Pressing Matters Face the University Press Market
“The scholar audience is still assured, but much of the sales have been battered by library revenue continuing to decline,” he says. “Many university presses have tried other angles like regional publishing.”
Pochoda feels that the greatest long-term financial success may be found in the short-run presses.
“Some [university presses] are looking to books that speak to general social and cultural issues that a lot of mainstream publishers don’t find profitable enough,” he explains. “Short-run protects against going out of stock and having to take unsold inventory and throw it out,” Pochoda says.
Joanne O’Hare, director of the University of Nevada Press, agrees that digital short-runs take the pressure off the quantity of sales you need for profit, but she says, “the quality of the printing is still clearly lacking, so that affects how much we’ll involve ourselves.”
A Gulf of
Though technology clearly will continue to change the business, one thing that won’t change is the press’ dependence on the university for support.
“We look at the money the university provides us as a form of legitimate subsidy and, traditionally, university presses have had problems when it comes to financial accountability,” says Nelson. “For example, we have to run university press numbers on accrual accounting with balance sheets and income statements while the university goes on cash accounting. The relationship between these two practices needs to be defined more clearly.”
“The present system doesn’t allow the university to measure the value of growing inventory, so a press can look like it’s doing poorly. Instead, if you can take into account inventory and accounts receivable, a university would have a much better idea [of the press’ financial situation].”
Nelson doesn’t just see it as accounting differences, but many universities not being involved enough with their presses.