University press, Mounting financial pressures

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A university press is an academic publishing house specializing in academic monographs and scholarly journals. Most are nonprofit and an integral component of a large research university. They publish work that has been reviewed by scholars in the field. They produce mainly scholarly works, but also often have "popular" titles designed to reach their target audience, such as books on religion or on regional topics. Because scholarly books are mostly unprofitable, university presses may also publish textbooks and reference works, which tend to have larger audiences and sell more copies. Most university presses operate at a loss and are subsidized by their owners; others are required to break even. In China, university presses are profit-making institutions for their academ


Financially, university presses have come under growing pressure from their University sponsors to cut their losses. Only a few presses, such as Oxford Harvard Princeton and Yale have endowments; the others depend upon sales and subventions from their University. The subsidies typically range from $150,000 to $500,000. Sales of academic books have been declining, however, especially as University libraries cut back their purchases. At Princeton University Press in the 1960s, a typical hardcover monograph would sell 1660 copies in the five years after publication. By 1984 that average had declined to 1003 and in after 2000 typical sales of monographs for all presses are below 500. University libraries are under heavy pressure to purchase very expensive subscriptions to commercial science journals, even as their overall budgets are static. By 1997 scientific journals were thirty times more expensive than they were in 1970.

In May, 2012, the University of Missouri System announced that it would close the University of Missouri Press so that it might focus more efficiently on “strategic priorities.” Friends of the press from around the country rallied to its support, arguing that by publishing over 2000 scholarly books Press it made a major contribution to scholarship. A few months later University reversed its decision.

Peter Berkery, the executive director of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) states that:

University presses are experiencing new, acute and, in some ways, existential pressures, largely from changes occurring in the academy and the technology juggernaut. Random House can see the technology threat and they can throw some substantial resources at it. The press at a small land-grant university doesn’t have the same ability to respond.

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