March 24, 2009

U Mich now e-Mich

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The University of Michigan Press, one of the country’s leading university presses, announced yesterday that it is going to shift from releasing its books in traditional print format to releasing almost all of them titles in digital format, making it the first scholarly press in the country to become primarily a digital publisher.

As Scott Jaschik reports in a story for InsideHigherEd, “Readers will still be able to use print-on-demand systems to produce versions that can be held in their hands, but the press will consider the digital monograph the norm. Many university presses are experimenting with digital publishing, but the Michigan announcement may be the most dramatic to date by a major university press.”

Jaschik notes that “The shift by Michigan comes at a time that university presses are struggling. With libraries’ budgets constrained, many presses have for years been struggling to sell significant numbers of monographs — which many junior professors need to publish to earn tenure — and those difficulties have only been exacerbated by the economic downturn. The University of Missouri Press and the State University of New York Press both have announced layoffs in recent months, while Utah State University Press is facing the possibility of a complete elimination of university support.”

Phil Pochoda, the director of Michigan’s press, tells Jaschik, “I have been increasingly convinced that the business model based on printed monograph was not merely failing but broken. Why try to fight your way through this? Why try to remain in territory you know is doomed? Scholarly presses will be primarily digital in a decade. Why not seize the opportunity to do it now?”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives

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