by J J Cohen
University presses are dedicated to field changing scholarship. Unlike many commercial publishers motivated solely by maximizing profit, most university presses dedicate themselves to making the work they publish accessible to wide publics. These presses pay their staffs a living wage and enable vocations rather than gigs. They employ highly skilled editors, copyeditors, designers and publicists who create works of scholarship that are also works of art. They foster longterm relationships with their authors and are invested in their continued success. What university presses accomplish is essential to the academic world, and to an educated public. I think the recent election proved we need both now more than ever ... and yet most university presses are accomplishing what they do with dwindled institutional support.
University presses make academic careers possible. Without the University of Minnesota Press I would not have been granted tenure: they happily took my first edited collection when I had no secure job, and my first book at a time when I would have been able to place it elsewhere only by rendering it a far more traditional work. Without their continued support (this and this and this and this and this) I would not have had the career that followed. UMP has enabled me to flourish and for that I will always be grateful. When I was asked to share a link to their fundraising campaign I gladly agreed -- and if you have the resources I urge you to support them.
All university presses deserve our support, whether it is by purchasing from them the books we like, ensuring our libraries order these books, or donating directly. UMP has a special place in my heart though. Read about their drive here.
I wrote this little paean to university presses yesterday, partly to assist the University of Minnesota Press in their fundraising efforts. But I was thinking this morning about how much all of us -- academics or not -- owe these nonprofit presses and their dedicated staffs. The books they create might not sell as well as those pushed into the market by the big for-profits, but that's their strength: in a time of bottom line driven production university presses make new knowledge widely available, and push at the boundaries of fields.
It's not a perfect system. I'm perpetually astonished, for example, by the prices Oxford and Cambridge charge for their volumes, essentially locking them into major research libraries. That's the opposite of access. But presses like Minnesota, Fordham, U Penn, Penn State, Duke, Chicago (among many others) typically make works available as an archive-quality hardback (these will outlast any digital copy), an affordable paperback, and often an inexpensive digital version. The money goes to paying the staff who foster and produce these books and most of the labor occurs onsite. These presses are communities in ways that an outsource crazy, acquisitions hungry, high turnover outfit could never be (you know who I'm talking about). They also tend to maintain longterm, supportive relationships with their authors. Recently they have also been developing the most promising models for open access publishing, utilizing the kind of foundation support only nonprofits can garner -- see, for example, the new Manifold initiative at Minnesota, supported by the Mellon Foundation.
So all hail university presses. Visionaries like Richard Morrison and Douglas Armato have enabled me to have a career (that is no exaggeration), and I am grateful. My story is one of very many.