference titles.
After his move to W.H.Freeman/Scientific American, Maurer was instrumental in the launch of The Scientific American Library and a telecourse, Brain, Mind and Behavior, produced in conjunction with the Educational Broadcasting System and the Annenberg Foundation.
Following that, Maurer and a business partner from Scientific American developed a business plan and raised an initial and two subsequent rounds of funding to found Cogito Learning Media, a company that developed and published print, video, and online learning tools for the higher-education, distance-learning and professional-development markets.
Maurer has also been affiliated with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) on three separate occasions: First, in the 1990s, when, as Publisher of the association’s flagship, Communications, he led the effort to revitalize the publication and move it from a journal to a magazine format. In 2002, he returned to head the development of the new ACM Queue Magazine, with the goal of expanding the ACM’s reach into the computing practitioner community. In the interim (non-ACM) periods, Maurer helped found two other publishing companies — one in California and one in Maine, and has now come back to the ACM as the Publisher of ACM Queue (now a web only publication) and the company’s liaison to its Practitioner Board.
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Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Jim, thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.
In your early years, prior to college, what were you passionate about?
“….I grew up in Illinois where my family’s business was printing. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in a small print shop after school and on weekends and I just loved it….It turned out to be a terrific background for the career choice of publishing that I made many years later….”
What prompted you to get your MA at Chapel Hill?
“….I had both a cultural and intellectual interest in Chapel Hill, North Carolina….”
Jim can you further profile your history prior to the current role, and a defining and usable lesson you wish to share from each major event and role in your history?
“….Suffice it to say that working in these different companies, all of which had an emphasis on quality and content (but had very different ways of developing and delivering that content), gave me a deep and broad understanding about the joys and challenges that the publishing industry can offer. Certainly starting a business from scratch forced me to grapple with the economic side of the process and to understand it better as a business and an industry….”
From your long, successful history, what are some of the main challenges in publishing? Can you give specific examples?
“….Time versus quality is always a challenge….Economics in quality….Changing view of the need for trained and experienced publishing professionals….Now it’s important for publishers to take advantage of all media formats so as to deliver content in the way that the audience is set up or prefers to receive it, which could be print, audio, video or any combination of the media….Hanging onto the best standards of excellence, but at the same time not to be resistant to and to take advantage of the new models that are available now….”
What are some of your top lessons as an entrepreneur — again with specific examples?
“….If you are going to put all of the effort into starting a new business you’d better love it and be in an area that you not only know inside and out, but that you enjoy immensely because without question it’s not going to be without its challenges….The need to be realistic….Be yourself and be a good team player….Be able to adjust your vision for success….Know when it’s time to leave or at least to loosen your personal hold on the business….”
What attracted you to the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)?
“….A lot of what ACM does requires publishing skills and an interest in science, a desire and talent with working with scientists and engineers; so far it’s been a good match because those are things I like….”
How would you define the ACM?
“….In my mind, it’s a wonderful community of people that have some aspect of computing as the common denominator. ACM provides resources to researchers, academics and computing practitioners….”
You are involved with the ACM Queue. Can you get into more detail about your involvement and what the ACM Queue is?
“….ACM Queue was originally a magazine when we started it. It is now an ACM website with content targeted to practicing software engineers. The content is written by engineers for engineers, the articles focus on practical, technical problems and challenges that they may have and that challenges their readers to sharpen their own thinking….”
How will ACM Queue evolve in 2013 and beyond?
“….In 2013 I think one of our challenges is to look at ways of delivering content through channels other than a traditional article format. We know through reader feedback that video, podcasts and audio options, for example, would be a welcome addition….”
What are some notable future stories, videos and other featured articles in ACM Queue for 2013?
“….We are starting a new video interview series. Queue’s print interviews, which were called Conversations, were some of our most popular content, so we thought we might try migrating those into a video format and we’re calling them Portraits. We will be presenting 6 or so of these video portraits next year and we’ll see how well they are received….”
With growing trends such as big data, mobile computing, BYOD and Consumerization of IT, social media, cloud computing and other disruptive changes that are occurring, what disruptive changes will this drive in publishing?
“….There’s a lot to consider now when thinking about how to prepare a piece of content. As I mentioned earlier deciding what form that content should take is now a critical aspect of the publishing industry….”
What is a workable business model for publishing in 2015?
“….I wish I had a crystal ball that could provide you and me an answer to that question….I think publishers have to stay light on their feet and adapt with agility to whatever might lie around the corner….”
Do you have any thoughts on the social forces that are occurring around of the world because of the high use of technology and the availability of published content on the internet and so many formats? We have all these democratic forces around the world that are shaping the planet, and we have all these technologies that are being embedded into everything and lots of intelligence embedded into everything. Then you talk about economic forces around the world. How do all of those pieces shape us?
“….With the democratization of our approach of what can be online or what people can get out to the general public, a lot of what is published now can be published without the involvement of the professional publishing group, without peer review and so on. Where that’s going to lead us, I’m not sure….”
Jim, it’s an interesting world that we are coming into. Do you have any closing comments you want to make, on any topic of your choice?
“….I feel that ACM is definitely leading the way for not only computing professionals, but it’s associations like ACM and others that are helping publishing get its footing in this new world that you are talking about. It has changed dramatically during my career and I’m just wide-eyed for the future….”
Jim, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.
“….Thank you Stephen….”
Music by Sunny Smith Productions and Shaun O’Leary