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University Presses – Evolution and Future

A veteran in sales and business development, Karan Malhotra has managed a portfolio of onshore and offshore projects and processes in publishing in the United States, India, Mexico and China. 

In this Q&A, Karan offers his insights on university presses, their evolution and future… 

How have university presses evolved over the years?
University presses work with academic communities to acquire and publish scholarly content across disciplines as books, journals and digital products. Unlike commercial publishers whose mission is to publish content that sells well and is profitable for their business, university presses were established with a mission to promote research in various fields of study, nurture academic excellence and enrich scholarly discourse for the benefit of scholars, researchers, teachers, students and niche audiences.

The earliest university presses were established in the fifteenth century and have grown in numbers across the world since then. These presses have been playing a critical role in disseminating their university’s research work. 

Over the decades, though, the challenges that the university presses face have been increasing with the decline in library budgets and sales, reduced financial support from their institutions, increasing need for digitization, and rising costs for editorial development and production among other challenges in publishing, with risks to the creation and dissemination of academic research.

In more recent times, several university presses are embracing technology and digitization and adapting to newer formats and non-traditional ways of publishing to stay relevant. 

What are the major challenges that university presses face today? 

The greatest challenge that university presses are facing today is the decline in sales of academic books and journals. Major contributors to this decline are decreasing budgets for libraries, the main customers whom university presses have relied on for print sales, and fewer purchases.

University presses have been dependent on financial support from their universities to support their research and publishing projects. However, over the past decades, the home institutions have been allocating less or no budgets to the presses on account of rising costs. This decrease in institutional subsidies and lack of adequate funding has meant that the university presses must limit their publishing to commercially viable projects.

Increased focus on print-on-demand has caused a decline in upfront sales, and the rising costs for content development/editorial services and additional costs for producing in print and digital formats are additional challenges that the university presses are now facing.  

What are the key strategies university presses are adopting to stay relevant in the future? 

University presses are shifting to digital and open-access publishing to widen readership. They are adopting technologies to improve their workflows and decrease their time to produce and market while preserving quality. 

To keep pace with changing reader preferences, university presses are analyzing data to understand reader interests and make their publications more discoverable. University presses are making their content more equitable by making their digital products accessible.

University presses are also focussing on newer streams of revenue and reducing costs and risks by collaborating with libraries, other academic institutions and publishing solution providers. These collaborations have helped in building community-based open-source platforms for digital products, providing alternatives to traditional publishing solutions, and creating opportunities for funding and lessening dependency on institutional subsidies.

Artificial intelligence provides great opportunities to make content more discoverable, improve accessibility, understand reader preferences and predict market trends. University presses are looking to embrace technological innovations and artificial intelligence to address the challenges they face and stay committed to their missions of preserving and disseminating scholarly content. 

Newgen, a publishing solution provider, partners with several university presses around the world to provide end-to-end publishing services, automated tools for typesetting (Redshift) and conversion (Silk), and platforms to manage workflows (Pubkit) and distribute content (Nova). Read more about our services in academic publishing here.

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