Market Focus: University Presses Press on Through Recession
“We took a leap with Amazon’s Search Inside the Book and Google Book [Search], but it’s only increased sales and hasn’t cannibalized actual book sales,” says Armato. “So even if people are choosing things and researching them on the Web, they’re still reading physical books. It was a real breath-holding moment [when we moved into these areas].
“Moving to the Web, in terms of promotions and bookselling, has been good because it’s equalized everything,” he continues. “Now we have lots of tools to get directly to our readers. In a way, it’s almost easier to sell the [niche] books than the broader-[appeal] books.”
News Not All Bad
And while it may all sound like bad news for university presses these days, it’s not necessarily. Some publishers are having success with their trade publishing efforts—particularly by capitalizing on regional books, from travel to food or even an area’s flora and fauna.
These types of books can especially make a difference around the holidays, says Givler.
“There are a lot more markets for [these types of book],” says Dan Kervick, sales manager for Baker & Taylor’s Publisher Alley, which analyzes book sales. The typical scholarly title might sell 50 units, 200 at most; but a cookbook could sell 5,000 units, he points out.
Just 50 percent of the University of Minnesota’s books are now scholarly, 15 percent are regional, and 35 percent are trade books written by scholars, says Armato. The company, he says, is publishing more niche books in subject areas including ethnic studies, demographics, politics and architectural history.
“We’ve always felt that the best thing is to be niche-driven, because we’re known for it and we’re not chasing the same dollars as everyone else,” he says.
Regional publishing has been a great source of revenue for Temple University Press. “It also gives us local exposure and creates materials for the citizens of Pennsylvania, which is part of our mission,” says Holzman. He points to books on the Philadelphia Eagles and the landscape gardens of Philadelphia as examples of books that have sold very well and helped fulfill the mission of the press.