The Nation‘s Scott Sherman takes a close look at institutions like Princeton University Press in a recent article entitled “University Presses Under Fire: How the Internet and slashed budgets have endangered one of higher education’s most important institutions.” Sherman writes:
… the network of university presses has become a vibrant part of the publishing ecosystem. It encompasses giants such as Oxford University Press, which has fifty-two offices around the world, as well as Duquesne University Press, which specializes in medieval and Renaissance studies. University presses publish a vast range of scholarship, but they also publish a dizzying array of books that are unlikely to find a home at Manhattan’s large commercial publishers. Consider some recent offerings: Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen’s An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions (Princeton); Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker’s Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas (California); Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark (Texas), edited by Chad Hammett; and Warren Hoffman’s The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical (Rutgers).
University presses don’t just publish books: they keep books in print and rescue out-of-print books from obscurity. Thanks to the University of Minnesota Press, there is an attractive new edition of Gary Giddins’s Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker (1986). “People sometimes dismiss university press publications as low-selling, but that underestimates their cultural importance and influence,” says Doug Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press. “When you look at the endnotes of bestselling serious books—Robert Caro’s biographies of Lyndon Johnson are a good example—you see how much they are built on work published by university presses.” And occasionally there is a runaway success: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is published by Harvard University Press.