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Enter the University Presses

One of the many reasons I love university presses is their business model that focuses on books for content and author rather than for commercial sizzle.  Wags might complain that’s changing, but overall UPs still keep their eye on the superb prize of publishing good books even if their sales potential is not obvious.

This passage from a recent New Yorker article on digital publishing points things out nicely:  According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent booksellers has declined from 3,250 to 1,400 since 1999; independents now represent just ten per cent of store sales. Chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders account for about thirty per cent of the market, and superstores like Target and Wal-Mart, along with clubs like Costco, account for forty-five per cent, though they typically carry far fewer titles. As a result, publishers, like the Hollywood studios, are under enormous pressure to create more hits—more books like “Twilight”—and fewer quiet domestic novels or worthy books about poverty or trade policy.

As more trade publishers say “no” to what they see as mid-list books, I believe qualified authors will seek refuge at great university presses.  After all, as one university press director pointed out when I visited his office in New York, a book that sells 10,000 copies at a trade press might be considered an under-performer, whereas that same book with the same sales could be the top title at a university press.

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