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Mapping the Influence of University Presses

Association of American University Presses

The Association of American University Presses is marking its 75th anniversary this year. To celebrate, the association declared November 11-17 University Press Week 2012, seeking to publicize “the extraordinary work of university presses and their many contributions to culture, the academy, and society.”

The AAUP’s current president, Peter J. Dougherty of Princeton University Press, has promoted the idea of “the global university press.” So it’s fitting that the association has created an interactive global “Influence Map” that shows the geographical range of individual presses’ publishing projects.

“We talk a lot about the impact of a university press—the books they publish, the scholars they publish, the readers,” said Brenna McLaughlin, the association’s director of marketing and communications. “We were trying to think of a way to show that.” The influence map helps reveal each press’s publishing “footprint.”

As part of University Press Week festivities, many presses also took part in a blog tour, asking authors and editors to sound in on “why university presses matter.” Fordham University Press’s director, Fredric Nachbaur, wrote a post about how presses can play a role in current events. The day after Hurricane Sandy blew through, he recounted, a reporter got in touch, asking about one of the press’s authors who had written a history of New York City’s subways. “She wanted to interview him about the flooding of the tunnels and the mass transit shutdown,” Nachbaur wrote. “It is a prime example of how the media turns to university presses for expertise during times of crisis.”

Over at Columbia University Press’s blog, Sheldon Pollock, a professor of South Asian studies, called on universities and fellow faculty members to rethink how university presses are supported. It’s time to develop “a different economic philosophy about scholarly publishing,” he wrote. “Above all, faculty should be offering more of their time and energy and money, whether in terms of advances or royalties or fundraising.” Presses too “need to lead the way, with innovative initiatives for which they solicit faculty support,” Pollock commented. “Wherever possible university-press support should be built into larger capital campaigns.”

On the MIT Press blog, Gita Manaktala, the press’s editorial director, described some of the changes that scholarly publishers must accommodate. Scholarship has gotten more collaborative; scholars want to circulate ideas more quickly; reading happens across multiple platforms online, with many demands on the reader’s attention.

“The polished jewels of scholarship—meticulously reviewed, revised, and edited books and articles—are being jostled by these more open forms of knowledge: the scholarly archive of working papers, the blog with extensive commentary and responses, and the wiki with its updates and overwrites,” Manaktala wrote. “The emergence of such forms is indeed disruptive, but it helps to clarify the business university presses are in. Our job is to identify, develop, and encircle those ideas and arguments that deserve to persist over time.”

Presses must also reckon with the rise of the open-access movement and the expectation that information will be openly available, Manaktala wrote. “While paywalls and DRM exist to protect our business model, they might also isolate our books from vital streams of discussion in which they would otherwise participate.”

The press association is also running an online series of essays, “Books That Matter,” in which press directors and others talk about especially memorable books they’ve worked on. “Those are the books that lift what we do everyday from a dry talking point on the value of university presses to a vibrant and exciting business that gets us all up in the morning,” the group said in describing the series.

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