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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Jaschik’

UMich Press Halts, Then Okays Distribution of Anti-Israel Book

Many university presses in the United States distribute books for publishers from other countries – and vice versa. But as Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik reported yesterday, the University of Michigan has recently discovered that such an arrangement can land a university in the middle of a controversy over a book neither written by one of its professors nor published by its press.

Last month, the press halted publication of Joel Kovel‘s OVERCOMING ZIONISM, which argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and urges adoption of the “one state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians would form a new country, without a Jewish character. The publisher is Pluto Press, a British outfit that describes itself as having a left-wing focus and that publishes books by and for scholars in the social sciences. The University of Michigan Press is the American distributor for Pluto. After the book’s halted distribution, Anne Beech, managing director of Pluto Press, defended the book and its publication, saying “[Kovel is] a scholar of standing – not a ranting madman.”

Today, however, Jaschik follows up with a report that UMich has had a change of heart. In a statement released by the university, the press Executive Board (a faculty body) said that while it “has deep reservations about Overcoming Zionism, it would be a blow against free speech to remove the book from distribution on that basis. We conclude that we should not fail to honor our distribution agreement based on our reservations about the content of a single book.” At the same time, the board tried to distance itself from the book and its publisher. “Had the manuscript gone through the standard review process used by the University of Michigan Press, the board would not have recommended publication. But the arrangement with Pluto Press is for distribution only; the UM Press never intended to review individually every title published by Pluto (or any other press for which it holds distribution rights). By resuming distribution, the board in no way endorses the content of the book.”

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University Press Try Out New Models

Last week, InsideHigherEd’s Scott Jaschik looked at how University Presses are moving – or not – towards the Digital Age. Now he zeroes in on the model adapted by Rice University Press, which was eliminated as a standalone press in 1996 but came back last year with the idea that it would publish online only, using low-cost print-on-demand for those who want to hold what they are reading. Since the announcement that the press was coming back – and using a unique model by not publishing in traditional book form – many in academic publishing have wondered how Rice would shift to a new format for publishing while maintaining the rigor associated with a university press.

The answer, Jaschik discovers, is that Rice is getting started in a way that points directly to the economic logjam in academic publishing. Rice is going to start printing books that have been through the peer review process elsewhere, been found to be in every way worthy, but impossible financially to publish. In this way, Rice will be linking established peer review systems – sometimes in tandem with Stanford University Press – with its new model of distributing scholarship. The end result? Long Tail Press, as Rice is dubbing it. Alan Harvey, editor in chief at Stanford, said he saw great potential not only to try a new model, but to test the economics of publishing in different formats. Stanford might pick some books with similar scholarly and economic potential, and publish some through Rice and some in the traditional way, and be able to compare total costs as well as scholarly impact. “We’d like to make this a public experiment and post the results,” he said.

Shaking Up University Publishing

At InsideHigherEd, Scott Jaschik looks at a recent report issued on “University Publishing in a Digital Age” that proposes radical changes in the way publishing works in that sector. The report – from Ithaka, a nonprofit group that promotes research and strategy for colleges to reflect changing technology – is based on a detailed study of university presses, which morphed into a larger examination of the relationship between presses, libraries and their universities.

The bottom line of the Ithaka report suggests that university presses focus less on the book form and consider a major collaborative effort to assume many of the technological and marketing functions that most presses cannot afford, and that universities be more strategic about the relationship of presses to broader institutional goals. “We’re trying to look at the whole ecosystem,” said Laura Brown, a lead author of the report and a consultant who was formerly president of Oxford University Press USA, “and it was instructive to see how much dysfunction is there.”

Brown said that the idea is not to eliminate the book, but to recognize that not many people are reading monographs, period – and that a new digital format could change that and add readers for the work and revenue for presses. She suggested that monographs might be formatted for use in parts – searchable online. All of the people who would never buy the book, but might find a chapter or even a passage useful, now become potential readers, she said. Of course, that is easier said than done, but the report at least is a good first step in possibly implementing change down the line.