As university presses face increasing scrutiny across the country, the University Press of Kansas’ leadership is focusing on creating new ways to stay relevant in a changing publishing world.
The situation in Kansas is different from the one in neighboring Missouri, where the press faced closure before an uproar from faculty and others kept its doors open.
“We’re solid,” said Fred Woodward, who has served as the University Press director since 1981. “We’ve got strong support, and the press is in good financial shape.”
The press is housed at KU, but serves each of the state’s universities.
Each of the six state universities contributes to the press, said Vanessa Lamoreaux, associate director of communications for the Kansas Board of Regents.
KU’s annual contribution is $130,203; Kansas State contributes $93,479; and Wichita State contributes $60,094. Pittsburg State, Fort Hays State and Emporia State each contribute $16,693.
Those subsidies are important, Woodward said.
“Almost every university press lives up to its nonprofit status,” he said.
University presses primarily publish books from academics across the country that commercial presses likely would pass up. Faculty members often rally behind university presses because they are often the only outlets for their work in a publish-or-perish world.
“If you believe in a research university, then it’s hard not to believe in the dissemination of that research,” Woodward said.
Woodward reports to the systemwide Council of Chief Academic Officers, whose membership includes provosts and other top academic officers from the state’s universities.
KU Provost Jeff Vitter is on the council, and he praised the press for performing at levels above its peers with lower revenue sources. He also affirmed the press’s important role for the state’s universities.
“We are working with Fred and the press to try and position our university press for long-term success,” Vitter said.
Instead of his usual annual report to the council, Woodward is coming up with a multi-year strategic plan for the press.
The press slightly increased its sales during the last fiscal year, but the specifics of the plan for the future are still being worked out, Woodward said.
“Obviously, our press has been slow to adopt e-books,” Woodward said.
Peer presses that are further along in the development of e-books are seeing more revenue in that area, he said, though those presses aren't generating greater total sales than Kansas' press. Kansas’ press elected not to spend as much money upfront on e-books and instead tried to learn from others’ successes and mistakes.
Woodward said he still didn’t have a good answer for the problems that are facing publishers today as more consumers flock to electronic media.
If publishers do eventually fail, Woodward said they would leave an unfilled void for researchers.
“There’s going to have be some other system that somehow verifies the quality of the scholarship,” he said.