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University Presses are Thriving, Not Broken

This story originally appeared on Inside Higher Ed and has been republished with permission from the author.

By Derek Krissoff

There are more university presses than ever before, and sales are up.

A casual observer might reasonably assume that university presses are in crisis, or deserve to be. Mainstream outlets routinely proclaim that “academic publishing is broken,” and the new documentary Paywall, currently making the rounds on college campuses, argues that “academic publishers are burdening the higher education market, contributing to the rising tuition fees at all universities . . . and, ultimately, limiting science and progress.”

Whether they say it or not (and Paywall, to its credit, does), these criticisms are directed at commercial publishers of expensive STEM journals rather than not-for-profit university presses, which specialize primarily in books in humanities and social science fields. Think Elsevier vs. the University of Massachusetts Press. The big critiques that make headlines and generate documentaries don’t generally mention university presses at all, leaving many to assume that they’re part of what’s depicted as the problem of rapacious scholarly publishers.

Image via Wikipedia Commons, by Takashi Hososhima

When observers do turn to university presses, the story’s often more grim than angry. Much attention is paid to threatened press closures; less to the opening of new presses or the frequent decisions to keep open presses previously slated to shut down. (How many people know that the University of Akron Press, noisily slated for closure in 2015, not only stayed open but had a finalist for the National Book Award last year?) “Several presses have closed and almost all are struggling,” intoned Richard W. Clement in 2011, distilling a gloomy timbre that persists in many assessments of the industry.

Variously erased, posited as a problem to be solved, and assumed to be dinosaurs on their way out, university presses are in fact, in their low-key fashion, thriving. There are more of them than ever before, and they’re doing better: sales in the industry were up 5 percent last year. That growth isn’t, moreover, coming from cash-strapped libraries. Only 20 to 25 percent of university press sales are to libraries (down from 70 percent forty years ago), and at the University of California, to pick one example, only 7 percent of library budget goes to books of any kind.

As anger spreads over libraries being squeezed by STEM journals from large for-profits, university presses are growing in part by looking beyond a narrow focus on library markets and publishing for new audiences, branching out into crossover titles, supplemental texts, regional books, popular reference works, manifestos, graphic novels, and the like. It’s an entrepreneurial flourishing that engages new readers, creates new communities, and extends the reputation of those universities fortunate enough to have presses.

At the same time, widespread predictions that university presses might abandon less profitable fields and undermine the career prospects of junior scholars seem not to have panned out: 83 percent of scholarly monographs find a publisher. Presses may be publishing new sorts of books, but not at the expense of traditional ones.

Technology, meanwhile, hasn’t changed things the way its most confident champions (some of whom predicted a shift to primarily online publishing) believed to be inevitable. At most university presses 85 to 90 percent of sales continue to come from print. While ebooks aren’t the gamechanger some technophiles expected, a different shift—the ability to print books digitally—has made a huge difference, enabling presses to do small print runs responsibly. When I started in publishing twenty years ago I was told a new book required an initial print run of at least 2,000 copies to be viable. Now we can do just a few books at a time, if necessary, making it easier to continue the mission-driven publishing at our core, even when audiences are specialized.

The growth of virtual spaces for publicizing books and building communities around publishing programs has been the other seismic change made possible by the digital turn. But the results of online marketing often show up in print sales and IRL interactions (think: nicely publicized bookstore events) rather than digital downloads.

So what about open access for books? The approach has promise, particularly for some specialized titles that don’t reward the high-investment model of conventional publishing. But OA publishing costs money, just like conventional publishing—money that comes from somewhere even if it isn’t the customer. Simply changing who pays for publishing isn’t necessarily progressive and can exacerbate or re-inscribe inequalities. For example, plans to have authors’ universities cover the costs of publication ($35,000 per book, according to a study from Ithaka) may limit the pool of potential authors to those employed by wealthier institutions. Limitations like these may help account for the fact that only 1 percent of new scholarly books in English are published open access.

Saying that university presses are resilient, and that their recent history is characterized by continuity more than disruption, isn’t meant to suggest they’re static. University presses have always experimented, and they’ll continue to do so; they face challenges and, like the rest of the university, respond creatively. But university presses are best positioned to make the most of current prospects if they’re seen as valuable, not broken—if proposed changes are understood as having the potential to ensure a range of complementary publishing options, including the surprisingly durable model of traditional publishing.

Derek Krissoff

Derek Krissoff (@DerekKrissoff) is director at West Virginia University Press, the only university press, and largest book publisher of any kind, in West Virginia.

Don’t forget to check on selections from West Virginia University Press in the HEB collection on Fulcrum.

HEB on Fulcrum: In the Classroom

ACLS Humanities E-Book is happy for improved classroom use as a result from our move to the Fulcrum platform. The platform is still in development and improved tools for searching, annotating, and analytics are in the pipeline, but there is plenty to love about what HEB on Fulcrum can do for your classroom today.

For more information or questions, email

Chapter Downloads

In HEB’s surveys and correspondence with librarians at subscribing institutions, chapter downloads topped the list of most-desired features. Not a surprise—PDFs are a simple, flexible classroom solution for faculty and students. So how does the chapter download feature work? It’s easy…

Accompanying screenshots are from Bounce: Rap Music and Local Identity in New Orleans, copyright University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. Subscriber access only. 

  1.  After selecting a HEB title in your library catalog or through, you will be taken to the title page for your selection (below). 
  2. Once on the title page, you will see the chapter/section headings listed under the “Table of Contents” tab. There are three links for each heading: the text of the heading and “Read” button take you into the e-reader, the “Download” button generates a PDF of the chapter.
    • Do not distribute the download link—HEB titles can be accessed by subscribers in a variety of ways, which impacts the URL generated. This also keeps subscribers within fair use fort the copyrighted material and allows us to more accurately track usage of the collection.
    • Front matter, lists, indexes, etc. are not available for download at this moment.
    • Please email if a download link is broken.

The link will open a PDF in your browser (see below), where you will be able to download the file through your browser’s default application. Above, a TOC displaying the “Download” and “Read” buttons.

Inside the E-Reader

The Fulcrum e-reader is great for showing text and illustrations in a classroom setting. For an in-depth update on accessibility updates related to the e-reader visit the latest post on the Fulcrum blog.

  1. Once in the E-Reader, the display will be set to auto. This is the best way to have the most browser-appropriate experience in the text. Below is a screenshot within the reader, note the location of the following:
    • Top Left: “X” exits the e-reader and returns the user to the title page, the HEB logo returns the user to
    • Navigation: Top left under the “X” is the menu button, bottom of the page is a maneuverable progress bar, arrows for page turning on are located on the right and left sides of the page, and horizontal/vertical scroll bars
    • Display: Top right the full screen button and settings button are adjacent. The second photo below shows the different display options once the settings button is clicked.
  2. The first photo below also displays four key features in the upper left portion of the e-reader:
    • Stable URL: This URL brings users to the title page, where once they try to enter the e-reader/download a chapter, they will be prompted to login through their institution.
    • “Get Citation”: Once this button is clicked, a sidebar will appear on the left where users can generate MLA, APA, and Chicago citations to copy/paste.
    • Search bar: Full text search, results appear in left-hand sidebar with links to location.
    • Share: Options to share title/citation to Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Reddit, Mendeley, and Cite U Like.

As Fulcrum continues to improve and build upon it’s infrastructure, more features that will help users in the classroom will become available. In the bottom left corner of the e-reader, there is an option for users to provide feedback…don’t be shy!

HEB on Fulcrum: Accessibility Update

ACLS Humanities E-Book (HEB) has been live on Fulcrum for over a month now and could not be happier, but we are always working on improvements. The most recent updates on Fulcrum are not merely aesthetic, nor are they static—flexibility for the future of digital publishing in the humanities factored heavily in HEB’s decision to move to Fulcrum.

Below are a few accessibility updates now live or coming soon to Fulcrum, be sure to follow the Fulcrum blog here.

Accessibility Update

Provided by Emma DiPasquale, Fulcrum Community Manager. For the full post, click here.

At Fulcrum, accessibility is a core value and design component. Over the past few months, the Fulcrum team has been focused on improving the platform’s accessibility features and making information about them more publicly available. We were fortunate to work for the summer with Luke Kudryashov, a Rackham public engagement graduate fellow, who helped the team develop more accessibility features and completed a VPAT 2.1 document, which can be found on our updated accessibility page. We’ve also been working to implement a few new accessibility features on the platform, including:
  • Improved screen reader compatibility
  • Text zoom features in e-reader
  • Implementation of Able Player, an accessible multimedia player for captions, audio descriptions, and transcripts
  • Image descriptions through alt-text attributes encoded in our EPUB 3 files
  • Zoom controls on images
  • Keyboard navigation shortcuts in the Fulcrum E-Reader
  • Compatibility with major accessibility browser extensions and operating system settings including text-to-speech, zoom, and contrast

The Fulcrum team continues to create inclusive services and content for all readers, and is constantly working to make the platform and its content as accessible and usable as possible. We’re particularly excited about our upcoming collaboration with the Deaf Studies Digital Journal (DSDJ), supported by a NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant through the spring of 2020, which will help us to push accessible publishing forward even further.

If you have any questions, please email

Senator John McCain leaves enduring legacy

Courtesy of Library of Congress.

On Saturday, August 25, Senator John McCain died at the age of 81, according to a statement released by his office. Just one day prior, the McCain family had also released a statement explaining his decision to end treatment for glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. McCain had been in treatment for over a year.

Though he may be known by younger generations as the 2008 Republican presidential candidate who ran against Barack Obama, McCain’s legacy began years prior, during his time serving as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War. Held as a prisoner of war for nearly six years, he was later hailed as a ‘war hero’ by his fellow Americans.

‘Shot down over Hanoi, suffering broken arms and a shattered leg, he was subjected to solitary confinement for two years and beaten frequently,’ the New York Times wrote in McCain’s obituary. ‘Often he was suspended by ropes lashing his arms behind him. He attempted suicide twice. His weight fell to 105 pounds. He rejected early release to keep his honor and to avoid an enemy propaganda coup or risk demoralizing his fellow prisoners.’

After returning to the United States, McCain settled in Arizona and began his political career, winning two terms in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate. In 2000, he unsuccessfully pursued the Republican presidential nomination to George W. Bush; in 2008, he and running-mate Sarah Palin were beat by Obama and Joe Biden, winning 46 percent of the popular vote.

As CNN notes, McCain was ‘a throwback to an earlier era when political leaders, without betraying their own ideology, were willing on occasion to cross partisan lines.’

For more information on these topics, view our full collection of titles, including Military History and General American History. 



The Pro-War Movement: Domestic Support for the Vietnam War and the Making of Modern American Conservatism
By Sandra Scanlon: Read 
Vietnam's Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the Arvm
By Andrew Wiest: Read
One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy 1890-1990
By George W. Baer: Read
Constitutionalism & Democracy: Transitions in the Contemporary World
Edited by Douglas Greenberg, Stanley N. Katz, Melanie Beth Oliviero, Steven C. Wheatley: Read
The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election
By Kate Kenski, Bruce W. Hardy, Kathleen Hall Jamieson: Read

HEB offering webinar on Fulcrum

On Thursday, August 16, Humanities E-Book (HEB) will be offering an informative webinar for all subscribers on the new functions and offerings available since the switch to Fulcrum on August 1. The “Fulcrum Demo” will begin at 3 p.m. ET and will be moderated by Subscriptions Manager Clare Doyle and National Academic Library Account Manager Lee Walton.

HEB’s launch on Fulcrum has seen praise from subscribers who are pleased with the improved functionality of the platform. Subscribers are also glad that the former platform will remain active through the end of September in order to make the transition easier.

Anyone with questions or suggestions are encouraged to email Please click this link to sign up for Thursday’s demo.