NU to continue publishing

Becky Bowman

Northwestern’s financially troubled University Press will continue to publish but print smaller runs of each book, operate under a new director and search for a balance between commercially successful and academically important volumes, administrators announced Wednesday.

Administrators had considered closing the press after it reported a loss of $877,000 on revenues of $1.54 million last year, exceeding a university subsidy by about $300,000, Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage said.

But the press, renowned for several publications, will operate under strict financial restrictions, including a possible limitation on its deficit to $1.4 million during the next three years, University Librarian David Bishop said.

The press also will try harder to predict the commercial success of titles it is considering for publication, he said.

“There has to be a balance between titles that generate revenue … and those that don’t,” Bishop said. He added that academically important books often sell well.

Donna Shear, the press’s associate director, will be acting director of the press, replacing current Director Susan Harris.

English Prof. Reginald Gibbons, an editor of NU-published TriQuarterly Books, questioned the administration’s decision to choose someone from the press’ financial side rather than its editorial side to serve as director.

“(The press) needs a director with strong intellectual credentials … and strong publishing experience,” Gibbons said. “I think that (Harris) was a brilliant editorial director. But I think that the administration’s concern is primarily financial.”

Cubbage said the university cannot comment on specific personnel decisions.

Financial pressures will force continued reliance on the press’s university subsidy, but it will try to operate more within its budget, Bishop said.

“We will know that we have the subsidy and it will be the press’ job to live within the subsidy,” he said.

The press also will begin incorporating a program called “BiblioVaults” in its budget projections. The program, funded by the Mellon Foundation and coordinated with the University of Chicago, will help the press save money by digitizing the full texts of titles it publishes, Bishop said. Digital forms allow a press to print smaller runs of each book, he said.

“That is going to have a major impact because it will affect not only what we can keep in print, but it will affect the size of the press runs we can keep initially,” he said.

Slavic languages and literatures Prof. Clare Cavanagh said she was happy to hear that the press will remain in operation. The press publishes books she needs for her classes and adds value to NU’s profile, she said.

“It’s not just my teaching,” Cavanagh said. “It’s all kinds of things. I don’t think you have a major research university without a press. I think it just alters the whole prestige of the university.”

The press, known for its literature in translation series, often publishes books that other presses do not consider, Cavanagh said.

“They’ve had critical works that are not very trendy, flavor-of-the-month works, but are very good works,” she said. “They pick up on a lot of Slavic stuff that no one else would pick up on.”

Bishop and history Prof. Peter Hayes, co-chairmen of the press review committee, met with Provost Lawrence Dumas, who recommended changes to the press last Thursday. Dumas and University President Henry Bienen decided the future of the press Tuesday.

Bishop expressed hope that the press would work well under its new guidelines.

“I don’t think it’s going to be dramatic,” he said. “We can fix this pretty easily.”