University of Minnesota Press: Positioning the Press in an evolving “megacosm”

Not only has the world changed – universities presses are used to that – but the cosmos has shifted, calling into question the place of presses not just in the university – again, a familiar dilemma – but in a far more diverse, fast-moving, and increasingly decentered system of scholarly communications.  The issue at hand isn’t simply print vs. electronic nor even “Open” vs proprietary, copy-left vs. copy-right.  These are economic and thus solvable problems.  It is, to my mind, the emergence of more informal, iterative, and collaborative scholarly communications vs. formal, fixed, and author centered-literally: authorized-scholarly publishing. ~~ Doug Armato, Director of U of M Press.

These are the thoughtful words of the head of the University of Minnesota Press, a one of the state’s rich resources known by academics but beyond the ken of most Minnesotans. University Press Week, November 10-16, 2013, offers a rare opportunity to take a close look at one feature of what Governor Rudy Perpich dubbed “the brainpower state.”  The University of Minnesota Press deserves to take its rightful place in the state’s and nation’s academic and publishing circles.

Since its founding in 1925 the U of M Press has published tomes that could stock a healthy library.  At the rate of approximately ten books each year (culled from the 2000 submitted manuscripts) the Press now boasts 2,270 titles in print.  The yearly sale of books is 345,000 titles of which 5% are published in e-book or similar digital format. The Press also publishes five journals.  The test division which publishes the renowned MMPI in its various manifestations, began publishing in 1943; today it publishes the tests in 29 languages.

The first book off the presses was Cyrus Northrop: A memoir, by Oscar W. Firkins.  (yes, that Northrup, President of the University).  The first Press catalog for 1927-29 included The Marketing of Farm Products, The Attitudes of Mothers Toward Education, The Development of the Twin Cities as a Metropolitan Market and Prunes or Pancakes, a “popular guide to the science of eating…[and] dietetic reform” by the Dean of the College of Dentistry.  Today approximately 75% of Press authors are academic faculty; the rest include “journalists, critics and a broad range of individuals with varying expertise, from chefs to composers to wilderness guides.”

In case you wondered, the all-time best seller from the U of M Press is Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An introduction; the text has sold more than 250,000 copies since its first publication thirty years ago.

The economics of the Press may come as a surprise to legislators and students alike.  Approximately 92% of the Press’s operations are funded by sales and other income from the mix of publications. Two percent of the budget comes from grants, gifts and endowments.  University support comprises the remaining 6% of the total annual Press budget; adjusted for fees paid by the University, the net support from the University is less than 1% of its costs.

U of M Press points to a number of highlights in their decades of publishing.  For example, in the 1980’s the Press was the first university press to define its editorial program by critical method and perspective rather than by traditional scholarly disciplines.  The policy defined the priorities as works that feature “social and cultural theory and interdisciplinary inquiry”.  Those priorities still guide the Press that has evolved to include other areas of inquiry including race and ethnic studies, urbanism, feminist criticism, and media studies. In addition, “the Press is among the most active publishers of translations of significant works of European and Latin American thought and scholarship.” Minnesota also publishes works on the cultural and natural heritage of the state and the upper Midwest region.

The Press heralded another recent innovation with the decision to publish all of its past publications as reprints or e-books.  The Quadrant initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundations, explores new collaborative approaches to scholarly research and publication through a partnership with the Institute for Advanced Study at the U of M.

Director Armato envisions “the emergence of a new cosmology of scholarly communication….more akin to the emergence of a new cosmology of scholarly communication – a time not so much of economic reallocation or technological transformation…as much as a dramatic expansion and realignment of the megacosm.”

Take note as the U of M Press takes its place in the realignment of that evolving megacosm.

 

 

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