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UI Press not pressed into trouble

BY KATHLEEN SERINO | MARCH 6, 2009 7:22 AM

Artfully dodging the sting of the recession, the UI Press is preserving itself with traditional business practices and introducing some new ones, too.

Nationwide book sales for most college presses are down 8 to 10 percent from the same time last year, said Peter Givler, the executive director of the Association of American University Presses.

“Nobody expects that to improve anytime soon,” he said, citing the economic downturn for the drop.

But the UI Press is sustaining.

The press increased its publishing load to more than 45 books in fiscal 2008 — nearly 10 more than usual, marketing manager Jim McCoy said.

For its size, he said, that’s a lot of books.

The average number of employees for a university press is 30, according to the national association.

The UI Press operates on one-fourth that number.

And UI Press Director Holly Carver said the university-based publishing house has had its foot in the digital door for a while, and a number of new digital ventures are in the works.

“It’s a very interesting time to be in publishing,” she said.

She called the digital push very different but a “natural progression.”

Lately, the press is focusing more on e-marketing, McCoy noted.

In addition from its Facebook page and a blog — both in the works — the company recently put a majority of its backlist onto Google Book Search, reviving older titles by making them visible online.
McCoy said that next year, advertising dollars will go to online sources, and many of their news releases will be e-mailed.

A few days ago, he said, the UI Press joined with University of Chicago Press in a venture that will make between 100 and 200 titles available in downloadable PDF format by this fall.

“Pricing is a big issue,” he said.

He doesn’t think many university presses are actively selling their titles electronically, he said.
Nationwide, the effect of a poor economy is hurting some college presses.

Givler said both state taxes and university endowment incomes are down, causing most universities to cut their budgets. The cuts mean less purchasing power for university libraries and dipping into subsidies to fund presses.

“Overall, it’s going to be a tough year, and probably next year as well,” Givler said.

To preserve the business, Carver said, UI Press is shrinking print runs and printing some titles in paperback rather than hardback.

So far, the press has been lucky, even receiving a little national fame.

This week, Iowa Public Television aired programs offering a close look at two photography books published by UI Press: Harker’s One-Room Schoolhouses: Visions of an Iowa Icon and SundayAfternoon on the Porch: Reflections of a Small Town in Iowa, 1939-1942.

Sunday Afternoon on the Porch was a runaway success. Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., posted a documentary of the 116-page book on YouTube, and in October the New York Times featured a spread in its national section.

The UI Press is also releasing Visits with the Amish: Impressions of the Plain Life on March 15.
Given the state of university presses, Givler said, the UI Press should be congratulated on its success, citing Carver as a “first-rate publisher.”

She emphasized the press’ stable position and said that for now, the press is “trying to do more with less while maintaining our traditionally high standards.”


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