Our November event was a discussion session with John McLeod, Assistant Director, and Robert Devens, Editor-in-Chief, of the University of Texas Press. UT Press publishes about 100 books a year and about 12 journals. They are part of the second largest group of university presses – some of their peers are Duke University Press, University of California Press, University of Illinois Press, and University of North Carolina Press.
The bulk of their funding comes from the sales of books and journals, but they also receive funding from the University and from fundraising efforts. This is fairly typical of a university press – there are only a few presses in the country that do not receive some sort of subsidy from their parent institution.
UT Press publishes books on Latin America, music, food, nature and the environment, film and media, architecture, photography, and regional books about Texas. The bulk of what they publish are scholarly books, but about 20% of their catalog each year are books for general readers. They do publish revised dissertations and those account for less than 20% of books published in any year. Robert has never said no to a dissertation simply because it was available online. His goal is to work with the author to create a project that is very different from the dissertation.
Some of the challenges they face include: the eroding support in general for academia, the constantly changing landscape of publishing/purchasing books journals, and the consolidation of publishers and distributors (ex: Amazon’s market share). Also, there are only 130 Association of American University Presses (AAUP) presses and they are publishing the scholarly content for all universities.
The other side of the coin are the opportunities for university presses. The changing role of publication in the tenure and promotion process means there are potentially new ways of publishing that scholars will embrace. This gives the press room for growth. Print-on-demand and enhanced search and discovery could create new markets for content. There is also the potential for increased collaboration between the Press and the UT Libraries.
Technology is also changing what is being published. For instance the University of Minnesota Press recently announced a program to publish very short books – they are longer than an article, but not typical book length. They promise a fast publication process and are priced about $5 for digital and $7-8 for print.
The typical publishing time frame for a book that UT Press publishes is about 1 year from the point of receiving the final manuscript. It generally takes about 2 years to get from the first “hello” to a final manuscript, although that time frame can vary greatly. UT Press publishes print and electronic at the same time and they are usually identical publications. There is of course the potential for including lots of multimedia in the electronic version, but that is very expensive to produce.
A typical print run for a scholarly book is 400-1000 for a first printing. UT Press uses printers in the Ann Arbor, MI area for black and white printing, and they do all color printing overseas. Some of their bestsellers include Breaking out of Beginner Spanish and The Making of Gone With the Wind. A low seller would be one that had only sold about 200 copies over its lifetime. The Press will occasionally publish a book they know will not be a great seller, but that they believe is an important book for its field.
The Press has also done distribution for some unique publications related to MOOCs. Two of the MOOCs offered at UT were transformed into enhanced ebooks and UT Press distributed them – the peer review process and editing happened within the College of Liberal Arts. They also helped Dr. Webber distribute his app created from the Energy 101 MOOC. This app is meant to replace textbooks for an energy course and has already been used by classes at Stanford and Duke.
UT Press is particularly well-known for their photography books. The Press Director, David Hamrick, is the photography editor and plays a major part in the quality of the finished project. Aesthetics are a huge part of a photography book, and you need an editor who can create a good flow through the book and who asks questions about whether “the black is black enough”. Photography books are expensive to produce, so it’s very important to produce a quality product that people will want to buy.
We would like to sincerely thank John and Robert for taking the time to speak with us. It was great to have an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the fantastic university press on our campus.