Understanding the University Press Segment: Q&A with Paula Barker Duffy, Director, University of Chicago Press
The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States, according to the press’s director, Paula Barker Duffy. Founded in 1891, it is one of the oldest, continuously operating university presses in the United States.
Book Business Extra spoke with Duffy about the University of Chicago Press’ areas of expertise, being a self-sustaining press, its biggest challenges and more.
EXTRA: The University of Chicago Press claims to be largest university press in the U.S. How is this defined, what makes you the largest?
DUFFY: The University of Chicago Press publishes both books (approximately 280 titles in 2007) and journals (more than 40) and operates a distribution facility that serves the warehouse and fulfillment needs of 55 presses. Our revenue base is in 2007 is $60 million, and we employ [more than] 300 people. I believe we are the largest U.S.-based university press [based on these] several dimensions.
EXTRA: Do you believe it’s crucial for other university presses to develop their own areas of expertise?
DUFFY: Every university-based publisher seeks to develop core competencies and to establish a strong reputation in particular areas so that it can attract the best scholarship in specific disciplines or fields. On average, only 8 to 10 percent of the original titles we publish are written by Chicago faculty; my impression is that most university presses, like Chicago, work hard to publish notable books in areas for which the university itself is noted. This of course means reaching out to authors doing first-rate work at a variety of institutions. Our editors consult frequently with Chicago faculty members to identify authors and reviewers at other research universities.
Since 2001, Chicago [the press] has built successfully on the reputation of the ‘Chicago Manual of Style’ (first published in 1906) to develop a series of guides to writing, editing and publishing, [more than] 25 titles that are highly valued by members of both the publishing and academic communities. Over the past several years we have also supported the development of a strong list of regional titles of scholarly, professional and general interest to history buffs and to individuals interested in Chicago art and architecture.
EXTRA: It has been said that most university presses operate at a loss and are subsidized by their parent universities. Do you believe this is still true today?
DUFFY: The University of Chicago Press is one of the few university presses that is self-sustaining.
At all university presses, however, the regular publication of scholarly monographs requires subsidy; a number of presses have developed successful lines of books (especially regional and reference) to help subsidize the publication of monographs. Subsidy from a host institution can take many forms: outright pledges of funds to cover operating deficits, rent, benefits, etc.
Departmental grants in the range of $3,000 to $10,000 from the author’s own institution are increasingly available to help defray the cost of publication or, in the case of illustrated science or art history, to help cover the cost of permissions to reproduce illustrations.
… A number of university presses that have undertaken development (e.g., fund-raising) efforts in recent years. Such efforts, when undertaken in coordination with the central development office at a university, can add to the image and reputation of a press and can bring increased public recognition of its publications.
EXTRA: What major challenges are you currently facing?
DUFFY: We face challenges in all segments of our publishing and distribution activity.
Investment in new technologies and systems (and the staff to administer IT departments and electronic initiatives) is an ongoing challenge in both journals and books. The Open Access movement presents both challenges and opportunities for university presses engaged in journals publishing.
EXTRA: The National Association of College Stores uses a figure that 64 percent of students are not buying all their required course material. How does this affect the university press segment and how is The University of Chicago Press trying to combat this?
DUFFY: Having good systems in place to deliver the required course content online and at a reasonable cost, and the ability to track use of this content so that authors are informed of the ‘classroom use’ of their work and compensated appropriately is a major challenge for all members of the scholarly community. Foundations and organizations like The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ithaka Harbors Inc. and the Copyright Clearance Center are involved in studying the issue, and managers of the Chicago-based BiblioVault repository of electronic monographs are working to come up with solutions to better serve the needs of libraries and scholars. There is much greater dialogue in recent years between university presses and members of the library community, and I believe there will be innovative solutions that will allow scholars to better track the use of their published work as it goes online. Publishers within and supported by the academy make important contributions to the discussion.
Editor’s note: For more information on the university press segment, read the “Market Focus” article, titled “University Presses and the Digital Universe,” in the June issue of Book Business magazine. It offers insights on the changing market including big challenges as well as big opportunities.