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Pressing AHEAD

NOW IN ITS 35th year, Temple University Press is enlarging its presence in the academic community and expanding an already well-developed regional publishing program for general audiences. A recent survey ranked it the ninth-leading university press publishing in the social sciences.

By Ruth W. Schultz
Temple Review, Spring 2005

As part of what might be called a renaissance of scholarly pursuit at Temple, Temple University Press has been receiving renewed attention. Since 1969, the Press has been fulfilling its mission by publishing books that advance knowledge, books whose audience might be limited to academics and to students via college libraries. Its raison d'etre has been that these works have enormous intellectual worth, despite often having limited commercial value.

In the mid-15th century, printing presses with movable type came into use. Cambridge and Oxford universities, which had been operating for centuries before, inherited both the burden and the glory of perpetuating the new knowledge that was being disseminated in their lecture halls. Cambridge Press, the granddaddy of university presses, started operating in 1584. Oxford soon after.

University presses also had a slow start in the United States. Cornell was the first, opening in 1869, but it ceased to operate from 1890 to 1930; Johns Hopkins is the oldest continually operating press and dates to 1878; the University of Chicago Press started operating in 1894, Yale in 1910, and Harvard in 1913.

The need for a press at Temple goes back to the 1930s when Temple was a small school and its faculty-scholars had their work published through their various departments. But without the services of a traditional publisher, production, promotion, and editorial services were lacking.

Then in the '40s and up into the early '60s, Temple scholars, whose work had the approval of the Faculty Senate's Publications Committee, published through other university presses such as Penn and Columbia with the imprint "Temple University Publications." That arrangement was always awkward and when the University and therefore the size of the faculty began to grow dramatically in the 1960s, it was time to make a change.

In 1967, a Faculty Senate proposal to establish an independent press was approved by the Board of Trustees. And funding for Temple University Press was made available.

Temple University Press opened its doors in 1969; Maurice English was appointed its founding director. He came to Temple from the University of Chicago Press, where he had been senior editor and was himself a published poet and scholar. A Board of Review at Temple was assembled, made up of deans and faculty members from a variety of disciplines. Their task was to evaluate the manuscripts submitted and authenticate a high level of scholarship. To this day, the Press's Editorial Board must approve every book that appears under the Temple imprint.

In its first years, the Press's output totaled some 15 books a year and in 1972 it was elected to full membership in the Association of American Universities Presses, the very first year it was eligible. Among its early titles were books on subjects that ranged from Marxism and Charles Darwin to student power in university governance. Some were a result of symposia that were held on campus. And still others were high-quality works written by scholars at other universities whose research coincided with the areas in which the Press had carved out a niche. Then as now, about 20 percent of the Press's total titles are written by Temple faculty members.

In 1976, David Bartlett succeeded English as director; output was increased to some 32 books per year and academic specialties were established: particularly history, political science, and sociology; anthropology, law, and education became signature niches later. Today Temple is still widely recognized in the social sciences, specializing in such topics as women's studies, Latin-American, Asian-American, African-American, and urban studies.

In 1983, Temple University Press was ranked by the journal College and Research Libraries as the third best scholarly publisher, just behind Harvard and Princeton. This achievement was attributed to the work of Bartlett and acquisitions editor Michael Ames.

But prestige does not pay the bills. Periodically, the Press has endured financial strains that have winnowed its staff and even threatened its existence—an experience not made easier by the knowledge that university presses nationwide have faced similar predicaments. An academic press is not a profitmaking machine and must rely on support from the university, whose ability to supply funding goes up and down in relation to what's going on in the economy and, in Temple's case, what allocation it receives from the state.

Even with support from the administration, university presses must be financially resourceful. Scholarly books are expected to pay for their own cost through a combination of sales, funding from outside sources, and the university's support. Sometimes they pull it off, sometimes not.

Says Janet Francendese, Temple University Press's editor-in-chief and assistant director, "In the Press's early history (the '70s to early '80s), we could count on selling an initial press run of about 1,000 hard cover copies which were sold to university libraries and individual academics. Deciding whether to have a subsequent print run in paperback was and is still dependent on the likelihood of the book's use in the classroom as required or supplementary reading. That's what happened to an academic book called Cheap Amusements, a sociological study of how working-class women spent their leisure time in the early part of the 20th-century. It became the Press's third largest seller at 38,000 paperback copies."

So how does a book get published? The Press employs three acquisitions editors whose job it is to pursue the best authors in the subject areas they cover. They also must generate ideas for books and then solicit scholars to write them. The editors maintain a broad network of contacts through visiting campuses—starting with getting to know the faculty at Temple—and through attending academic conferences, where they renew old acquaintances and meet the new generation of scholars emerging from graduate school.

In addition, the Press receives unsolicited manuscripts and proposals from authors who have, through their own work, discovered the prominence of the Press's publications in their field. The high quality of an existing list of titles often becomes the best advertisement for new authors who wish to join the ranks.

A project that interests an acquisitions editor will be sent to two or three experts in the field for their review and comment. This "peer" review is critical to publishing scholarly work; it allows other experts in the field to judge the worthiness of a project. These readers offer recommendations on whether to publish a project and on what changes the author might need to make in order to produce the very best manuscript on their topic.

Thereafter the project goes to the Press's cross-disciplinary faculty Review Board, which may approve unconditionally, approve with suggestions for further development, or decline to publish the book. The Board currently consists of 10 faculty members drawn from a variety of scholarly disciplines and schools within the University. They meet about once a month throughout the year. Their range of expertise is critical to rendering good judgments on the wide variety of projects the Press considers. It's labor intensive work, but the joy comes in helping to shape scholarship.

Throughout the review and revision process the acquisitions editor makes—what else—editorial comments. Once the Press is satisfied that the manuscript is complete and strong and the Board has given its final goahead, the project goes to the production department. A freelance copyeditor gives the manuscript its final polish and freelance designers create the cover and the interior "look" of the book.

Now it's the turn of the marketing staff to create the ads, displays, and publicity efforts that alert the book's audience to the forthcoming publication. Seasonal catalogues highlighting all the new books and recent bestsellers go to retailers, wholesalers, internet booksellers, and librarians. Direct mail pieces go to professors and in some cases professional groups related to a book's subject. Each book is listed on the Press Web site, copies are sent to relevant academic conferences, and review copies are sent to scholarly and general publications that the Press feels would review the book.

Giving birth to a book can take up to two years—about the gestation period for an elephant. But unlike an elephant cow, the Press has had to deal with persistent budgetary problems while nursing its progeny.

Francendese explains, "In '96-97, the whole publishing industry slumped badly—college libraries' book budgets were severely reduced and the fledgling chain stores returned carloads of unsold books to university presses and commercial publishers.The Press found itself in a severe economic crunch. Today we can count on selling only about 200 copies of a book to college libraries."

But Temple University Press, with critical support from the Provost's office, has survived and stabilized. This was accomplished by revising its areas of publishing, taking advantage of new technologies, and revamping its sales force.

One mainstay that has kept the Press afloat is its strength in publishing regional books. Temple currently publishes more regional titles than any publisher in Philadelphia. These are books about the Philadelphia area, its cultural institutions, its gardens, and its social and economic history, all subjects which appeal to a broader audience and are sold by general book stores.

Many of these regional books look considerably different from the scholarly titles: they may be glossy and heavily illustrated. Because they can be very expensive to produce, the Press receives support for some of them through grants and foundations. A small sampling of top sellers includes Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890-1940, The Atlas of Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell. A subcategory within the regional list is sports, with books such as The Phillies Encyclopedia, The Phillies Reader, and Fishing the Delaware Valley. An Eagles encyclopedia is due out later this year.

Temple University Press currently occupies a large office in the University Service Buildings at Broad and Oxford streets; its environs are unexpectedly serene. That's because its name is an oxymoron. Like its fellow university presses, there is no press at the Press. The actual presswork is done off site by a variety of commercial printers. Temple University Press is more accurately a publishing house with business, marketing, and production departments; three acquisitions editors who each specialize in different disciplines; plus support staff.

The current director of Temple University Press, Alex Holzman, for example, acquires titles in political science and criminology. He came to Temple in July of 2003 from Cambridge University Press in New York. There Holzman held several key positions and was most recently the manager of consortia sales and new media (internet) partnerships.

His academic background is in history and the history of science, and his publishing experience includes stints with a commercial house, Scribners; a leading book vendor, Dalton's; and at two university presses, Cambridge and Ohio State. A one-time sales rep, writer, acquisitions editor, and assistant director, he is familiar with both the business and the academic sides of publishing.

"When I accepted this job," he explains, "I understood that the Press had an excellent reputation, particularly in the social sciences, and that it also had the full backing of the administration.

"My plans for the future are related to the University's current faculty recruitment drive to get the very best people in a variety of disciplines. While we won't end up publishing all the work of these new scholars, many will doubtless have contacts with the top scholars in their fields, which in turn, will open up new doors for our acquisitions staff. There is a kind of synergy going on right now between the University and the Press. A firstclass research university requires great students, great faculty, a great library, and a first-rate press. We feed off of each other."

Regarding the Press's plans, Holzman adds, "We are currently publishing 60 titles per year and are developing plans with the administration to grow 85 to 90 titles. This qualifies Temple as a medium-size university press. Large presses like California, Yale, or Princeton publish over 150 titles per year." Is big necessarily better? "No, but a greater number of titles means that you have a greater opportunity to publish first-rate books in a wider number of subject areas. And when you begin to approach 100 titles a year, you can take more risks with innovative books whose market is a little less certain. Because no one book bears too great a share of the overall budget, you can occasionally climb out on a limb, knowing that a single book's success or failure will not determine an entire year's success or failure."

Like the University as a whole, Temple University Press is renewing its efforts to further scholarship and the well-being of the community. Or as Maurice English, the Press's first director, wrote in a poem commemorating the founding of Temple Press and its mission:

To fulfill its original commitment to urban education,
And simultaneously to foster
That passion of inquiry
Which is the essence of scholarship.

For that passion, in the end, determines what men truly know
And therefore how they will act, if they act well.


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