The challenges facing academic presses

Via Crooked Timber, John Thompson looks at the problems of publishing academic books. (In The Chornicle of Higher Education.)

“Whereas the ‘long decade’ from the early 1980s to 2000 was a buoyant period for many presses in the field of academic publishing, including many university presses, the period since 2001 has brought a rude awakening. Growth rates of university presses have fallen to the lowest levels in many years, returns from booksellers have reached unprecedented heights, and some university presses have been faced with the prospect of imminent closure. Nor has it been plain sailing for the big college-textbook publishers. Accustomed to annual growth rates of 6 percent to 8 percent, textbook publishers have suddenly found themselves faced with declining unit sales and surrounded by allegations that they are fleecing students with inflated prices.

Why do academic publishers find themselves in such difficult circumstances, and what, if anything, can they do about them?

To understand the problems of academic publishers today, we have to see that their current predicament is the outcome of a long process of development that stretches back to the 1970s and before.”