Pressing Matters Face the University Press Market
The university press has always been about more than just turning a profit. There’s the contribution of enabling scholars to write about unusual subjects, professors expanding on their classroom teachings and the overall extension of the university’s mission. Still, in a time when college budgets are dealing with further cutbacks and digital publishing is becoming more of a factor, university presses have never felt more pressure to produce economically, as well as educationally.
“We’ve always relied on the credibility of what we publish to keep us afloat, but we need to expand our market to the mainstream,” says Ivar Nelson, director of the Eastern Washington University Press. “That means less PhDs and professors as our authors, and more who come from the real-world experience of the subject being covered.”
Regardless, it’s not just expanding the content, but also the revenue channels the books are offered in.
“There’s heresy in embracing Internet selling because it involves not going with traditional revenue strategies,” says Nelson, whose press develops 15 titles a year with an equal split between literary, academic and trade. Therefore, publishers are faced with many unanswered questions. “Why should we do our business with an Amazon.com for only 50 percent of the profit when we can market directly to the reader for much stronger returns? But, on the other hand, if you could sell enough books with an Amazon, it could make up for it.”
Just as important as figuring out whether to use e-commerce to sell books is deciding whether to package products as e-books.
Nelson, like many, remains skeptical of this format.
“I see this as a good fit for encyclopedias, but I don’t think it has enough benefit for analysis or enjoyable reading,” he says. “If it could not only be portable, but easy on the eyes to the point of being a replica of a book, then it could make a difference. Right now, there’s a reason why people don’t want to read long text on the Internet—it just doesn’t feel comfortable.”