Best of 2012 in the world of university press publishing

In the grand tradition of year-end lists that dates back at least to the days of Pliny the Elder, we figured the JHU Press blog ought to end it’s first year of existence with a best of 2012 list of our own.  We dug deep into our own pockets to hire a polling firm to interview each member of the Press’s staff about what he or she felt was the most significant event of the year in the business of university press publishing. We then applied a complex, weighted algorithm to that data, the results of which we subjected to several rounds of anonymous peer review.

What we learned was from this exercise was, to be frank, shocking and we think it ought to remain proprietary. So instead of our planned scientific analysis of the year we give you, in no real particular order, a few of our favorite and most interesting happenings of 2012 in the world of university press publishing:

Books on MUSE: 2012 dawned with the debut of books on Project MUSE via the University Press Content Consortium. Launched on January 1, 2012, the collections of new and backlist titles generated nearly half a million book unit sales for the participating not-for-profit scholarly publishers. Over 130 institutions in fifteen countries purchased UPCC books on MUSE for their user communities. In the fall MUSE arranged for preservation of this content via an agreement with Portico and they ended the year with the announcement of a single-title sales model in partnership with Yankee Book Peddler.

Next year MUSE will provide students and researchers with access to more than 23,000 book titles from over 80 UPCC publishers—content that is fully integrated with the high-quality journals content that first put MUSE on the map. With a streamlined business operation, MUSE maximizes revenue to publishers while keeping prices affordable and fair to libraries worldwide. And authors get to see their content disseminated to scholars across the globe. Everybody wins!

The Save the University of Missouri Press movement: News that the University of Missouri System intended to shutter its publishing house struck a nerve in our community and beyond. There appeared to many to be something viscerally offensive about the very idea of closing the University of Missouri Press and two people,  Bruce Miller and Ned Stuckey-French, quickly stepped to the forefront of an effort to prevent the press’s closure.

Though both Miller, a sales representative that many university presses work with, and Stuckey-French, a professor of English at Florida State University and a Missouri Press author, thought the battle Quixotic, they used social media and other web-based tools, as well as their own media and publishing world connections, to channel the backlash into what would have been at the least a cathartic campaign to reverse the administration’s decision. Better than catharsis though, they ultimately won. The University of Missouri Press remains in business with its editor-in-chief, Clair Willcox, reinstated.

First annual University Press Week: In a serendipitous coincidence, the Association of American University Presses kicked of its inaugural annual University Press Week just a month after the battle to save the University of Missouri Press was won. Undertaken on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the AAUP, the effort  “highlights the extraordinary work of university presses and their many contributions to culture, the academy, and an informed society.” The 2012 version featured a University Press Blog Tour, garnered significant media attention, and even earned a special message from former President Jimmy Carter, who in 1978 proclaimed the first-ever University Press Week. We’re especially fond of the Fine Print feature, which highlights the contributions of individual AAUP-member presses.

Kobo’s partnership with the American Booksellers Association: The recent partnership among the members of the American Booksellers Association and Kobo, the three-year-old e-reader formerly owned in part by the Borders bookstore chain, is a prime example of innovation within the publishing industry—and good news for us smaller fish in the publishing world. Under this unique arrangement, nearly 2000 ABA-member stores are selling Kobo e-readers in store and selling Kobo-ready e-books via their websites. The stores share revenue on every sale and Kobo is providing each shop with training and merchandising, marketing, and logistics support.

University presses resist merger-mania: The good news as 2012 ends is that the university presses are NOT following the merge-and-acquire model of their trade counterparts. As the big six are about to become the big four, speculation of life at Penguin House, Random Penguin, or Sanguine House abounds. When Harper-Collins turns its sights on Simon and Schuster, the image of Rupert Murdoch’s head atop the venerable seed sower flies around the internet like some Jib-Jab parody of trade publishing writ large.

By contrast, there is no impending merger of Cambridge, Oxford, and Rutgers University presses to form the newly aligned, streamlined, leaner and meaner CODGERS Press. Nor do we hear about the bi-coastal synergy of UCLAMIT (pronounced You Clam it) House. For this we give thanks.

The NY Times  and Times Sunday Book Review: In an era when newspaper book reviews are fading and pull-out book sections almost non-existent, it’s heartening that the venerable New York Times continues to highlight books from presses big and small, including titles from the Johns Hopkins University Press on the collected papers of Thomas Edison and the musings of a philosophy professor on the relationship between Albert Einstein’s theories and his faith.

The Columbia University Press’s blog “University Press Roundup”: While our friends over at the Columbia University Press have on their blog been providing a weekly roundup of news and blog items from fellow university presses since at least 2009 we, somewhat embarrassingly, were late to the game in finding this feature. It’s the single best public source we can find  to catch up on what others in our business are saying, doing, and publishing and we’re indebted to the folks behind that blog for the help they lend in getting word our about our own bloggy goodness.

Translators: This two-way street brought our authors to countries like Korea (Math Goes to the Movies, Tour of the Senses), Japan (Rise and Fall of the Biopsychosocial Model, Polar Bears), and Italy (Lost Girls), and Israel (Einstein’s Jewish Science). We also published books originally written in French, Italian, ancient Greek, and Korean. In the offing for next year is a translation of a book written in Italian about American pop culture. Hats off to the professionals who make our jobs truly global!

Our authors: Simply put, we as a press wouldn’t exist without the people who write our books and journal articles. And this blog wouldn’t be half as interesting were it not for the many, many contributions supplies by our book authors and journal editors, whose entries you can count on finding every Wednesday, as well as on the second Tuesday of each month (The Doctor Is in), the third Thursday of each month (Wild Thing), and at other times throughout the week when news demands an informed response or we’re able to cajole and wheedle something out of  them.

We especially applaud those—such as Martin Treu, who wrote about signs and storefronts along the main streets of our country, and Lisa Zunshine, who delved into the human mind and how it connects to pop culture—who reach beyond the fellows in their field and their tenure committees and try to engage the wider readership. This outreach means that our books not only disseminate knowledge but they also spark the imaginations and intellects of thinking readers far and wide.

The staff and leadership at the JHU Press: We couldn’t in good conscience publish our best of 2012 list without giving a shout out to some of the hardest working professionals in the university press publishing world: the staff and leadership at the JHU Press. This blog wouldn’t exist were it not for the efforts of our colleagues and though many of those who have contributed directly or indirectly to this blog’s successful launch and continuing existence wish to remain unsung, we’re happy to give public thanks to those who haven’t specifically asked us not to: Michele Callaghan for her irregular and at times irreverent insights into the mind and work of a manuscript editor; Sara Cleary and Jen Malat for opening a window into the world of an acquisitions assistant; Janet Gilbert for her perspective on the Press’s outreach within and beyond the scholarly world; science editor Vince Burke for revealing his recipe for a successful book; Project MUSE director Dean Smith for a perfect first post to our blog; marketing director Becky Clark for explaining the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into movie tie-ins (and for her personal musing on going “off the grid”); and editorial director Greg Britton for relaying the importance of good book design.

And with that we wish all of you a very happy New Year. See you in 2013!