Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Challenges to the University Press

From the Chicago Tribune:
Publishers had barely caught their breath at the loss of those two sizable revenue streams when the e-book tsunami hit. By 2008, large publishers had made major investments toward digital conversion.

Many new titles now appear in print and e-book formats, but smaller presses still struggle to go digital, a move demanded by the market. Apart from the University of Chicago Press, where digital sales are expected to yield 16 percent in revenue this year, all other presses remain well below 10 percent, with Harvard at 6 percent.

Morris Philipson, the esteemed director of the University of Chicago Press from 1967 to 2000, coined a classic characterization of university publishing. Philipson, who died in 2011, once said, "If I were in this business as a business, I wouldn't be in this business."

It's love of books, not profit maximization, that motivates university publishers and editors. "The caliber of the books we publish gives me the greatest satisfaction," says Harvard's Sisler. "It's all about the books. We don't publish ephemera."

Given the challenges, directors have succeeded in keeping bankruptcy at bay. Collectively, presses even managed to post a 10 percent sales growth over the past decade, Armato said.

Shifting conditions have forced directors to be more nimble and innovative. Peter Berkery, the association's new executive director who formerly was with Oxford University Press, describes today's directors as "130 scrappy entrepreneurs."

The University of Chicago Press, the nation's largest academic press, runs in the black, a rare distinction owing to profitable journals and a distribution division for other publishers. Garrett Kiely, press director, says its 400 yearly titles and 50 journals generate $40 million in revenue.

Across the industry, academic presses have crafted a host of new strategies to meet the changing landscape of books. To replace lost monograph and journal sales, presses now rely on more paperbound and e-book offerings, an increased emphasis on reprinting all or some of their backlist (Harvard's backlist accounts for two-thirds of its sales) and doubling or tripling prices on more specialized, hardbound editions.

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