Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Academic publishing gets a close-up

A recent Publishers Weekly story highlighted some of the innovative work that many university presses are undertaking: video marketing. Slick mini-films uploaded to YouTube may be common for the latest YA sensation at the trade presses, but cameras tend not to be seen among the spires of higher education. But Oxford University Press is one of many academic publishers using videos to present scholars’ ideas in a dynamic way – and further serve the press mission of excellence in research, scholarship, and education.

video cameraOver 40 marketers from across the academic publishing division — including publicity, end-user marketing, product marketing, journals marketing, and higher education — participate in some form of video production as part of their job. While the majority of their time and resources are still spent on traditional marketing activities, and the amount each person works on varies (from one a year to a dozen), video is seen as crucial to communicating the often complex ideas inside academia. Marketers may hire an outside production team and plan an elaborate day of filming with multiple interviews, or simply sit a lexicographer down in a meeting room for a couple hours to discuss their work. Sometimes freelance editors are brought in to polish employee-filmed videos, or staff edit and polish videos in-house. Our New York office has a basic studio for DIY work. And, of course, the occasional author may produce their own video which we can edit and finalize, or simply host on our YouTube channel.


The most basic form of video we produce – and in fact the majority of videos we produce – is the author interview. Whether visiting our New York office and spending 20 minutes in the studio, or in the Long Room of Trinity College Dublin Library, authors present the ideas conveyed in their latest work. And we’re not averse to an interactive interview, especially when it means a visit to a brewery. We spoke to Garrett Oliver, editor of the Oxford Companion to Beer, at the Brooklyn Brewery, where he gave us a tour of the facilities and explained the science behind beer.

While reference works have clearly moved from print to online, our understanding of them often hasn’t. Product videos deliver clear explanations of our online reference products, what purpose they serve, and how academics can use them. Instructional videos provide a crucial guide to many of our products and services. What better way to illustrate search tricks and tips on Oxford Handbooks Online than to show it in action?

Journals offer us with a unique way of addressing current research and trends in the field — both in print and on camera. The European Heart Journal’s EHJ Today pairs editors with leaders in the field of cardiology to discuss their work and the impact it will have – whether or not it appears in the journal. These discussion videos can also bring people around a common theme. For example, Arne Kalleberg, editor of Social Forces, interviewed sociologists from around the world on inequality (the theme of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in 2013).

Both journals and our higher education textbooks generate another a unique opportunity: creating supplemental material to demonstrate ideas within the text. Chemistry³: Introducing inorganic, organic and physical chemistry, Second Edition by Andrew Burrows, John Holman, Andrew Parsons, Gwen Pilling, and Gareth Price is accompanied by over 90 videos illuminating key concepts. Scientific journal articles are often accompanied by animated models, and in some cases a live demonstration:

YouTube provides us with a chance to share conferences and webinars with people who couldn’t attend the original, whether it’s Psychtalks, an OED Symposium, or the Teaching of Public Law.

Video also presents a unique way to share our Press history, such as lexicographers explaining the process of words entering the OED, or silent films from 1925. Watch out for some interviews with our Press Archivist, Martin Maw, on the Press and the First World War later this year.

There are even videos that members of the public don’t see. When introducing new journals or textbooks, we sometimes create videos for our sales staff to better explain them. Authors or editors reveal what’s unique and can provide more information in two minutes than a packet of papers that takes 15 minutes to read.

But perhaps our favorite videos are ones that we didn’t produce. In 2012, Oxford University Press partnered with the Guardian for the Very Short Film competition. Students from across the United Kingdom competed to explain a concept in less than 60 seconds. The winner, Sally Le Page, showed how it is impossible to understand biology without evolution by natural selection in “A Very Short Film on Evolution.”


But what’s the point of all these videos? Has anyone ever sat down to watch a video and decided to buy a book immediately afterwards? Well it’s misleading to consider these videos in isolation. We never spend hours creating a video only to have it sit on YouTube for no one to see.

First off, we put a tremendous amount to time and effort into writing titles, descriptions, and tags to ensure they show up in search results – giving people basic information and a direction at the beginning of their research journey. (YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world.)

Second, we use these videos across our social media, from this blog to Facebook, Tumblr to Google Plus, and everything in between. They can provide some much needed refreshment in a sea of text and engage or re-engage readers. Social Bakers found that videos uploaded directly to Facebook see 40% higher engagement than YouTube links shared to Facebook.

But social media isn’t the only place you’ll see videos pop up. You can find them in e-newsletters, on product pages on our website, even on vendor websites, such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Our publicity team also uses video to pitch radio and television producers, demonstrating how enlightening our authors — and their ideas – are. And authors use these videos for future speaking engagements and media appearances.

But most importantly, these videos disseminate Oxford scholarship around the globe, and even help the occasional student pass their final exam.

Image credit: Camera equipment. Photo by Jakob Owens, CC0, Unsplash. Close-up shot of a lens from high-end DV camcorder. Photo by TommL, iStockphoto.

Recent Comments

  1. Fleur

    I wonder… anno 2017 video still a great marketing tool in scholarly publishing?

  2. […] university presses are including videos (which we know are more popular and engaging for users) to help communicate complex ideas and dispel the preconception that their publications are not […]

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