Recently, a spate of articles appeared surrounding the future of the university press. Many of these, of course, focused on the roles institutional library sales, e-books, and shifting concerns around tenure play in determining the strictures and limitations to be overcome as scholarly publishing moves forward in an increasingly digital age. Last week, Book Business published an profile on what goes on behind the scenes as discussions about these issues shape, abet, and occasionally undermine the relationships between the university press, its supporting institution, its constituents, and the consumers and scholars for whom it markets its books. Including commentary from directors at the University of North Carolina Press, the University of California Press, and Johns Hopkins University Press, the piece also included a conversation with our own director, Garrett Kiely:
From Dan Eldridge’s “The State of the University Presses” at Book Business:
Talk to University of Chicago Press director Garrett Kiely, who also sits on the board of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), and he’ll tell you that many of the presses that are struggling today — financially or otherwise — are dealing with the same sort of headaches being suffered by their colleagues in the commercial world. And yet there is one major difference: “The commercial imperative,” says Kiely, “has never been a requirement for many of these [university] presses.”
Historically, Kiely explains, an understanding has existed between university presses and their affiliated schools that the presses are publishing primarily to disseminate scholarly information. That’s a valuable service, you might say, that feeds the public good, regardless of profit. “But at the same time,” he adds, “as everything gets tight [regarding] the universities and the amount of money they spend on supporting their presses, those things get looked at very carefully.”
As a result, Kiely says, there’s an increasingly strong push today to align the interests of a press with its university. At the University of Chicago, for instance, both the institution and its press are well known for their strong sociology offerings. But because more and more library budgets today are going toward the scientific fields, a catalog filled with even the strongest of humanities titles isn’t necessarily the best thing for a press’ bottom line.
The shift to the digital, in particular, was a pivot point for much of Kiely’s discussion, which went on to consider some of the more successful—as well as awkward—endeavors embraced by the press as part of a publishing culture blatantly faced with the need to experiment via new modalities in order to meet the interlinked demands of expanding scholarship and changing technology. Today, the formerly comfortable terrain once tackled by academic publishing is ever-changing, and with an increasing rapidity, which as the article asserts, may leave “more questions than answers.” As Kiely put it:
“I think the speed with which new ideas can be tested, and either pursued or abandoned is very different than it was five years ago. . . . We’ve found you can very quickly go down the rabbit hole. And then you start wondering, ‘Is there a market for this? Is this really the way we should be going?'”
To read more from “The State of the University Press,” click here.