June 16, 2021
The world’s largest university press to close its only remaining printing arm
by Nikki Griffiths
The city of Oxford has a rich literary history. The University of Oxford was established as early as 1095 and the first book printed in the city was in 1478, just two years after the first printing press was established in England. The formal recognition of the University of Oxford’s right to print its own books came in 1586 and today, Oxford University Press (OUP) it is the largest university press in the world. However, after centuries of print tradition, it will finally be closing its sole surviving printing arm.
OUP’s subsidiary, Oxuniprint, produces flyers, booklets, brochures, newsletters and magazines, locally and nationally. It will be closing for good on 27th August, all twenty employees due to be made redundant. Dr. Jude Roberts, chair of trade union Unite’s branch at OUP, said on breaking of the news (as reported by the Guardian):
“The press has said that they are going to attempt to find alternative roles for them. But the fact is that the work that these guys do is so specific, it’s so highly skilled in this particular area, and we don’t do any of that work now without them, so it’s hard to imagine where they could be placed elsewhere in the press. It’s absolutely awful.”
The closure follows a recent business review of operations, and declining sales. Unite has placed blame on poor management, Covid and continued outsourcing by OUP. Unite regional officer Kevin Whiffen said, as reported by The Bookseller:
“This is the final chapter in a distinguished printing history at the OUP, but we feel that there could have been a different outcome if OUP bosses had not been hell-bent on pursuing their outsourcing agenda and the inexplicable failure to utilise the job retention scheme for the Oxuniprint workers. We feel that our members have been badly let down by short-sighted and disloyal decisions of the OUP management towards a dedicated workforce sold out on the altar of outsourcing.
“This decision follows the broader trend of outsourcing currently in progress at OUP. Typesetting work is now done primarily by external suppliers in India and the Philippines, and warehouse storage and distribution has been similarly almost entirely outsourced in the UK since 2019. And the recently announced closure of OUP’s warehouse in Cary in North Carolina is also in order to outsource this work to an external supplier.”
OUP also stopped printing its own books in 1989. As Roberts pointed out, this death of print controlled by the university ends a long-admired and important history.
“Oxuniprint is the latest iteration of OUP’s print division which has been around for centuries… The idea of Oxford University Press as a press has always been fundamental to what we do. It’s not just about the content, although obviously that is important, it’s also about the quality of our publications as cultural artefacts. It’s much more difficult to control that quality when the physical books and journals are produced by somebody else.”
Whiffen added: “There is not much loyalty to the centuries-old printing heritage, and those who have given their working lives to it, in this world-renowned university city.”
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.