Why are new university presses on the rise, and how can you get involved?

Guest post by Megan Taylor, University of Huddersfield Press, 05/02/2018

Publishing has been part of the UK university landscape since the 16th century. At that time, Cambridge University Press was launched, closely followed by Oxford University Press. Since then, many other presses, including Edinburgh, Liverpool and Manchester, have joined the ranks and grown to rival even some of the larger commercial publishers. Smaller university presses have recently started to carve out a new space for print, digital and often open access outputs. A recent report from Jisc pulls together the results of a UK-wide survey and estimates that there are currently 17 new university presses (NUPs) publishing a range of journals, monographs and policy briefings.

Why are NUPs on the rise?

The rise of digital publishing accelerated in the late 1990s/early 2000s as large commercial publishers began to offer bundled journal packages. Universities took advantage of this, reducing their print subscriptions and increasing the number of available titles nearly five-fold. However, digital publishing also enabled smaller operations based in libraries and university presses with limited budgets to get involved. Many of the NUPs now operating in the UK are actively addressing gaps in the provision offered by commercial players.

Monograph publishing

Plummeting sales of traditional print monographs mean that even the big commercial publishers usually only sell up to 200 copies of a book, and these end up sitting on library shelves. With increasing emphasis on the visibility of research to external audiences, policy makers and the public, new outlets for research outputs are needed.

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“With library budgets for book purchasing at best static in real terms, and retail sales declining, the business case for the publication of individual titles is often now based on print sales per title of 200 or fewer. Further falls will call into question the case for publishing individual titles.”

Michael Jubb, Jubb Consulting

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With smaller portfolios and less aggressive targets in terms of acquisitions and sales, NUPs are well placed to invest time and resources into the improvement of monograph sales and downloads. Good examples of this include developing collaborative marketing plans, regular meetings with author and editors and structured social media campaigns.

It is also expected that, in the post-2021 REF, monographs will need to be open access, in addition to journal articles. As things stand, large commercial publishers are not positioned well to meet this requirement. A recent article looking at the rise of NUPs explains that, for many of these new presses, open access monograph publishing is an opportunity to contribute to the dissemination of research that would be otherwise gathering dust.

NUPs with an existing focus on open access publishing could be an appropriate answer to this, and some are already increasing their portfolio of open access monographs in order to meet the needs of the scholarly community.

Open access monograph publishing is a big opportunity for new university presses, particularly in the post-2021 REF.

How does having a Press benefit the research community?

We can answer this question by splitting the research community into four key stakeholder groups:

  • Authors: A university press can create new spaces to enhance the visibility of research outputs. If operated successfully, it can raise the profile of very new or niche areas that might not already have a voice in established journals. A university press can devote resources to improving levels of author support including publication workflows and marketing. This is often not possible in large commercial publishing houses.
  • Readers: A university press can support access to research that readers might otherwise not see. In the case of open access university presses, they can ensure that all research published is publicly available.
  • Editors: Being situated within the university provides a great opportunity to work closely with any journal or book editors who are also members of staff. A truly collaborative working relationship between editor and publisher can help to improve the quality, effectiveness and reach of a publication.
  • Institutional leaders: Giving a platform to new, niche or otherwise unpublished work can make this research visible, raise the profile of the institution as a whole and highlight in-house expertise in publishing and scholarly communications. University Press activities, particularly from the point of view of open access, can also contribute to environment and impact statements for the upcoming REF2021.

Securing internal support for the launch of a Press

In my previous and current roles, I have seen first-hand how the launch of a new press (or even a new publication) needs to be professionally planned and supported from within the organisation in order to succeed. At Huddersfield, we align our Press activities with the key tenets and strategic priorities to ensure we are part of the wider research landscape.

Developing a business plan that brings together the support of a university library, along with the wider research, marketing and academic departments, will make for a well-informed proposal. You will be able to test it in terms of financial and strategic robustness and compare it with business plans from other presses as available online (e.g. Penn State and Purdue).  Most universities will have an enterprise department that can provide guidance on how to develop a business plan from scratch or build on an existing one. When developing a business plan there are a range of areas to consider, but a good starting point would be to cover:

  • Open access vs subscription model, or a blend
  • Publication type, which might include books, journals, white papers and conference proceedings
  • Publication workflow systems
  • Peer review models
  • Any third party services required for producing OA and print versions
  • Scholarly community scope – will you be working with internal staff, external researchers, students?

Resources

  • Jisc: Jisc provides some useful resources on publishing and open access:
  • Open access directories: The two most widespread open access directories are DOAJ and DOAB, for journals and books, respectively. Another handy service in the field of open access is SherpaRomeo – you can search their database to find out the open access and copyright policies of any existing publication.
  • Community networking: Both OASPA and ALPSP run events, training and conferences across the library and publishing sectors. These can help you connect with colleagues and develop the necessary skills and understanding to start or expand a publishing portfolio. In addition, the Press Redux conference runs every two year and explores key themes with stakeholders from across the sector.
  • Jiscmail: The University of Huddersfield Press has created a Jiscmail list for university press and colleagues in the field. This list acts as a space for those working across the sector to come together and share information and best practice, as well as identify opportunities to work collaboratively across institutions.

 

About the author

Megan Taylor (e-mail | Twitter: university press, personal | ORCID), University of Huddersfield Press Manager and independent research consultant

With an academic background in English literature and professional experience as a publisher and copywriter, I now work as the manager of the University Press for the University of Huddersfield. My work focusses on supporting, improving and extending the dissemination of our academic research through high-quality peer-reviewed open access publications.

 

Images: CC0 (Pixabay)