Yale University Press faces setbacks

In the face of nationwide drops in book sales, the Yale University Press is contemplating changes to its business model.

As university presses struggle to combat a downturn brought on by the economic recession, the Yale University Press has also seen its revenues fall, but by slightly less than the industry average of 10 percent. Yale University Press Director John Donatich said the press — which experienced a 7 to 8 percent decline in revenue this past year — is considering cutting back on some publishing runs and will ramp up its e-book program.

The press may have been able to stay slightly ahead of the curve this year with two successful book releases — a history book for children, “A Little History of the World,” and the business and psychology book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” Donatich said.

The sales of both books have benefited from being published both in the United States and by the press’s London branch, Donatich said — an advantage the press, the only American university press with a full-scale publishing program in Europe, has over its competition. The branch, which publishes 35 percent of the press’ books, is having its best year ever, Donatich said.

Even so, the effects of the recession are undeniable.

“Our books are working,” Donatich said. “But the marketplace is very soft.”

To accommodate this softer market, the press is considering publishing fewer copies of each title, he said. And while the press already has a digital presence, with close to 1,000 books available through the Amazon Kindle, an electronic book reader, the press is working to create an expanded digital platform for its works.

Representatives at the four other university presses interviewed also identified the ongoing recession as the primary factor behind falling sales, though some said digital piracy has been an issue as well.

“The retail sector is hurting in publishing as in book-selling as in everything, and we’re feeling the response to that,” said Eric Halpern, director of the University of Pennsylvania Press, which has seen revenue decline around 10 percent.

Halpern explained that while new books are being sold in the expected quantities, older books are instead being returned to the press from wholesalers and bookstores.

The Cornell University Press has seen slower sales across the board, and it may be that more students are turning to libraries rather than buying new course books, said Mahinder Kingra, the press’ marketing manager.

So far, university presses across the country have seen an average of a 10 percent drop in both net unit sales and net dollar sales in the July to December 2008 period, compared to the same period in 2007, according to a January survey of 62 university presses conducted by the American Association of University Presses.

“I don’t think anyone in the book publishing industry has any clear idea about whether we have or haven’t reached the bottom of this yet,” Brenna McLaughlin, electronic and strategic initiatives director at the American Association of University Presses, said.

The Yale University Press, which celebrated its centennial last year, is currently the largest books-only university press in the United States.

Comments

  • James

    Nudge is published by Penguin not Yale in Britain.

  • Roger '99

    The University of Michigan Press is being folded into the library and will be publishing in electronic-only format. See: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/03/23/michigan

  • what about …

    The forthcoming new edition of the Josef Albers landmark classic INTERACTION OF COLOR? Surely YUP will be able to do well with that.

  • michigander

    Chronicle article was incomplete; Michigan is publishing both electronically and on paper. See UM press release (umich.edu) for better coverage.