University Press Publishing in the United States
by Peter Givler
Universities have been publishers for at least as long as there has been moveable type. In 1455 Gutenberg and Fust finished printing their Bible; twenty-three years later, in 1478, a commentary on the Apostle's Creed was printed at Oxford University. Cambridge University followed and set up a press in 1521. In the United States, Harvard College was founded in 1636; in 1640 the Cambridge Press (operating out of the President of Harvard College's house and no relation to Cambridge University Press) issued the Bay Psalm Book, the common hymnal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. For the next fifty years, the Cambridge Press published books of laws and a translation of the Bible into the language of the local Native Americans as well as almanacs, catechisms and sermons.1
At the same time, it must be said that the relationship between universities and their presses has not always been easy. The capital requirements and financial ebbs and flows of the publishing business may seem unruly and unpredictable within the context of the more stable and settled financial structure of a university budget; mutual understanding and good communications are essential. The presses at Oxford and Cambridge operated intermittently in their early years; it wasn't until the late sixteenth century that the presses at both universities were established that have published continuously ever since. Harvard's Cambridge Press closed in 1692; today's Harvard University Press was founded in 1913.
In 1869, the president of Cornell University, Andrew D. White, opened the first American university press to operate in the name of the university itself. Cornell University Press combined a printing plant with a program that provided jobs to journalism students, and its list included two books of North American ethnology and a French reader. The university closed its journalism program in 1878, however, and by 1884 the press was also shut down; the imprint remained inactive until today's Cornell University Press began operations in 1930. Other presses also began by fits and starts. The University of Minnesota and Stanford University each started presses to publish research in the late nineteenth century and then had to close them. The University of Pennsylvania Press has been in business continuously since 1927, but it was first incorporated in 1890, then closed, re-opened in 1920, and closed again before it re-opened for good.
The palm for oldest, continuously operating university press in the United States goes to Johns Hopkins University Press, founded by Daniel Coit Gilman in 1878, only two years after he had opened the university itself. Gilman's famous dictum, "It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge, and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures—but far and wide," articulated a clear, specific role for university presses. It is still valid today as one of the central responsibilities of a modern research university and the purpose of its press.
This new research university, as visualized by men like Gilman, William Rainey Harper, and Nicholas Butler (the first presidents of the University of Chicago and Columbia University, respectively), was to be more than an institution for molding the character of society's next generation of leaders and transmitting a knowledge of history and cultural traditions. It was also to be a center for the discovery of new knowledge. This new knowledge would be the product of research carried out in university libraries and laboratories by scholars—and research, if the discovery of knowledge was to progress, had to be shared through some formal system of dissemination. Gilman's injunction that scholarly knowledge should be spread more widely than only among those who could acquire it first-hand by attending university lectures sounds commonplace today, but it was a new idea in its time. University presses began to rise and flourish in the United States because they were an indispensable component of the modern research university itself.
Why, one might ask, did university presses have to be created to fill this role? Commercial publishing in the United States in the late nineteenth century was an active industry; why not leave the publication of scholarship to commercial publishers? Commercial publishing then, as it is today, was a highly competitive business. Gilman and others rightly understood that costs were too high and markets too small to attract a publisher hoping for financial profit. To leave the publication of scholarly, highly specialized research to the workings of a commercial marketplace would be, in effect, to condemn it to languish unseen.2 If the aspiration of the university was to create new knowledge, the university would also have to assume the responsibility for disseminating it.
Gilman proposed, therefore, that the university take on the job of publication itself—and Johns Hopkins University Press was born: a publishing house relieved from the obligation to generate profits for owners and shareholders by operating under the nonprofit charter of the university and charged with publishing the results of post-doctoral research. Two of its first publications were the American Journal of Mathematics and the American Chemical Journal, and in 1887 it published its first book.
Other universities soon began to follow suit. In 1891, only one year after the university itself had opened, William Rainey Harper founded the University of Chicago Press. The University of California and Columbia University both opened presses in 1893. In 1896, Oxford University Press opened an office in New York to publish American editions of books originally published in England, but it soon began to develop an independent list of publications for the American market. Presses that still publish today were founded at the University of Toronto in 1901, Princeton in 1905, Fordham in 1907, Yale in 1908, Washington in 1909, Harvard in 1913, New York in 1916, Stanford in 1917, and Illinois in 1918.
By 1920, press managers started gathering informally to discuss their own concerns at the conclusion of the annual meeting of the National Association of Book Publishers. By then new university presses were being formed at a rate of about one a year.3 In 1937 the group elected its first chairman, Donald P. Bean of the University of Chicago Press, and began to keep formal minutes and plan meetings of its own. In 1946 this group adopted bylaws and completed the formal organization of the Association of American University Presses.
By 1957 the association had thirty-eight members, and that year an event took place that was to have an enormous impact on scholarly publishing—and much else—in the United States: the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into space. Public opinion was galvanized. The race for space had started, and the United States was losing it. Within a year the United States had launched a satellite of its own, and President Dwight Eisenhower had declared the improvement of education an urgent national priority. The Cold War had a new battleground, and the new warriors would not come out of boot camps and military academies, but schools and universities. It wasn't enough to out-shoot the Russians; now we had to out-think them. The National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was born.
The NDEA provided substantial financial aid to education at all levels and to both public and private institutions. Its primary aim was to improve American education in science, mathematics, and technology, but it also provided support for programs in foreign languages, English as a second language, geography, area studies, educational media and instructional technology, librarianship—and libraries. Money poured into higher education as never before: money for teaching, for research and publication, and for building library collections. NDEA and programs like it created a golden age for publishers of scholarly research in the 1960s. The institutional market boomed, and university presses boomed along with it.
And then the boom ended. In 1969, Neil Armstrong took his famous giant leap for mankind, and the race for space—at least symbolically—was over. We had put two men on the moon, but we also had 550,000 troops on the ground in Vietnam, fighting a real war with no end in sight. Education no longer seemed an urgent national priority, and universities had become unpopular centers of political and social dissent. Congress began redirecting the money almost immediately.
Not surprisingly, the end of the Cold War boom in funding for higher education coincided with the leveling off of the population of university presses. From 1920 to 1970, new university presses continued to open at a rate of about one a year. Between 1970 and 1974, ten more new presses were founded, but only five more were started between 1975 and 2000. The year 1970 also marked the beginning of a slow decline in purchases by libraries of scholarly monographs, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, a decline that continues to this day and that has had a profound impact on university presses. Understanding why and how this change has had such far-reaching effects requires a brief explanation of the economics of scholarly publishing.
Daniel Coit Gilman's linking of the mission of university presses to the purpose of universities themselves helped lay an important legal cornerstone for a large part of today's system of formal scholarly communications. As nonprofit enterprises,4 university presses seek to fulfill the university's mission of serving the public good through education, rather than of maximizing profits, increasing owners' equity, and paying out shareholders' dividends. Nonprofit status has also, over the years, provided an important measure of financial relief for university presses, who are eligible for noncommercial mailing rates and are not required to pay tax on their inventories. Even as nonprofits, though, university presses still face the same problems all publishers do in gaining access to capital and managing cash flow.
Publishing is a hybrid business. It is a vital cultural enterprise that nourishes the creative use of language and the growth of new ideas, and at the same time, it is an ordinary business with payrolls to meet and bills to pay. From a business point of view, publishing is a manufacturing enterprise. To publish a book a publisher first invests money in searching for, reviewing, acquiring and editing a manuscript—the research and development phase of publishing, if you will. Then the book itself must be manufactured, requiring the purchase of raw material, the services of printers and binders, and so forth. Only when finished books can be shipped to bookstores and jobbers can readers and libraries purchase them and, finally, cash from sales can begin to flow back to the publisher.
From start to finish this process ordinarily takes two to three years; it can take as long as the publisher has patience for, but it is rarely less than a year. Each book is unique, so the entire process has to be repeated from start to finish for every book. Starting a publishing business requires, as does any other manufacturing business, enough capital to operate for those first years when sales are low. Once successfully started, keeping a publishing firm dynamic and healthy requires careful management of a business in which access to new capital is limited and the supply of cash is nearly always out of phase with demand. Scholarly publishing in particular has an additional difficulty. Publishing for small markets means that all costs have to be recovered from the sale of a small number of copies, creating razor-thin margins for error. The sale of as few as fifty copies can spell the difference between financial success and failure.
The difficulty of keeping the right financial balance has plagued university presses from the beginning. Shortly after it opened, the University of Chicago Press published a twenty-eight-volume series to celebrate its first ten years, a project that incurred heavy initial costs and almost bankrupted the press.5 Harper, the university's president, defended the project, declaring its value to the university "inestimable," and the press survived, although some lean years followed. In 1998, the University of Chicago Press published 46 journals, 272 books, and had 4,600 of its titles in print, an extraordinary list that includes the canonical Chicago Manual of Style, now in its fourteenth edition.6 Yet without Harper's vigorous support in its early years, this splendid press would have drowned in its own red ink before it had fairly begun.
If Chicago is not unique in having run into financial difficulties, neither is it alone in having overcome them. Every university press has at one time or another found itself running out of money, and virtually all have recovered, battered but wiser.7 University presses have proven themselves skilled at survival in their quixotic mission of being simultaneously academic idealists and market realists.
Survival, though, requires adaptation. The shift in Congressional priorities that started in 1970 marked the beginning of a gradual reduction in federal funding to higher education. This, in turn, caused library acquisitions budgets to begin to shrink, leaving less money for the purchase of scholarly publications. The cuts in library acquisitions, however, weren't distributed equally. Money for the purchase of new materials began to be reallocated internally. University-based scientific research had been increasingly funded by the federal government after World War II, and heavily so during the 1960s; in response, research universities had invested in the laboratories and scientists to carry out government-funded research, and in the process become increasingly dependant on federal funding to maintain this new infrastructure.8
To support the work of research scientists and their ability to attract new grants, many research libraries began to shift money within their acquisitions budgets, allocating more money for the purchase of serials, the primary medium for publishing in science and technology, and less to the purchase of books in the humanities and social sciences.9 The cuts in the funds available for book purchases were deepened even further by the rapid increases in serials prices that began at about the same time. Not only was money being cut, but the money that was left was also losing purchasing power at an alarming rate.10
For university presses, the effect of this softening in a core market has been to reduce the amount of cash directly available from the sale of scholarly monographs to support the publication of new monographs, a development that occurred at the same time that universities were also reducing their direct funding to presses in the form of operating subsidies. In order to continue to fulfill their scholarly mission, university presses were forced to seek new sources of funding. Those sources were basically of two kinds: those that provided direct support for publishing scholarly books, and those that provided indirect support by creating new sources of publishing revenue that could then be used to cover the losses from scholarly publishing. Presses employed two strategies. They sought support from foundations, government agencies, and private donors, and they sought new—or at least more lucrative—markets. Most presses have employed some combination of both, which have been critical in shaping university press publishing today.
Outside support is a vital piece of the scholarly publishing financial puzzle. Support from the National Endowments of the Humanities and the Arts (NEH and NEA, respectively) has been especially important. For example, from 1977 to 1995, the NEH through its Publication Subvention Program supported the publication of 1,050 scholarly books in the humanities—books selected through a rigorous screening by expert judges that took place only after the books had already survived the submitting press's normal system of peer review and been accepted for publication by its editorial board. The program ended when the NEH's budget was cut by 37 percent in 1996, and funding for it has not yet been restored.11
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was also an important source of title subsidies in the 1970s and 1980s and supported the publication of many important scholarly books in the humanities through a series of block grants awarded to university presses. The Mellon Foundation is still the largest foundation in the country with a program interest in scholarly publishing in the humanities, and it continues to support many programs of great importance to university presses, primarily by funding research in scholarly communication and pilot and demonstration projects in electronic publishing.
Some presses have established endowments to support the publication of scholarly books, and fundraising has become a main order of business for many press directors.12 The NEH offers a Challenge Grant Program through which it will provide $1 for every $4 in new money raised by the press. Some presses have been successful in getting the support of their university foundation for an NEH Challenge Grant or for raising funds through a university campaign.
Nevertheless, as important as outside funding is, it still remains a relatively small source of revenue overall. Data collected from AAUP members shows that from 1988 through 1998, outside gifts and grants (which lumps title subsidies and endowment income together) increased from 2 percent of net sales to only 3.6 percent.13 It is also sobering to note that during the same period the total amount of nonpublishing income—basically, the sum of university support in the form of general operating subsidies, plus individual title subsidies and endowment income—has declined as a percentage of net sales. In other words, title subsidies and endowment income have gone up, but university support has gone down even faster.14
Publishing for other than scholarly markets is something university presses have always done. Research universities have a broader mandate than doing nothing but specialized research; they also teach, both through regular classroom instruction and through various educational outreach programs. For many state universities an important component of that outreach was agricultural extension programs, through which universities offered information and advice about soil, crops, and animal husbandry to local farmers. University presses offered an important new avenue for expanding that outreach mission by publishing books in which the intellectual resources of the university were focused on topics of local or regional interest: state and community histories, area guidebooks, books about local wildflowers, birds, cooking, architecture, folklore and music, biographies of statesmen and political leaders.
Some presses have also taken on the important role of keeping prominent local authors in print, ready to be rediscovered after their initial popularity has faded—writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Carl Sandburg, Jane Addams, and James T. Farrell. University presses have played an important role in the discovery of new writers: novelists like John Kennedy Toole (Louisiana University Press), Norman Maclean (University of Chicago Press), and Helen Hooven Santmyer (Ohio State University Press). Poetry series such as the University of Pittsburgh Press's Pitt Poets and Yale University Press's Yale Younger Poets have published such poets as Alicia Suskin Ostriker and Robert Hass. In addition to their contributions to national culture, these and similar books play a vital role in building both a sense of local community and pride in regional achievement—and they have also proved invaluable in helping to build essential public support for the university and its press.
Universities also teach, and textbook sales are an important source of revenue for university presses. Textbook publishing as practiced by commercial publishers is a highly competitive business, and developing course materials for large-population introductory courses requires a capital investment well beyond the reach of most university presses. But many books of scholarly research published by university presses become important enough in their fields to be used as textbooks in upper division and graduate courses, and some university presses have been successful at publishing anthologies of original essays for course use, especially in new or rapidly developing fields.
Publishing reference books and series is another important activity, although the initial editorial development and production costs for a major reference project can be substantial, and fundraising on a heroic scale may be required. But the contribution to knowledge of such large-scale projects can be simply incalculable, as it is for Yale University Press's magisterial seventy-five-volume Culture and Civilization of China. Moreover, some reference books have become so well established and widely used that their title is virtually synonymous with the name of the university and its press: The Chicago Manual of Style, The Columbia Encyclopedia, The Oxford English Dictionary.
Finally, there is publishing for general audiences, or trade publishing, as it is known from the idea of publishing "for the book trade," or people who buy their books in general bookstores. Regional publishing can be thought of as a kind of trade publishing for local markets, but trade publishing usually implies publishing general-interest books for a national audience. At the lower end of the sales spectrum trade books can sell on the order of 3,000 to 5,000 copies; at the upper end, for a relatively small number of well-known and popular authors, sales can go into the millions.
University presses have had their successes in general trade publishing; Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It (1976) is a classic example from the University of Chicago Press, and Tom Clancy's first novel, The Hunt for Red October, (1984) was published by the Naval Institute Press. But historically, university presses have approached trade publishing with caution. The potential sales can be high, but so are the financial risks. In comparison to scholarly publishing, trade publishing requires higher advances to authors and higher advertising and promotion costs; markets are volatile and unpredictable, and returns of unsold stock from bookstores can turn apparent success into fiscal disaster.15 These and many other factors create an unpredictable business environment in which, generally speaking, only a handful of the largest university presses have been able to compete regularly and successfully.
However, a 1979 Supreme Court ruling about the way manufacturers would be allowed to value inventory for tax purposes created a windfall for university presses.16
The Thor decision, as it is known, caused many commercial publishers to put their slow-moving backlist titles out of print, including many of high editorial quality. The availability of these titles created a wave of new publishing opportunities because, as nonprofit enterprises, university presses are not taxed on the value of their inventories, and they saw this as creating an easy, low-cost entry into trade publishing. By keeping in print many of these titles that would otherwise have disappeared, university presses have provided an invaluable cultural service. Yet while general trade publishing by university presses has certainly increased, it has not proved to be the road to financial salvation, nor, given the high-risk nature of most general trade publishing, is it likely that it will.
In sum, university presses have responded to cutbacks in university funding for scholarly publishing by seeking new sources of nonpublishing income and by seeking to publish for more lucrative markets. These changes in publishing and business strategy, though, also need to be seen against the backdrop of changing technology and the extraordinarily swift development of modern electronic communications.
In the early 1970s, computers began to enter publishing, first of all as a back office tool for keeping track of inventories, recording sales and royalties, generating invoices, and keeping accounts receivable records on a single, integrated system. From there, they spread to automated accounting systems; before long they were being used to set up presswide databases that were capable of tracking editorial and production schedules and of maintaining a substantial body of editorial, marketing, and production data about individual titles.
With the rapid development of PCs starting in the early 1980s, the so-called PC-based "desktop publishing" systems also began to evolve. In actuality they were—and remain—essentially desktop typesetting and composition systems. In the beginning their output mimicked that of a typewriter (even the most common font was Courier, designed to imitate the widely used typeface available on the IBM Selectric "golfball"). On current systems, though, it is possible to render text in virtually any font and size, enter images and size them to scale, layout pages, and transmit the resulting electronic files either for display on a computer monitor, for printing out on a home or office printer, or to generate page images that can be used with a variety of printing equipment to make tens, hundreds, or thousands of copies.
However, it is not computers alone but the extraordinary growth and deployment of the Internet in the last ten years that is finally, after centuries of relative stability, transforming publishing. Before the Internet, whatever new possibilities existed for electronic manipulation and formatting of text and images, the final product still had to be embodied in a physical object in order to be distributed to an audience. Traditionally that object has been a bound book or journal; more recently it might be a diskette, or a digital tape, or a CD-ROM. But the Internet permits the distribution of electronic files—of digital objects, if you will—as a stream of impulses.
This essay is an attempt at history, not clairvoyance, so I won't speculate here about what the university press—or the library, or the university—of the future will look like. I am confident that publishers will still have important roles to play in the creation and dissemination of knowledge, because the most important skills publishers have—helping to weed out good information from bad, putting it in a form most useful to readers, and getting it in the hands of the people who are likely to be interested in it—are always going to be useful. But the publishing universe has definitely tipped on its axis. Within the last fifteen years, the act of writing has shifted from creating a visible, tangible record of thoughts and ideas, like a hand-written or typewritten manuscript, to creating an invisible and intangible electronic file. As long as that file is used to produce a familiar printed record, like a book, this shift may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it is actually quite profound. We are just beginning to explore what it may mean.
The most obvious break with the past is that applying ink to paper is no longer a requirement for written communication. It remains an option—and for a number of reasons, still an important one—but in the future that just began, printed objects themselves are no longer the necessary heart of written communication. The electronic file is, and that change is a done deal. There's no going back.
The good news about this change is that an electronic file, unlike ink fixed on paper, is protean, able to take a variety of shapes and forms. It can be used to generate a printed text through a variety of methods: distributed printing, print on demand, short-run digital printing, or traditional offset. It can even accomplish its purpose without being printed out at all, like most e-mail messages. It can be translated into different file formats and displayed on a computer monitor with varying degrees of visual quality and resolution: plain text, word processing, pdf. It can be deconstructed on one computer, transmitted across the Internet, and reconstructed on another. It can be linked to video and audio files for multimedia display. It can contain dynamic links to other files. It can be incorporated into searchable databases.
The bad news is that, unlike ink fixed on paper, an electronic file is ephemeral. It cannot be read directly, but can only be accessed through a computer, which is a machine utterly dependent on a stable supply of electricity to operate. It must be a computer, moreover, compatible with the computer used to create the file in the first place, running a program that is compatible with the program used to create the file. Storage media for electronic files are notoriously short-lived, so that long-term preservation and access requires the migration of files to new generations of media as they become available—a process which introduces new questions of hardware and software compatibility, and of file integrity. Finally, an electronic file can be altered without leaving any evidence that it has been changed.
The inherently ephemeral nature of electronic files means that everything we thought we knew and believed we could rely on about linguistic artifacts now applies only to those that have been fixed in print. A whole new class of such artifacts, digital texts, has come into being, and while we are exploring the new possibilities they offer for scholarly publishing and discovering how to make best use of them, we also have a great deal to rethink and relearn: our ideas about textual authority, accessibility, stability, and preservation; even our ideas about what it means to read and how to use information. We need a new scholarly infrastructure, with tools that will allow us to cite electronic texts, to refer from one to another, and even to identify, number, and catalog them.
At this writing, ninety-two university presses in the United States and Canada belong to AAUP.17 Among them they publish on the order of 11,000 books a year, and over 700 learned journals. University presses are also working on the cutting edge of electronic publishing, often working in collaboration with each other, with their university libraries, and with scholarly societies. Johns Hopkins University Press's Project Muse, an electronic journals publishing program that began as a project to publish all 46 of the press's journals electronically, now includes 160 journals from 25 presses. Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO), a collaboration between Columbia University Press and the Columbia University Library, is a database of literature in international relations that now includes 100,000 pages of content from 150 contributing institutions. MIT Press has started Cognet, a searchable electronic database in cognitive science that links e-books, conference materials including proceedings and calls for papers, and fourteen journals. The University of Illinois Press, the National Academy Press, the American Historical Society, and the Organization of American Historians have established The History Cooperative; their first project is to put the full text of the American Historical Review and the Journal of American History on-line. The presses at seven universities (Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, New York, Oxford, Rutgers, and Michigan), are working with the American Historical Association and the American Council of Learned Societies and five of its constituent societies on a project to publish 85 new electronic books and convert 500 important backlist titles, and reviews of them, into digital form. There are many other projects as well, both large and small, and new ones start weekly.
The history of university presses in the twentieth century largely has been one of growth: growth in both the number of university presses and the number of books and journals they publish. It has also, especially in the last quarter century, been growth against the odds, growth against a pattern of declining support for universities generally. Through this process, university presses have become tough and resourceful, adaptable to changing market conditions, yet as firmly committed as ever to their main job of disseminating the fruits of scholarly research and to helping the university's lamp of knowledge shine ever more brightly. The twenty-first century brings a whole new host of challenges, but it also brings new opportunities for the presentation of scholarship and for its publication, opportunities that for most of the last century were undreamed of outside the realm of science fiction. And the twenty-first century brings with it the opportunity for new relationships and new forms of collaboration between university presses, university libraries, and universities themselves. University presses will, as they have in the past, rise to meet them.
- For the early history of university presses I am deeply indebted to Gene R. Hawes, To Advance Knowledge: A Handbook on American University Press Publishing, American University Press Services, 1967.
- As, some 20 years later, no less a publisher than Charles Scribner, son of the founder of the famous New York publishing house and himself one of the founders of Princeton University Press, observed, "What is accomplished if the work of a lifetime grows mouldy in the drawer of a desk?" Quoted in Hawes, p. 35.
- Here and elsewhere when speaking of the number of university presses, I am drawing on membership data about AAUP. Some small presses continue to publish under the name of their universities although they are not members of AAUP. Their publishing schedules tend to be erratic and, so far as I know, no census of them exists.
- There is a small handful of U.S. commercial publishers who use the phrase "university press" in their name. When I speak of university presses here, I mean university presses who are members of AAUP, whose Guidelines on Admission to Membership define a university press as "the scholarly publishing arm of a university or college."
- Hawes, p. 31.
- According to The Association of American University Presses Directory, 1999-2000.
- Several AAUP member presses have been closed only to reopen and resume operations a few years later, such as Vanderbilt University Press and Northwestern University Press, but at this point, the only one that has closed and not re-opened has been Rice University Press.
- Universities argued that in calculating the amount to be applied for in seeking a federal research grant, the direct costs of carrying out any given research project—new laboratory equipment, research staff, and so forth—are insufficient and ought to be augmented by an allowance toward the cost to the university of maintaining an institution capable of supporting top-quality research. These overhead charges are calculated as a percentage of the grant (they can range from 40 percent to 80 percent), and are negotiated between the university and the granting agency. The principle is certainly sound but the question of what constitute allowable overheads, and therefore what the percentage ought to be, has been a matter of some political controversy.
- The Association of Research Libraries has been tracking this shift for some years; for the most recent figures, visit their website, http://www.arl.org; see especially http://www.arl.org/stats/arlstat/1999t2.html.
- The causes of the run-up of serials prices in science, technology, and medicine are complex. Most scientific and technical journals are published by commercial publishers, and their desire to maximize profits from an essentially captive market may well be one, but growing "shelf weight" as the sheer volume of scientific research has expanded is certainly another, as is the increasing fragmentation of disciplines into sub-disciplines resulting in ever-shrinking markets from which to recover the costs of publication.
- Paulette V. Walker, "Publishers Fear Impact of Arts and Humanities Cuts," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5 January 1996.
- In a September 2000 informal survey conducted by the directors of AAUP, they found that among the members surveyed, 58 percent of the respondents (thirty of fifty-two) reported that they either already had endowments or were actively raising funds to build them. Building an endowment was distinguished from seeking individual title subsidies, which virtually all presses do when a potential source of such funds can be identified.
- In 1999, this percentage jumped to 5.8 percent, a welcome event and a significant one if it marks the beginning of a new trend.
- Small presses are much more heavily dependent on such operating subsidies than large ones—a small press may require a subsidy equal to 50 percent or more, of its operating budget; a large press less than 2 percent — so "average parent institution support" is not a concept that has much meaning when applied to individual presses. But for university presses in general, the average is useful for looking at trends in overall funding patterns. From 1988 to 1998, the average parent institution support among reporting presses declined from 10.4 percent of net sales to 6.3 percent, for a loss of 4.1 percent; during the same period, outside gifts and grants increased, as a percentage of net sales, by only 1.6 percent, for a net loss in non-publishing income of 2.5 percent.
- The practice of allowing bookstores to return unsold stock for credit began during the Great Depression as publishers sought ways to gain store shelf space for their books; it's a practice that publishers frequently deplore, but as long as there is competition for shelf space it is likely to continue.
- Thor Power Tool Co. v. Commissioner, 439 U.S. 522 (1979). The IRS challenged the manufacturer's practice of writing down the value of certain items held in inventory in order to reduce taxes while still continuing to sell the items at full price; the IRS challenge was upheld by the Supreme Court. The issue in the case is a complex one involving technical questions of both tax law and accounting practice, but the practical effect of the ruling on commercial publishers was to create a tax liability for holding a stock of slow-moving titles in inventory.
- AAUP has 121 members in all and includes scholarly societies, research institutions, museums, and international members. Only scholarly publishers affiliated with degree-granting institutions in the United States are counted here as university presses.