February 17, 2018

University of Michigan Press Merged with Library, With NewEmphasis onDigital Monographs

By Andrew Albanese

  • Economic and strategtic decision
  • aligns press and library’s publishing mission
  • Michigan positioned to succceed

The University of Michigan (UM) announced last week that it would incorporate its university press with its library. Among the first changes that partnership will yield is the publication of digital monographs in lieu of low-run, high-cost print editions. The move will realign the UM Press from a “financially self-sustaining university unit” to a department that reports to the dean of libraries—not an uncommon scenario, as many presses are administered by their institution’s libraries.

The press’s newly stated emphasis on the “recruitment, production and dissemination of primarily digital monographs” is a move that has been much discussed and at times resisted—since the late 1990s. “The scholarly monograph isn’t going anywhere,” the UM Press blog, noted. “But exactly where and how scholarly works appear is undergoing nothing less than a revolution comparable, some say, to the invention of the printing press nearly six centuries ago.”

The current UM Press board will be disbanded and a new board, “with broader oversight and expanded responsibilities,” will be created by July 1, noted officials on the blog. The move also facilitiates closer coordination between the press the current publishing services offered by the UM Library and its Scholarly Publishing Office. Press officials said current UM Press author contracts will be honored.

Going forward, the move marks an aggressive break from what has become an increasingly dysfunctional market for monographs, strained by flat library budgets and increasing digital serial expenditures. “Freeing the press, in large part, from the constraints imposed by the print-based business model will permit us to more fully explore and exploit ever-expanding digital resources and opportunities,” said Phil Pochoda, director of UM Press, in a statement. Pochoda added that all monographs would continue to be subjected to rigorous peer review, and would still be available in print versions, primarily on demand. Long-term plans, for example, call for the UM Press’s backlist to be digitized and made freely available worldwide.

“While almost every university press is currently installing digital processes and products, the new arrangements at the University of Michigan should allow U-M Press to accelerate the universal publishing migration to the digital future,” Pochoda noted, “and provide helpful information to all presses about the opportunities and pitfalls lying in that direction.”

The end of old model?
Michigan’s new focus and structure comes as a number of university presses are struggling for life in the economic downturn, facing slashed operating subsidies, layoffs, or outright closure, including the Utah State University Press and the University of Missouri Press

In what counts as good news these days, Yale University Press (YUP) said this week that its dip in sales, between 7-8 percent, is less than the industry average of ten percent. Nevertheless, according to a report in the Yale Daily News, the press is also contemplating changes to its business model. YUP director John Donatich told reporters that the press is considering cutting back print runs, and ramping up its ebook program. “Our books are working,” Donatich said. “But the marketplace is very soft.”

UM, meanwhile, seems uniquely positioned to succeed in pioneering such an aggressive digital shift for monographs. Not only has it been out front in its work with Google Book Search, and a founder of the groundbreaking HathiTrust, the university has been a leader in the use of print on demand technology, selling reprints from its collection through distributors such as Amazon. Last fall, the UM Libraries installed a state-of-the-art Espresso book-printing machine at the Shapiro Library on Central Campus.

Rather than seeing the current environment for university presses as a crisis, Michigan officials point to the opportunity. “This new incarnation of the press will not only allow it to share in the renowned digital resources of the University of Michigan as a whole, but to link it with a library and its director, who have already achieved much deserved renown as digital visionaries,” Pochoda said.

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