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Small Publishing Houses and University PressesThesis

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Credibility and Visibility in the World of University Publishing


Building credibility and visibility in the world of university book publishing

Scholarly publishing survives through severe economic hardships which can, however, be rationalized by a thorough understanding of two main complexities involved. First, the operations of scholarly publishing in two clear but almost opposing areas: the first being commercial interests whose main concern is to satisfy the needs and wants of customers like institutions and general readers in order to bring annual revenues, ensuring good returns on investment, and managing risks (David, 2012). Second, getting to understand how the forces of demand and supply interact in this area (Greco et al., 2012). Even though university presses are not too formidable to collapse, their failure would spell doom because of the vital role they play in transmitting cultures and ideas (Greco and Wharton, 2010).

The intention of this study is to build a body of texts that can give credence and credibility to the role small publishing houses play in university publishing. The study aims at isolating segments of texts with meaningful units and to formulate a name for a new category to which the chosen texts can be assigned. The study will analyze university presses in America, UK, and Canada. Some of the questions the study aims to answer are:

1. Why should university presses be the first line of choice for small publishing houses?

2. How can small publishing enterprises find reliable university presses?

With these two questions in mind, it would be easier for the researcher to encompass other aspects of publishing. Oher questions will arise that will enhance the research topic and allow other researchers to build upon the research. It is not possible to cover all areas and it is for this reason that the study will limit itself to the three countries. Other countries have similar small publishers, but it would not be possible to cover all of them in this particular study. However, references could be made to these publishers to demonstrate their importance and to inform the reader of other University presses.

These are the two main questions the study aims to answer, which will offer great insights and allow for other questions like the advantages and disadvantages of using university presses, the type of books mainly published by small publishing houses and university presses. In conducting the research, the value of university presses and their benefits to society will be uncovered. This is vital to inform the audience the importance if using university presses as compared to the major publishing houses.

Organization of the dissertation

The dissertation will be organized in a five chapter qualitative model and the outline is as follows

Chapter One: Introduction


Problem statement

Study purpose

Research Questions

Relevance of the study


Chapter Two: Literature Review

Chapter Three: Research Methods

Qualitative Paradigm

Qualitative Methods

Role of the Researcher

Sources of Data

Collection of Data

Data Analysis

Data Verification

Ethical Considerations

Chapter Four: Research Findings

Chapter Five: Discussion, Conclusion, and Suggestions




Suggestions for Future Research


The biggest American publishing houses are huge corporations whose combined control of the entire publishing in the U.S.A., and a major percentage of international publishing is almost 90% are referred to as the "Big Six." These major publishing houses have the resources and capacity to build extensive distribution networks, and to initiate huge promotional campaigns capable of landing a newly released book in all retail outlets on the same day it is published through their numerous affiliates and branches (Maeda, 2014). SAGE publishers in the U.S., and the MacMillan Science and Education from UK are some of the most famous publishers in this class (Rayner, 2013). Other publishers include Taylor and Francis, Cengage Learning, and McGraw-Hill. Taylor and Francis mainly distributes several book titles and numerous journals. UK publishers mostly commission McGraw-Hill and Cengage Learning. There are also smaller UK companies like Zed Books, Emerald, Pluto, Jessica Kingsley, LB, Edward Elgar, Tauris, Ashgate, and Bloomsbury who try to compete with the major players. Kogan Page specializes in particular professional niches, while Rowan & Littlefield International are start-ups.

University presses are mainly known for publishing academic journals and books with publishers like Oxford University Press, which is the largest book publisher in the world effectively competing with private-sector publishers representing an output of more than 6000 titles annually (Adil H. Mouhammed, 2010). One unique feature of Oxford is the fact that it financially supports the university unlike many other university presses particularly in the U.S. who depend on their universities for financial support (Clark and Phillips, 2014).

In the U.S. alone, there are 100 university presses like Stanford University Press and 85,000 self-publishing and small companies such as Dog Ear Publishing and Archipelago Books besides the "Big Six" (Brown and Holzman, 2014). However, these small entities rarely last long. Yearly, there are between 8,000 and 11,000, mainly self-publishing companies that are established. Interestingly, the mega-publishers are not as open to new authors as the mid-sized publishers are because the major publishers principally target commercial interests where they can sell beyond 100,000 copies while mid-sized companies are often more than satisfied with average sales and modest profits. It is easier to approach the smaller presses because they rarely require authors to have agents, and in most cases, they serve a particular genre or a specialty niche market. They usually do not give advances, and their first run is normally between 1000-5000 units and they account for nearly 78% of new releases. Compared to commercial publishers who majorly produce books for commercial book stores whose sales represents almost $26 billion, the smaller companies make only $13 - $17 billion annually. University presses produce scholarly works with creative importance or intellectual merit for regional communities and specific audiences. Being external extensions of their parent universities the presses are an important addition to the preservation and dissemination of knowledge by scholarly associations and research libraries. By publishing more than 100 titles yearly, the mid-sized companies net between $10 million and $50 million annually even though they are not major corporations like the bigger houses. They vary greatly in structure and sizes from private businesses owned by families or individuals to newspaper publishing chains (Maeda, 2014). Although scholarly treatises provide and will still provide the main source of income for the university presses, the presses produce more than scholarly works because a number of factors during the past quarter century have compelled them to consider other publications beyond their basic publishing criterion of improving scholarship (Herman, 2014).

Independent small presses

Independent publishers, small publishers, small presses and mid-sized commercial publishers sell directly or indirectly to the same retailers sometimes through mail orders (Withey et al., 2011). Despite the fact that they have leaner budgets than that of the major houses, annually averaging $10 million, they have many benefits, for instance, they can keep a title in print and circulation for lengthy periods than the major publishers, and they market to specialty audiences such as poetry readers. They are mostly suitable for writers whose works belong to a specialty category or niche market and they sometimes give royalties without advances or both royalties and advances. Their approachability makes them more likely to accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors who do not have agents unlike the major houses. The easiest way for first-time authors and illustrators to start their careers and penetrate the book market is through small publishers (Maeda, 2014). Some of the most reputable publishing houses in the history of Canada started as small presses, which they still are, for example, House of Anansi, and in this category, there are several university presses. The big three in this class who are non-profit are McGill-Queens, University of British Columbia Press, and University of Toronto Press (Driscoll, 2010). Small presses account for greater dissemination of fresh body of knowledge in the arts, humanities and sciences, and they win a disproportionate number of awards and recognitions although they represent a tiny economic bracket of the publishing industry (Amory et al., 2000)

The main reason why universities began publishing is that commercial publishers' intent on profit discriminated against scientific publications since the audience for this niche is small and so unprofitable (Livonen and Paivi, 2012). They also embarked on publishing because of the need to ensure that all new knowledge and research accumulated by the university was well learned, absorbed, distributed and preserved for posterity. Their efforts also provided a platform on which authors could collaborate in discussions within the university communities in order to give credence and visibility to the researchers and the universities at large (Shapiro, 2013). Some special characteristics of scientific publications include having a limited audience, smaller editions even in major languages, fewer local and major international publishing houses, and publication of several titles. However, the two most important players in the publishing enterprises, the authors and their readership, are usually very visible within the scientific community (Livonen and Paivi, 2012).

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