Partnering with Societies: An Interview with Journals Director Rob Dilworth

As part of our ongoing Journals Publishing Series, we interviewed Journals Director Rob Dilworth, who discusses how Duke University Press publishes with societies. To learn more about our society partnerships, visit

What do you do at the Press?

Journals Director, Rob Dilworth

Journals Director, Rob Dilworth

I am the journals director. My responsibilities include management of the Press’ overall partnerships with the societies that sponsor some of our journals. So I’m the guy who reports to societies about how their journals are performing (for example, in terms of circulation and online usage). I also make sure we’re providing excellent services for society journals, resolve any queries that come up, and attend society conferences on behalf of the Press. I monitor my email closely and try to address questions as quickly as possible. I strive to have a great relationship with society officers and journal editors.

I started as a senior managing editor, and I’ve been at the Press since 1997. When I started in my current position, I had a good understanding of the publishing process and knew our list of journals well. But this job is quite a bit different from working on the nuts and bolts of editorial workflows.

What sort of services do societies expect and publishers can offer?

Societies are interested in someone taking care of the publishing activities; they expect that we’ll oversee the publishing of their journal from A to Z. We take care of everything—copyediting, typesetting, marketing, online hosting, printing, and customer service—so a society doesn’t have to worry about these details and can focus on other things. Building and maintaining membership lists are important, and we oversee membership renewals and record-keeping for societies.

Why should societies partner with a publisher as opposed to going it alone?

Most societies are not big enough to do every aspect of publishing well. Publishing has become very dynamic, particularly in terms of the requirements of electronic publishing. We share an ethos with societies and our mission-driven business decisions really fit well with their thinking. We’re creative and supportive in our core services, including editorial, design, production, and marketing, and we have a dedicated, enthusiastic, and qualified staff.

Tell us about the societies you work with.

The societies we partner with are membership organizations. Most societies sponsor a journal or journals and hold annual academic conferences. Some basic functions also include organizing their conferences (picking themes, collecting conference papers, and so on) and maintaining listservs. They often have scholarship funds to promote young scholars, fund different projects based closely with their research, and usually manage society websites.

What sort of societies does DUP partner with?

We partner with societies such as the American Dialect Society, the American Society for Ethnohistory, the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies, the Labor and Working-Class History Association, the Society for French Historical Studies, and the Society for Novel Studies. While these societies are unique, they’re based in the humanities and social sciences, have strong journals, and are mission-driven organizations.

What challenges do societies introduce that don’t exist for other types of publications?

We do the membership record-keeping for our societies, because a benefit of the membership is a journal subscription. This means that we have to be highly responsive to any concerns from people about their memberships, and we need to make sure that the renewal process for memberships is well designed, especially the online renewal process.

Also, the leadership groups for societies are highly interested and invested in their journals—the journal for a society is one of its primary raisons d’être. This means that a lot of attention needs to be paid to reporting to and communicating well with key society officers.

What is the relationship like between a society and its publisher?

We have good partnerships with our societies and close relationships with the editorial teams for their journals. You really develop a sense of trust and collaboration with many of the officers, who actually become friends over time. Core relationships are made between publishers and editors, and many times societies see the two as a team. We attend executive committee meetings and collaborate with journal editors to support the society.

If you are interested in learning more about society publishing at Duke University Press, contact Erich Staib, Senior Editor. Interested in learning more about journals publishing in general? Check out our series on the topic.

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