Game of Tongues — PUP Director Peter Dougherty Reflects on the Importance of Translations (#UPWeek)

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If you want to get a great sense of the global reach of the university press and, not incidentally, of the potential of forthcoming publications, you could do worse than observing a few days’ worth of foreign rights meetings at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Perched in a folding chair at a card table in the Princeton University Press booth last month, I watched my colleague Kim Williams, PUP’s foreign rights manager (who operates from our office in Oxfordshire), hold 80 meetings with nearly 200 publishers from 22 countries, representing 17 languages around the world. Meetings such as Kim’s–going on eight frenetic, exhausting hours a day over the five-day forced march of Frankfurt–comprise the annual ritual wherein the world decides which books and which ideas get dispersed across nations. The word “dissemination” is sometimes used to characterize the mission of university presses. Frankfurt is an example of dissemination of the highest, most sophisticated, most intricately orchestrated kind.

Pitching our books to Chinese publishers at #fbf13 - cheers to Cheers Publishing!

Pitching our books to Chinese publishers at #fbf13 – cheers to Cheers Publishing! (credit: @PUP_Rights)

Not only geography, but history matters in the annual translation transaction Olympiad. Kim Williams knows her counterparts at the foreign publishers and has worked with many of them for years. She knows their tastes, interests, and strengths. The experience she brings to the task and the development of these relationships, invest her exchanges with insight and efficiency, providing a kind of multicultural shorthand for conducting the world’s book business.

And the game of tongues matters. Over the past ten years the number of Princeton’s translation licenses has nearly tripled. Rights deals in Chinese over this period have increased almost tenfold, translations into Japanese have almost tripled, and Korean rights deals have also increased dramatically. And this growth is not limited to Asian markets. We’ve seen equally strong growth in the number of Turkish, Czech, Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish translations, among others. Taken all together this increased activity reflects changes in international economic development and national cultural priorities. This upward trend in translation activity will only increase as economic development rises. It would be interesting to know how many of our translated titles win awards and other accolades in their adopted languages.

And much as the annual idea-swap in Frankfurt provides us with a window on the world, it also tells us a lot about ourselves. From a distance, it tells us which subjects “travel” well, yielding valuable insights into list-planning and therefore into editorial acquisitions. From a closer standpoint, it provides a powerfully compelling preview of how a publisher’s upcoming list is likely to perform. If three dozen foreign publishers are panting over a particular title, chances are you’ve got a winner in English as well as around the world in other language markets.

Finally, a week at a rights table in Frankfurt gives a publisher a glimpse into its soul. Just how good are we? Are certain lists as strong as we think they are? Are we current or are we yesterday’s news? Do our lists have the three Ds–depth, dimension, and durability–or are we publishing mere ephemera? The five-day stress test in front of the world’s hard-bitten foreign publishers answers those questions, sometimes painfully, other times reassuringly.

As the global university press evolves, table talk in Frankfurt will continue to serve as a vital indicator of our impact around the world and our insight into ourselves.

Peter J. Dougherty
Princeton University Press


Click through to check out the covers of various On Bullshit translations.

For more information about Princeton University Press’s foreign rights program, please visit

Congratulations to William G. Bowen, recipient of a 2012 National Humanities Medal

William G. Bowen, President Emeritus, The Andrew W. Mellon FoundationOur congratulations and heart-felt good wishes go to William Bowen in recognition of his 2012 National Humanities Medal.

This medal will be awarded by President Obama today, July 10, 2013.  According to the White House, Mr. Bowen will be honored for “his contributions to the study of economics and his probing research on higher education in America.”

The staff of Princeton University Press celebrate this honor, acknowledging Bill Bowen not only as an illustrious author—most recently of his 2013 book, Higher Education in the Digital Age—but as a former trustee, long-time advisor, and most of all, friend.

In Memoriam: Herbert S. Bailey, Jr.

July 5, 2011

Dear Colleagues and Friends of the Press,

Herbert S. Bailey, Jr., the fifth director of Princeton University Press, and one of the most influential and well-respected scholarly publishers of his time, died on June 28, 2011, after a brief illness, just weeks short of his 90th birthday. He directed the Press from 1954 to 1986. A member of the Princeton University class of 1942, Bailey joined the Press in 1946 as its first science editor. Then, after a brief stint as its editor in chief, Bailey was named PUP’s director. At 32, he was the youngest head of a major university press in the United States. He served as president of the Association of American University Presses in 1972 and, upon his retirement from Princeton in 1986, received the prestigious Curtis Benjamin Award of the Association of American Publishers and the Bowker Award for Creative Publishing.

During his long tenure at the Press, Bailey brought its publication program to a new and unprecedented level of distinction, enhanced its international reputation, placed it on firm financial footing, and propagated its surpassing standards for book production and design. He undertook a number of long-term, monumental projects, including The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, and, most notably, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. In 1969, he acquired the world-renowned Bollingen Series, established to publish the Collected Works of C. G. Jung and eventually comprising over 250 extraordinary titles from archaeology through religion. Some of the individual titles include Kenneth Clark’s The Nude; E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion; Aleksandr Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, translated and with commentary by Vladimir Nabokov; and the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of The I Ching, or Book of Changes (which remains the Press’s single best-selling book with more than 900,000 copies in print).

By the end of Bailey’s PUP years, he and his colleagues had nearly tripled the Press’s annual title output. Among his many legacies was the establishment of the Press’s modern Editorial Board, comprising Princeton faculty members from different and complementary fields. Closely resembling its present form, it served the purpose of preserving and enhancing the scholarly quality of the Press’s books. Bailey’s emphasis on editorial excellence shone through his legacy. During his 32 years as Princeton’s director, the Press won some 250 prizes, including 2 National Book Awards, 7 Pulitzer Prizes, and 2 Bancroft Prizes. Included among many important PUP authors of the time were George F. Kennan, John Tyler Bonner, Herman Kahn, Richard Ullman, Herbert Feis, R. R. Palmer, Albert O. Hirschman, Richard Rorty, Robert Pinsky, Richard Feynman, Earl Miner, and Wilfred Cantwell Smith.

Herbert S. Bailey, Jr., was born in New York City in 1921 and there attended the Horace Mann School for Boys. Following his 1942 graduation from Princeton, he spent three years as a naval radar instructor in World War II. In his inaugural role as editor, he built up the Press’s offerings in the sciences and mathematics, and later, as director, in poetry and in translations. Eventually he helped move the Press into positions of publishing leadership in the social sciences and political theory while bolstering its traditional strengths in history and the humanities. This balanced scholarly publishing portfolio, reflecting the broad and inclusive intellectual character of Princeton and of liberal learning itself, continues today at the Press. William G. Bowen, president of Princeton during many of the years when Bailey was at the Press, gave Bailey credit for the exceptionally close relationship that existed between the Press and the University. “The two were seen by Bailey as highly complementary resources, and so they were.”
In the words of his successor, Walter H. Lippincott, who served as PUP’s director from 1986 through 2005, “Another important legacy was Bailey’s restructuring the Press into well-functioning departments—editorial, design, production and printing, marketing, accounting, and general management—a structure,” notes Lippincott, “that to a great extent remains in effect today.” Lippincott adds that under Bailey’s leadership, PUP built a separate printing plant, modernized its offices, and launched a highly successful paperback publication program.

Having institutionalized the modern identity and structure of Princeton University Press, Bailey exercised a commensurate influence throughout the larger world of publishing and letters. According to Sanford G. Thatcher, who served as PUP’s editor in chief under Bailey, and later as director of the Pennsylvania State University Press, Bailey played a prominent role in several important initiatives, including the National Enquiry into Scholarly Communication (1976–1979), “whose final report (published in 1979 by the Johns Hopkins University Press) made numerous recommendations that are still relevant today, including more widely distributing the financial burden for supporting the system of scholarly publishing.”

Thatcher recalls, too, that Bailey championed the adoption of acid-free paper throughout American publishing and was an early innovator in the propagation and application of computer technologies, noting his role in the Library of Congress’s Optical Disk Project Advisory Committee in the 1980s, and subsequent efforts. Adds Harvard University Library director and former PUP Editorial Board member Robert Darnton, “Herb retired Princeton’s linotype presses reluctantly, but was one of the first to foresee the possibilities of digital book delivery.”

Bailey’s 1970 book, The Art and Science of Book Publishing, originally published by Harper & Row and subsequently republished by the University of Texas Press and later by the Ohio University Press, “became a classic in its field virtually on the day of publication,” in the words of publisher Charles Scribner, Jr., and stands as an enduring testament to the breadth and depth of his command of publishing.

Beyond his contributions to PUP and to the broader world of scholarly communications, Bailey is remembered fondly as a teacher and a leader. Admired for his shrewd business sense, he was equally appreciated for the way he treated his staff and the collegiality he fostered. Joanna Hitchcock, a PUP managing editor during the Bailey years who went on to become director of the University of Texas Press, puts it as only a close colleague could: “As a leader, Herb was energetic and inspiring. Ideas were tossed around, and even junior employees were encouraged to speak out. Herb ran a tight ship and we worked hard, but the environment was challenging and there were ample opportunities for mobility and advancement. He was both idealistic and practical, imaginative, fair, and loyal to colleagues even when he disagreed with them.”

Bailey’s professional influence can best be measured in the work of younger Princeton colleagues who carried the lessons they learned from him beyond PUP’s walls into leadership roles throughout the nation. Sanford Thatcher and Joanna Hitchcock not only became distinguished and highly successful press directors in their own right, but succeeded Bailey as presidents of the Association of American University Presses. Other future directors trained by Bailey included John Irvin at Minnesota, Carol Orr at Tennessee (also a later AAUP president), and John Putnam at Northwestern. Putnam would go on to become executive director of the AAUP.

Joining Bailey in the leadership of Princeton University Press during his decades at the helm were three outstanding fellow publishers, R. Miriam Brokaw, associate director and editor, William C. Becker, associate director and controller, and Harold W. McGraw, Jr., chairman of the board of McGraw-Hill, Inc., and president of Princeton University Press’s Board of Trustees.

Mr. Becker and Ms. Brokaw served as Bailey’s closest advisers and, along with him, formed the core management of the Press. Mr. McGraw, who died in 2010, served on the Press’s board from 1962 onward for 25 years, 8 as its chairman, and provided the Press with the endowment to fund the most ambitious publishing project in its history, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.

Bailey is survived by his beloved wife, Betty, four children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Their sixth grandchild, Emily, passed away in 2000. After his retirement in 1986, he and Betty lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He visited the Press only a few times during his later life. A particularly notable occasion was its centennial reception in June 2005. One of the speakers that evening quoted a line from Bailey’s 1970 book—a line that rings as true today as it did then:

What makes a great publishing house are great books, written by great authors, edited by great editors, designed with taste, produced with skill and efficiency, and energetically and widely sold.

This spare, yet wise and powerful sentence stands as the goal that the current staff of Princeton University Press pursue, inspired as we are by the enduring example of Herbert S. Bailey, Jr., and by the magnificent legacy he has left us.


Peter J. Dougherty