NU Press puts stock in new Web venture

Becky Bowman

Northwestern University Press officials announced the launch of a new Web site Friday that they hope will curb costs for the struggling publisher.

The Web site,, offers a history about NU Press as well as details on titles and a “shopping cart” feature allowing Web surfers to purchase titles online. It also will save the press money by eliminating paperwork, said University Librarian David Bishop, who oversees the Press.

“We hope it will help us with sales, and we hope it will make the Northwestern Press more visible,” Bishop said. “It’s just a positive thing.”

The Press also is offering a 25 percent discount for individuals’ online purchases to celebrate the launch of the new Web site.

The site and discount are part of a plan to rejuvenate the Press’ ailing finances. During Winter Quarter, administrators considered closing the press after it reported a loss of $877,000, exceeding a university subsidy by about $300,000.

After discussions between press officials and administrators the university allowed the press to continue publishing under conditions such as smaller runs of books, a new director and more emphasis on balancing academically important volumes with commercially successful ones, administrators said.

NU Press staff have been working on the new Web site for several months to replace an older, more static site, said Donna Shear, acting Press director.

“The Web site had been under development for several months, long before any of the problems had surfaced,” Shear said. “A basic part of doing business is to have a functioning Web site. It’s just a part of letting people know what we do, who we are.”

Buyers previously could call the warehouse to place orders by finding the phone number online, Shear said.

“I don’t think it’s going to (give us) a huge volume of business, but it’s just a convenience for people who want to order,” she said.

A functional Web site, along with electronic publishing technology, can also lower costs by eliminating the use of outside publicity, Provost Lawrence Dumas told The Daily earlier this month.

“With printing electronically on demand, people don’t have to go to Barnes & Noble to buy your book,” he said. “If you can eliminate all of the middleman costs, … you can give a discount to the person who is buying your book and still make more money.”

The press will continue to incorporate its backlist into BiblioVaults, a program that digitizes the full texts of volumes and allows a press to print smaller runs of books. Much of the NU Press’ backlist is already in the program because the Press uses warehouse space at the University of Chicago, Shear said.

The NU Press is not alone in its financial problems. Earlier this month, the University of California press faced strict cutbacks preventing it from printing books on philosophy, architecture, archeology, political science and geography. The UC press also announced job cuts and plans to publish fewer works of literature and literary theory, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

NU has been working with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a consortium of the Big Ten universities and University of Chicago, to find ways for presses to work together to save money, Dumas said. Working with larger presses like U of C’s, which NU has done for several years, can lower printing, shipping and storage costs, he said.

Shear said NU Press is doing well under its new guidelines.

“The press is heading in the right direction and we’re doing the things the administration wants us to do,” she said. “We’re getting our house in order, and that’s been our primary function — making sure our authors and our vendors know that we’re here to stay, and just doing our regular business – publishing books.”