University Presses Are Thriving, Not Broken

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost an article about the state of University Presses by Derek Krissoff, Director of West Virginia University Press, that appeared in Inside Higher Ed on October 2.

A casual observer might reasonably assume that university presses are in crisis, or deserve to be. Mainstream outlets routinely proclaim that “academic publishing is broken,” and the new documentary Paywall, currently making the rounds on college campuses, argues that “academic publishers are burdening the higher education market, contributing to the rising tuition fees at all universities . . . and, ultimately, limiting science and progress.”

Whether they say it or not (and Paywall, to its credit, does), these criticisms are directed at commercial publishers of expensive STEM journals rather than not-for-profit university presses, which specialize primarily in books in humanities and social science fields. Think Elsevier vs. the University of Massachusetts Press. The big critiques that make headlines and generate documentaries don’t generally mention university presses at all, leaving many to assume that they’re part of what’s depicted as the problem of rapacious scholarly publishers.

When observers do turn to university presses, the story’s often more grim than angry. Much attention is paid to threatened press closures; less to the opening of new presses or the frequent decisions to keep open presses previously slated to shut down. (How many people know that the University of Akron Press, noisily slated for closure in 2015, not only stayed open but had a finalist for the National Book Award last year?) “Several presses have closed and almost all are struggling,” intoned Richard W. Clement in 2011, distilling a gloomy timbre that persists in many assessments of the industry.

Variously erased, posited as a problem to be solved, and assumed to be dinosaurs on their way out, university presses are in fact, in their low-key fashion, thriving. There are more of them than ever before, and they’re doing better: sales in the industry were up 5 percent last year. That growth isn’t, moreover, coming from cash-strapped libraries. Only 20 to 25 percent of university press sales are to libraries (down from 70 percent forty years ago), and at the University of California, to pick one example, only 7 percent of library budget goes to books of any kind.

As anger spreads over libraries being squeezed by STEM journals from large for-profits, university presses are growing in part by looking beyond a narrow focus on library markets and publishing for new audiences, branching out into crossover titles, supplemental texts, regional books, popular reference works, manifestos, graphic novels, and the like. It’s an entrepreneurial flourishing that engages new readers, creates new communities, and extends the reputation of those universities fortunate enough to have presses.

At the same time, widespread predictions that university presses might abandon less profitable fields and undermine the career prospects of junior scholars seem not to have panned out: 83 percent of scholarly monographs find a publisher. Presses may be publishing new sorts of books, but not at the expense of traditional ones.

Technology, meanwhile, hasn’t changed things the way its most confident champions (some of whom predicted a shift to primarily online publishing) believed to be inevitable. At most university presses 85 to 90 percent of sales continue to come from print. While ebooks aren’t the gamechanger some technophiles expected, a different shift—the ability to print books digitally—has made a huge difference, enabling presses to do small print runs responsibly. When I started in publishing twenty years ago I was told a new book required an initial print run of at least 2,000 copies to be viable. Now we can do just a few books at a time, if necessary, making it easier to continue the mission-driven publishing at our core, even when audiences are specialized.

The growth of virtual spaces for publicizing books and building communities around publishing programs has been the other seismic change made possible by the digital turn. But the results of online marketing often show up in print sales and IRL interactions (think: nicely publicized bookstore events) rather than digital downloads.

So what about open access for books? The approach has promise, particularly for some specialized titles that don’t reward the high-investment model of conventional publishing. But OA publishing costs money, just like conventional publishing—money that comes from somewhere even if it isn’t the customer. Simply changing who pays for publishing isn’t necessarily progressive and can exacerbate or reinscribe inequalities. For example, plans to have authors’ universities cover the costs of publication ($35,000 per book, according to a study from Ithaka) may limit the pool of potential authors to those employed by wealthier institutions. Limitations like these may help account for the fact that only 1 percent of new scholarly books in English are published open access.

Saying that university presses are resilient, and that their recent history is characterized by continuity more than disruption, isn’t meant to suggest they’re static. University presses have always experimented, and they’ll continue to do so; they face challenges and, like the rest of the university, respond creatively. But university presses are best positioned to make the most of current prospects if they’re seen as valuable, not broken—if proposed changes are understood as having the potential to ensure a range of complementary publishing options, including the surprisingly durable model of traditional publishing.

Derek Krissoff (@DerekKrissoff) is director at West Virginia University Press, the only university press, and largest book publisher of any kind, in West Virginia.

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Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press celebrates Independent Bookstore Day, Saturday, April 28.  Join the Party! Visit one of these participating area bookstores:

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What is Independent Bookstore Day?

Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April.  Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. But in addition to authors, live music, cupcakes, scavenger hunts, kids events, art tables, readings, barbecues, contests, and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items that you can only get on that day. Not before. Not after. Not online.

Why are we celebrating independent bookstores?

Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent.

In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism.  They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.

Celebrating Black History Month with our African American Literature titles

This week in North Philly Notes, we focus on our African American books about books in honor of Black History Month

From Slave Ship to Supermax: Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel by Patrick Elliot Alexander

In his cogent and groundbreaking book, From Slave Ship to Supermax, Patrick Elliot Alexander argues that the disciplinary logic and violence of slavery haunt depictions of the contemporary U.S. prison in late twentieth-century Black fiction. Alexander links representations of 2426_reg.gifprison life in James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk to his engagements with imprisoned intellectuals like George Jackson, who exposed historical continuities between slavery and mass incarceration. Likewise, Alexander reveals how Toni Morrison’s Beloved was informed by Angela Y. Davis’s jail writings on slavery-reminiscent practices in contemporary women’s facilities. Alexander also examines recurring associations between slave ships and prisons in Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, and connects slavery’s logic of racialized premature death to scenes of death row imprisonment in Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying.

Alexander ultimately makes the case that contemporary Black novelists depict racial terror as a centuries-spanning social control practice that structured carceral life on slave ships and slave plantations-and that mass-produces prisoners and prisoner abuse in post-Civil Rights America. These authors expand free society’s view of torment confronted and combated in the prison industrial complex, where discriminatory laws and the institutionalization of secrecy have reinstated slavery’s system of dehumanization.

Black Regions of the Imagination: African American Writers between the Nation and the World, by Eve Dunbar, a title in the American Literatures Initiative

Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes were all pressured by critics and publishers to enlighten mainstream (white) audiences about race and African American culture. Focusing on fiction and non-fiction they produced between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, Eve Dunbar’s important book, Bla2239_reg.gifck Regions of the Imagination, examines how these African American writers—who lived and traveled outside the United States—both document and re-imagine their “homegrown” racial experiences within a worldly framework.

From Hurston’s participant-observational accounts and Wright’s travel writing to Baldwin’s Another Country and Himes’ detective fiction, these writers helped develop the concept of a “region” of blackness that resists boundaries of genre and geography. Each writer represents—and signifies—blackness in new ways and within the larger context of the world. As they negotiated issues of “belonging,” these writers were more critical of social segregation in America as well as increasingly resistant to their expected roles as cultural “translators.”

Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing, by Justin Gifford, a title in the American Literatures Initiative

“Lush sex and stark violence colored Black and served up raw by a great Negro writer,” promised the cover of Run Man Run, Chester Himes’ pioneering novel in the black crime fiction tradition. In Pimping Fictions, Justin Gifford provides a hard-boiled investigation of hundreds of pulpy paperbacks written by Himes, Donald Goines, and Iceberg Slim (a.k.a. Robert Beck), among many others.

Gifford draws from an im2186_reg.gifpressive array of archival materials to provide a first-of-its-kind literary and cultural history of this distinctive genre. He evaluates the artistic and symbolic representations of pimps, sex-workers, drug dealers, and political revolutionaries in African American crime literature—characters looking to escape the racial containment of prisons and the ghetto.

Gifford also explores the struggles of these black writers in the literary marketplace, from the era of white-owned publishing houses like Holloway House—that fed books and magazines like Players to eager black readers—to the contemporary crop of African American women writers reclaiming the genre as their own.

Black Theatre: Ritual Performance in the African Diaspora, edited by Paul Carter Harrison, Victor Leo Walker II, and Gus Edwards 

Generating a new understanding of the past—as well as a vision for the future—this path-breaking volume contains essays written by playwrights, scholars, and critics that analyze African Americ1429_reg.gifan theatre as it is practiced today.

Even as they acknowledge that Black experience is not monolithic, these contributors argue provocatively and persuasively for a Black consciousness that creates a culturally specific theatre. This theatre, rooted in an African mythos, offers ritual rather than realism; it transcends the specifics of social relations, reaching toward revelation. The ritual performance that is intrinsic to Black theatre renews the community; in Paul Carter Harrison’s words, it “reveals the Form of Things Unknown” in a way that “binds, cleanses, and heals.”

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall

The extraordinary spirit of Toni Cade Bambara lives on in Savoring the Salt, a vibrant and appreciati1900_reg.gifve recollection of the work and legacy of the multi-talented, African American writer, teacher, filmmaker, and activist. Among the contributors who remember Bambara, reflect on her work, and examine its meaning today are Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Pearl Cleage, Ruby Dee, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Nikki Giovanni, Avery Gordon Audre Lorde, and Sonia Sanchez.

Admiring readers have kept Bambara’s fiction in print since her first collection of stories, Gorilla, My Love, was published in 1972. She continued to write-and her audience and reputation continued to grow-until her untimely death in 1995. Savoring the Salt includes excerpts from her published and unpublished writings, along with interviews and photos of Bambara. The mix of poets and scholars, novelists and critics, political activists, and filmmakers represented here testifies to the ongoing importance and enduring appeal of her work.

Yo’ Mama! New Raps, Toasts, Dozens, Jokes and Children’s Rhymes from Urban Black America, edited by Onwuchekwa Jemie 

Collected primarily in metropolitan New York and Philadelphia during the classic era of black “street poetry” (i.e., during the late 1960s and early 1970s) these raps, signifyings, toasts, boasts, jokes and children’s rhymes will delight general readers as 1453_reg.gifwell as scholars. Ranging from the simple rhymes that accompany children’s games to verbally inventive insults and the epic exploits of traditional characters like Shine and Stagger Lee, these texts sound the deep rivers of culture, echoing two continents. Onwuchekwa Jemie’s introductory essay situates them in a globally pan-African context and relates them to more recent forms of oral culture such as rap and spoken word.

Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation, by Trimiko Melancon, a title in the American Literatures Initiative

Unbought and Unbossed examines black women’s literary and cultural production of the 1970s and early 1980s. Considering texts in the socio-cultural and historical moments of their production, Trimiko Melancon analyzes representations of black women that not

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only transgress racial, gender, and sexual boundaries, but also diverge from both discourses of “whiteness” and constructions of female identity imposed by black nationalism.

Drawing from black feminist and critical race theories, discourses on gender and sexuality, and literary criticism, Melancon illuminates the complexity of black female identity, desire, and intimacy. She sheds light on a more complex black identity, one ungoverned by rigid politics over-determined by race, gender and sexuality, while also enabling us to better understand the black sexual revolution, contemporary cultural moments, and representations in the age of Michelle Obama.

Re-Viewing James Baldwin: Things Not Seen, edited by D. Quentin Miller, foreword by David Adams Leeming

This new collection of essays presents a critical reappraisal of James Baldwin’s work, looking beyond the commercial and critical success of some of Baldwin’s early writings such as Go Tell it on the 1463_reg.gifMountain and Notes of a Native Son. Focusing on Baldwin’s critically undervalued early works and the virtually neglected later ones, the contributors illuminate little-known aspects of this daring author’s work and highlight his accomplishments as an experimental writer. Attentive to his innovations in style and form, Things Not Seen reveals an author who continually challenged cultural norms and tackled matters of social justice, sexuality, and racial identity. As volume editor D. Quentin Miller notes, “What has been lost is a complete portrait of [Baldwin’s] tremendously rich intellectual journey that illustrates the direction of African-American thought and culture in the late twentieth century.”

African American Writing: A Literary Approach, by Werner Sollors

Werner Sollors’ African American Writing takes a fresh look at what used to be called “Negro literature.” The essays collected here, ranging in topic from Gustavus Vassa/Olaudah Equiano to LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, and in time from the Enlightenment to the Obama presidency, take a literary approach to black writing and present writers as readers and as intellectuals who were or are open to the world.
From W.E.B. Du Bois com2396_reg.gifmenting on Richard Wagner and Elvis Presley, to Zora Neale Hurston attacking Brown v. Board of Ed. in a segregationist newspaper, to Charles Chesnutt’s effigy darkened for the black heritage postage stamp, Sollors alternates between close readings and broader cultural contextualizations to delineate the various aesthetic modes and intellectual exchanges that shaped a series of striking literary works.
Readers will make often-surprising discoveries in the authors’ writing and in their encounters and dialogues with others. The essays, accompanied by Winold Reiss’s pastels, Carl Van Vechten’s photographs, and other portraits, attempt to honor this important literature’s achievement, heterogeneity, and creativity.

What Temple University Press staff wants to give and gift this holiday season

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggest the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to read and receive this holiday season. 

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

1761_reg.gifGive: Just in time for Christmas, we’ve reprinted P Is for Philadelphia, an alphabet book, beautifully illustrated by Philly school children, that celebrates everything that makes the city great. I’ll be giving it to my 7-year-old niece, Hailey, and can’t wait to read it with her.

Get: Earlier this year I read a review of The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley and have had it on my list ever since. Set in mid-1800’s Peru, it’s a combination of science fiction and fantasy, mystery and adventure. If I don’t get it, I’ll be giving it to myself!

Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager
Give: P Is for Philadelphia. Although Amazon doesn’t have copies we do!!!  And it’s fun for the whole family!

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Give: I would give We Decide!, by Michael Menser, to my son-in-law because he is very interested in politics and democracy.

Get: I would like to receive I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart because I think he is hilarious.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor 

GiveThe Cost of Being a Girl I’ve discovered while publishing this book that there are people on Twitter who search for the phrase “wage gap” just to tell anyone who happens to be talking about it that the concept is a myth – that women’s wages are lower because they have less experience on average and go into lower-paying fields.

2400_reg.gifThe irony is, this book takes that contention head-on by looking at a population where all labor is equally unqualified and low-skilled: teenage workers entering the workforce for the first time in fields like retail and food service. Even here though, Besen-Cassino shows us that male workers are fast-tracked towards management, while female workers are pegged for “aesthetic labor” and “emotional work” that pays less and takes a significant toll on the worker’s well-being. These dynamics not only reveal the biases of the workplace, but set teens on unequal tracks that continue into adulthood. And the book is really compelling reading. So I’d give this book to all those Twitter trolls.

GetLocked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform by John Pfaff.  A lot of criminologists I talk to are really excited about this book. Mass Incarceration is one of the US’s defining issues of the day, of concern across the political spectrum thanks to its disproportionate hold relative to the rest of the world, its effect on American families, and its costs. Pfaff’s contribution, undertaking a sensical review of the dauntingly hard-to-consolidate evidence, sounds like discovering a new verse to a song you thought you knew by heart.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Give:  2453_reg.gifI’d give a copy of Tommy Curry’s The Man-Not to aid in understanding the stereotypes (and oppression) of black men.

Get: I’ve already received my holiday supply of books to read, but I have just learned about Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a survey of African American art from 1963-83 which was a crucial period in American art history.  The book purports to bring to light previously neglected black artists, like Sam Gilliam, Melvin Edwards, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, and many others.

Sara Cohen, Editor

Give: This holiday season, I’ll be getting my friends and family copies of Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City. As the editor of this book, I learned a ton about Philadelphia’s Gilded Age history, and it’s really changed the way I think about and read 2381_reg.gifour city.  It’s a great gift for the urban historian/architecture critic/fine photography connoisseur/Philadelphian in your life.

Get: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I haven’t read it since I became a mother, and because it’s partially about how weird it is to create and be responsible for another being, I’ve been meaning to reread it.  Plus, 2018 will be the 200th anniversary of the book, and rereading it seems like a great way to celebrate it’s bicentennial.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

Give: Pennsylvania Stories–Well Told, by Bill Ecenbarger. Bill is a superb writer, and he showcases some 2445_reg.gifof the wonderful weirdness — but also nobility, industry, and the dark side — of our often overlooked commonwealth. From the Pennsylvania pencil and fireworks industries, to the turnpike, to the author’s ride-along with John Updike, to the unfortunately significant presence of the Klan, Ecenbarger treats his subjects with humor, insight, and honesty. I love this state and know a lot of other folks who do too, so this will be an ideal gift.

GetGood Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America, by Nancy Rosenblum. National politics over the last eighteen months or so have been quite inspirational — by which I mean, it has inspired me to focus local politics. This book looks like a great way to get your mind around what that means, by examining our neighborly democratic interactions. Local relationships form the underlying fabric that supports our larger democracy, so what makes that fabric strong or weak?

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor

GivePennsylvania Stories—Well Told, by master storyteller William Ecenbarger. This compelling collection of articles originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, which features topics that range from Byberry to Zambelli Fireworks to deer hunting to John Updike, makes a perfect gift for anyone interested in Pennsylvania history and popular culture.

Get: the novel Lilli de Jongby Philadelphia author Janet Benton, which tells the story of a young Quaker woman who decides to keep her baby girl after giving birth in an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. Through a series of journal entries that detail her struggles, she sheds light on the daily lives and social norms of the people and communities around her.

2456_reg.gifDave Wilson, Senior Production Editor

Give: Phil Jasner “On the Case”. This book is about the long-time Philadelphia Daily News sports writer and Naismith Hall of Famer who had a tireless work ethic in his quest to report Philadelphia sports. Phil’s son, Andy, also a sports writer, assembled a book showing just a sliver of his dad’s greatest moments and Phil’s passion to report accurately while exhibiting a tireless work ethic. This book is a wonderful tribute by a son to this father. The book shows the amazing relationships Phil had with great Philadelphia sports legends, and the chapter introductions from prominent Philadelphia sports figures make this an entertaining and touching read.

Nikki Miller, Rights and Permissions Manager

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GiveExploiting the Wilderness by Greg L. Warchol as a holiday gift.  As an animal lover, I think this is a great book that offers a look into the wildlife crime that occurs in Africa and what can be done to stop it.

GetLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.  I’ve read great reviews about this book and can’t wait to start reading it over the holidays.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

GiveKalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, published by Temple University Press on behalf of the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research. As per George Lipsitz, the Senior editor, “In addition to its featured peer-reviewed scholarly articles, Kalfou devotes parts of each issue to short features focused on the places where ideas, activism, and art intersect.” As Volume 4, Issue 2 was just published, the journal is more important and timely than ever.

Rachel Elliott, Marketing Assistant

Give: 2384_reg.gifThe Audacity of Hoop by Alexander Wolff, because it is a visually compelling book that brings the president, often an inaccessible figure, down to the real world. We get to see him as he is in real life.
GetWe Should All Be Feminists because it has been recommended to me several times already! I love learning more about women’s issues and inclusive feminism and this book explores exactly that!

1912_reg.gifGary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give: I recently attended the 20th-anniversary party for Ellen Yin’s restaurant, Fork. While the menu has changed since she published her memoir/cookbook Forklore, the recipes and stories collected in her fabulous book are timeless, and still wonderful to read and savor.

Get: I’ve been wanting to read Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me since it was published. One of my favorite authors has written a memoir about his mother. But I just know this is going to break my heart, so I’ve been resisting it. But if someone gave it to me, I’d feel obligated to read it.

Temple University Press’ Annual Holiday Sale

This week in North Philly Notes, we prepare for the holidays by promoting our annual Holiday Sale December 7-8 from 11am-2pm in the Diamond Club Lobby, (lower level of Mitten Hall at Temple University)

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Celebrating University Press Week!

November 6-11 is University Press Week. Since 2012, we have celebrated University Press Week each year to help tell the story of how university press publishing supports scholarship, culture, and both local and global communities.

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Today’s theme:  #TwitterStorm

Blogs about how social media has contributed to the success of a University Press initiative or helped spread the word of important scholarship.

Harvard University Press A look at the role social media has played in the publication of Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide.

Johns Hopkins University Press  Editorial Director Greg Britton extols the virtues of Twitter.

Athabasca University Press How we are engaging with scholars through Facebook Live and other social media channels to make the work of publishers more visible

Beacon Press How social media has helped spread the word and keep the conversation going about Christopher Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too.

 

 

Celebrating University Press Week

November 6-11 is University Press Week. Since 2012, we have celebrated University Press Week each year to help tell the story of how university press publishing supports scholarship, culture, and both local and global communities.

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Today’s theme: Selling the Facts

University of Minnesota Press  blogs about Bookstores/Booksellers and/or sales folks (reps and in-house) in the Age of Trump or Selling Books as a Form of Activism

University of Texas Press  features author John Hartigan responding to climate change denial and alternative facts.

University of Hawai’i Press  offers guerilla-style interviews with local booksellers on their experiences serving readers since the election.

Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore Indy The Ivy Bookshop writes about selling in the Age of Trump and working with JHUP in general.

Duke University Press Sales Manager Jennifer Schaper reports on how Frankfurt Book Fair attendees were engaging with Trump and Brexit

Columbia University Press Conor Broughan, Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium, discusses the roles of University Presses and their sales representatives in politically complicated times.

University Press of Kentucky  Societal benefits (payoff) in university presses continuing to publish and readers continuing to have access to well-researched, low-controversy, long-form published content in an age of distraction, manufactured outrage, and hyper partisanship.

University of Toronto Press The experiences of a Canadian higher education sales rep, selling books on US campuses.

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