University presses still looking for a new model

Scott Sherman writes in the Nation (“University presses under fire“) that university presses are scorned by librarians enamored of Open Access. He also hints at a cultural difference, with presses following the hallowed craft of attracting authors, nurturing them through editing, negotiating with an editorial board, designing the book, marketing, getting new titles reviewed; whereas libraries are more concerned with currency and access than physical books (despite the sentimentality of many librarians).

Sherman calls on foundations to give presses money to keep presses alive. He cites the Ithaka report (2007) calling for a new collaboration for a shared vision of scholarly communication (whatever it may be). Instead of simple infusions of cash to keep presses afloat, he suggests renewed support for modernization (digitization). Perhaps a return to first principles is called for. Newspapers are struggling with their old business model, but they are critical as news-gathering organizations. Book publishers, and their cousins the booksellers, are still a potent force for disseminating creative work and giving points of view a voice (think of feminist and minority publishers and newspapers, and the book stores being gathering places for thought communities.) Digitization will result in consolidation (as is happening with newspapers), but is flexible enough to offer immediacy, access, and individuation as rewards for taking the plunge into the future.

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