The University of Chicago Press (UCP) has never had to regard itself as an afterthought. Founded in 1891 as one of the three original divisions of the university, the press has, from the beginning, been squarely in the center of the school’s mission to educate, advocate and innovate—a charge that continues to this day.
In addition, it’s of more than passing interest to the press’s leadership that it is entirely self-supporting, even funding a few research grants at the school.
“I’m unabashedly proud of the fact that our books are aimed at a shrinking audience and that we make money off them,” says Garrett Kiely, a 20-year industry veteran who came on as the UCP’s 15th director in September 2007. Kiely arrived after an eight-year stint as president of Palgrave Macmillan, where he oversaw e-book conversion projects and other pioneering digital initiatives for a division focused on scholarly and reference titles.
Such experience is crucial to the press’s innovative strategy for content distribution. The press offers print-on-demand and digital distribution to a range of academic publishers through its Chicago Distribution Services, positioning itself as the entity best able to serve the needs of noncommercial academic publishers.
“We provide a very good service,” Kiely says. “Random House does the best trade distribution, and Chicago is the best university distributor. That’s pretty good company to be in.”
Kiely joined UCP during a period of significant transition. An Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant used to set up a digital file-storage and short-run printing service for other presses ran out last year, leading to its conversion to a pay model.
“Naturally, we worried about losing [customers], but actually we only lost a couple of presses,” he notes. “We offer fair pricing. We view ourselves as a service provider.”
Such an approach is well-suited to serve nonprofit publishers, according to Jeanne Weinkle, manager of the Chicago Digital Distribution Center (CDDC), which along with BiblioVault, a digital content repository, operates under the umbrella of Chicago Distribution Services.