UW News

January 14, 2010

University Press looks ahead with Technology Fund, assistance from Graduate School

UW News

University of Washington Press, the UW’s prestigious scholarly publishing house, has been hit hard by the recession and changes in the publishing marketplace — but a new matching grant from the UW Graduate School is helping the publisher make a plan to better meet challenges of the future.

A second fund-raising effort, also with a boost from the Graduate School — UW Press’s administrative home — will in time help the publishing house restore a much-loved graduate internship program.

Pat Soden, executive director of UW Press, said changes in the marketplace and budget challenges have combined to create “a perfect storm in many ways” for the publishing house and others like it.

The first warning signs came a couple of years back, he said, when journal subscription rates soared even as university libraries scaled back spending. “We’re a monograph and book publisher and we see the consequences of reduced budgets,” he said. “And then there are the problems that all of us on this campus are facing, dealing with state budgets and cuts.”

UW Press, Soden said, has reduced its workforce by about 40 percent in the last year, from 36 FTE to 21. Part of that was due to the decision to close its north Seattle warehouse and combine “fulfillment” operations — storing, shipping, billing and such — with a consortium of universities led by the Johns Hopkins press.

The numbers speak for themselves. UW Press published 84 titles in the fiscal year 2008, Soden said, but that went down to 55 this fiscal year. “I think we can maintain that level,” he said, adding that “the title mix may change as we go forward.”

It’s the reality, he said, that university presses exist to publish scholarly and other books, most of which by nature are not big moneymakers. “We treasure those books that do return what you could describe as a profit and help support other books.”

But progress waits for no publisher these days, and electronic reading devices such as Kindle are undeniably part of any healthy publishing house’s future. UW Press took a small step into that era with its Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series, which had the funding for conversion of about 30 of those books into digital format.

UW Press also has been working with a company called Bilbiovault, which stores digital book files on behalf of scholarly publishers. Through this connection, the house has about 200 titles available for print-on-demand.

Soden said he doesn’t think the traditional paper-bound book will fade from use any time soon, and that, in fact, they’re still better for archiving. But he added, “I think that within five to 10 years it’s likely that the electronic product will be the primary product.”

All of which leads back to how UW Press will gain the skills and technology needed to operate in that digital future. Soden said UW Press has a strategic plan to begin “building the capital to invest in technology,” and that’s where Gerald Baldasty, dean of The Graduate School, came in.

Baldasty, himself a UW Press author (Vigilante Newspapers: A Tale of Sex, Religion, & Murder in the Northwest, 2005), offered to match, dollar for dollar, money raised by UW Press for a technology fund. The grant limit is $20,000 and the press has until the end of this fiscal year, on June 30, 2010, to raise the money.

Fundraising for the technology fund isn’t quite as easy a “sell” to potential donors as supporting well-loved old-style books, but they’ve made a healthy start, raising about $5,000 so far. He said there are folks in development at the UW “who have their eyes and ears open for companies investing in technology, and our hope is that we can find one or two companies with grants that are available. They understand that the products we create are high quality and valuable to the mission of the University.”

But there is another fundraising effort afoot, too — and one that Soden admits is very close to his heart. It’s for the University of Washington Press Graduate Internship.

Over the last decade, one student a year has passed through the program and most are now employed in the publishing field. The cost of the internship, about $20,000 a year, had been shared among four entities — UW Press, The Simpson Center for the Humanities, the College of Arts and Sciences and The Graduate school. The Simpson Center dropped from the program for strategic reasons, and thereafter it was supported by the remaining three.

Unfortunately, Soden said, the internship was one of the first things suspended when cutbacks were made.

“I have to say, to my mind it’s the most important program that I’ve been involved with since I’ve been director, and I wish we could do more than one. But as the funding dried up I said, ‘OK, we’ve got to build an endowment that will support this going forward.’ So that’s what we’re doing.” He said an endowment of about $400,000 would be necessary to fully fund the scholarship.

Baldasty again offered help with fundraising for the endowment last fall. He offered to kick in $5,000 if UW Press could raise $10,000. By the end of December, the press had completed the Graduate School match, and the fund now totals over $62,000.

Soden is extremely grateful to Baldasty for the ongoing support. “He knows us, and I think that’s been of inestimable help. He believes in the mission, in what we’re trying to do.”

Baldasty was quick to return the compliment, saying that supporting UW Press “is just the right thing to do.” He praised Soden for doing “a remarkable job in meeting the rapidly shifting marketplace. He’s made tough decisions, helped sustain staff morale, and made sure that the press continues to produce some of the very best scholarly books in the country.”

Be it through electronic printing, print-on-demand — as the University Bookstore is approaching — or its traditional publishing, Soden said he remains optimistic about the future of University of Washington Press.

“The last two years have been very difficult for us. Everybody’s been working harder, like everybody on campus. But I think the future is bright and I think what this press has to offer the academy and the community here is of true value.

“If we weren’t here to publish books that reflect the history and culture of the Pacific Northwest, nobody would.”