Paulson Takes Reins of UPK

By Brady Cullen

The University Press of Kansas (UPK) board of trustees, composed of provosts from each of the six Kansas Regents institutions, has appointed Tim Paulson as the new director of the University Press of Kansas. Paulson has an extensive background in publishing, having previously served as vice president for HarperCollins Christian Publishing, executive producer for marketing and distribution at Brentwood Studios, and vice president of 1517 Media.

In a Q&A, Paulson discusses his desire to raise global awareness about the beauty of the American Heartland and shares his commitment to embracing the ever-changing nature of the publishing world while fostering a creative and driven environment at UPK.

What’s your first order of business as the director of UPK?

Paulson: Well, my first priority is to learn as much as I can. Every organization is different—so is every corner of the publishing industry. This is mostly a function of my being new, but it’s also, I believe, the mindset everyone in publishing should take: publishing is a “learning environment” that constantly changes. Publishing organizations that learn well together and apply those learnings succeed. That’s what I hope for with UPK.

You have an extensive background in trade publishing; how will your experience translate to your role here as director?

I attended a university press directors’ summit my first day in this role. One director there somewhat provocatively said, “it’s all trade at this point.” What this director meant is that many sales now go through trade channels, especially Amazon, even with academic books. So, I think my experience in trade could be helpful, given the shift in academic publishing, despite my learning curve in other areas. Also, I think it’s important that university presses like UPK look at publishing more trade-oriented books. Many large trade houses are passing on publishing “smaller” books that are tremendously important and can sell well. I’m hoping we can step into that gap to do some good there. All that said, adding additional trade titles will always be in balance with UPK’s ongoing dedication to publishing high-quality scholarly titles.

Trade publishing has also underscored for me the importance of authors. It’s pretty clear in trade markets that serving authors is critical for success. “Authors first,” is the emphasis of all great trade houses. And agents never let you forget it. The publishers that care most deeply for authors and their visions get the privilege to publish the most important work. I would like to hope that that we can continue this level of focus and passion at UPK. Serving the vision of our authors is the fundamental thing we do.

Do you see your experience as a way to generate more revenue for UPK and reach new audiences? 

I’m not sure how my experience will translate exactly, but I think we as a team need to look for new ways to fund our projects and build our audiences. The healthier we are financially, the more we can do missionally.

What do you envision for the future of the UPK?

That’s hard to say. I don’t have a crystal ball, of course. I am very attracted, however, to the concept of the American Heartland, and I see UPK and Kansas as occupying a very special place in this metaphorical geography. I would like to see UPK raise awareness nationally and even globally in what makes the American Heartland special, both from a scholarly and cultural point of view. If we can make a dent in that, I’d be happy. 

How will you address supporters and instill confidence in the direction you plan to take the Press? 

I think the most important thing is to bring everyone into the conversation as to where we might go together—all the way from board members to interns. The direction we should take should be ours, not mine. I have a particular role and responsibility in the process, but we will only be successful over the long term if we do this together.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for the Press? 

The Press has tons of potential. That’s not the issue. The challenge will be to create focus and make decisions, given the breadth of options we naturally have. If we create the focus, we’ll generate the revenue we need to thrive. 

What aspects of the Press do you wish to preserve and work to further uphold? 

The Press has a wealth of assets: intellectual, relational, institutional, and human. For me, the question is more about how we help develop the potential in each of these areas.

What fundraising plans do you have in mind? 

That’s still forming in my mind, but I would like to be able to tap traditional and non-traditional sources. I think a press like UPK has more potential value to a donor than simply books, even if that’s the form the value usually takes. This will involve rethinking what the Press can do and helping potential donors see it. I look forward to working with the team on that. 

As general manager at Kalmbach Media, you specialized in science media. Do you have a particular interest in the sciences, or personal areas of interest related to publishing?

I’m interested in a lot of things. My passion will be focused on how UPK can connect its traditional strengths to new topics or subjects that we can credibly address and where there is good demand. We will, of course, publish in our esteemed core areas—US history, presidential studies, military history, political science and law, western history, and regional studies—but I think there are related ones we could also enter. In that sense, I’m pretty open, and I think my interest in both science and religion indicates that.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer someone who’s interested in publishing as a career?

That’s easy. Embrace change.