University press

The Pitt Building in Cambridge, which used to be the headquarters of Cambridge University Press, and now serves as a conference centre for the Press.

A university press is an academic publishing house specializing in academic monographs and scholarly journals. Most are nonprofit and an integral component of a large research university. They publish work that has been reviewed by scholars in the field. They produce mainly scholarly works, but also often have "popular" titles, such as books on religion or on regional topics. Because scholarly books are mostly unprofitable, university presses may also publish textbooks and reference works, which tend to have larger audiences and sell more copies. Most university presses operate at a loss and are subsidized by their owners; others are required to break even.[1] Demand has fallen as library budgets are cut and the online sales of used books undercut the new book market. Many presses are experimenting with electronic publishing.[2]


Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press are the two oldest and largest university presses in the world. They have scores of branches around the world, especially throughout the British Commonwealth.

In the United States, colonial colleges required printers to publish university catalogs, ceremonial materials, and a limited number of scholarly publications. Following the 17th-century work of Harvard College printer Samuel Green, William Hilliard of Cambridge, Massachusetts began publishing materials under the name "University Press" in 1802.[3] Modern university presses emerged in the United States in the late 19th century. Cornell University started one in 1869 but had to close it down; Johns Hopkins University Press has been in continuous operation since 1878.[4][lower-alpha 1] University of Pennsylvania (1890), Chicago (1891), California (1893), Northwestern University Press (1893), and Columbia University (1893) followed.[5]

The biggest growth came after 1945 as higher education expanded rapidly. There was a leveling off after 1970.[6]


In Scotland Archie Turnbull (1923-2003) served as the long-time director of the Edinburgh University Press, 1952-87. The British university presses had strong expansion in the 1950s and 1960s. The Edinburgh University Press became the leading Scottish academic publisher. It was especially famous for publishing major books on the history and literature of Scotland, and by enlisting others in Scotland.[7]

Asia and Africa

By the time of independence in 1947, India had a well-established system of universities, and several leading ones developed a university press. The main areas of activity include monographs by professors, research papers and theses, and textbooks for undergraduate use. However, the basic problem faced by scholarly publishers in India is the use of multiple languages, which splintered and reduced the base of potential sales.[8]

As new universities opened in Africa after 1960, some developed a press based on the European model. In Nigeria for an example, scholarly presses played a central role in shaping and encouraging intellectual efforts and gaining international attention for the product. However the established European presses, especially Oxford University Press, dominated the market, allowing a narrow niche for new local presses such as Ibadan University Press.[9][10]

AAUP in North America

In 2008, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) has 125 member presses, of which 95 were operated by universities. Growth has been sporadic, with 14 presses established in the 1940s, 11 in the 1950s; and 19 in the 1960. Since 1970, 16 universities have opened presses and several have closed.[11] Today, the largest university press in the United States is the University of Chicago Press.[12] University presses tend to develop specialized areas of expertise, such as regional studies. For instance, Yale publishes many art books, the Chicago, Duke and Indiana publish many academic journals, the University of Illinois press specializes in labor history, MIT Press publishes linguistics and architecture titles, and Northwestern University Press publishes in continental philosophy, poetry, and the performing arts.

Chicago Distribution Center

The Distribution Services Division provides the University of Chicago Press's warehousing, customer service, and related services. The Chicago Distribution Center (CDC) began providing distribution services in 1991, when the University of Tennessee Press became its first client. Currently the CDC serves nearly 100 publishers including Stanford University Press, University of Minnesota Press, University of Iowa Press, Temple University Press, Northwestern University Press, and many others. Since 2001, with development funding from the Mellon Foundation, the Chicago Digital Distribution Center (CDDC) has been offering digital printing services and the BiblioVault digital repository services to book publishers. In 2009, the CDC enabled the sales of electronic books directly to individuals and provided digital delivery services for the University of Michigan Press among others. The Chicago Distribution Center has also partnered with an additional 15 presses including the University of Missouri Press, West Virginia University Press, and publications of the Getty Foundation.

Mounting financial pressures

Financially, university presses have come under growing pressure from their University sponsors to cut their losses. Only a few presses, such as Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have endowments; the others depend upon sales and subventions from their University. The subsidies typically range from $150,000 to $500,000.[13] Sales of academic books have been declining, however, especially as University libraries cut back their purchases. At Princeton University Press in the 1960s, a typical hardcover monograph would sell 1660 copies in the five years after publication. By 1984 that average had declined to 1003 and in after 2000 typical sales of monographs for all presses are below 500.[14] University libraries are under heavy pressure to purchase very expensive subscriptions to commercial science journals, even as their overall budgets are static. By 1997 scientific journals were thirty times more expensive than they were in 1970.[15]

In May, 2012, the University of Missouri System announced that it would close the University of Missouri Press so that it might focus more efficiently on “strategic priorities.” Friends of the press from around the country rallied to its support, arguing that by publishing over 2000 scholarly books the press made a major contribution to scholarship. A few months later the university reversed its decision.[16]

Peter Berkery, the executive director of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) states that:

University presses are experiencing new, acute and, in some ways, existential pressures, largely from changes occurring in the academy and the technology juggernaut. Random House can see the technology threat and they can throw some substantial resources at it. The press at a small land-grant university doesn’t have the same ability to respond.[17]


  1. First known as the University Publication Agency it was renamed the Johns Hopkins Press in 1891.[5]

See also


  1. Kathleen Fitzpatrick (2011). Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. NYU Press. p. 157.
  2. Rebecca Ann Bartlett, "University Press Forum 2011: The End of the Tunnel?" Journal of Scholarly Publishing (Oct 2011) 43#1 pp 1-13 DOI: 10.1353/scp.2011.0040
  3. White, Norman Hill (1920). "Printing in Cambridge Since 1800". Proceedings of the Cambridge Historical Society. Cambridge Historical Society. 15: 16–23. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  4. Jagodzinski, Cecile M. (October 2008). "The University Press in North America: A Brief History". Journal of Scholarly Publishing. 40 (1): 1–20. doi:10.1353/scp.0.0022.
  5. 1 2 Jeff Camhi (15 April 2013). A Dam in the River: Releasing the Flow of University Ideas. Algora Publishing. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-87586-989-6.
  6. Kerr, 1949
  7. Alistair McCleery and David Finkelstein, "Archie Turnbull and Edinburgh University Press," Journal of Scholarly Publishing (2005) 37#1 pp 33-47.
  8. S. Kanjilal, "The University Press in India," Scholarly Publishing (1972), Vol. 4 Issue 1, p73-80
  9. Robert Plant Armstrong, "The University Press in a Developing Country," Scholarly Publishing (1973) 5#1 pp 35-40.
  10. N. J. Udoeyop, Scholarly Publishing in Nigeria," Scholarly Publishing (1972) 4#1 pp 51-60.
  11. Jagodzinski, "The University Press in North America," p. 4
  12. "The University of Chicago Press Selects Rightslink(R) For Online Copyright Permissions". Business Wire. February 5, 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
  13. Scott Sherman, 2014 p 20
  14. Dalton, p 259
  15. John B. Thompson (2013). Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States. John Wiley & Sons. p. 99.
  16. Sherman, 2014 pp 19-20
  17. Sherman, 2014 p 19-20

Further reading

Individual presses

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