Thursday, February 24, 2005

The curse of publishing economics hits home (sorta)

Geeze. I don't know how I missed this, but the Lincoln Journal Star reported two weeks back that the University of Nebraska Press (being my publisher) has cut six full time employees as part of a wider effort to trim half a million dollars from the publisher's budget:
They admitted Monday that the financial problems plaguing university presses across the country have reached Nebraska as well.

"There have been high-profile presses in more significant trouble," Perlman said. "This is not a crisis state … but we needed to do something now rather than get into real difficulty."

The decision to make the cuts is driven by the bottom line, both Perlman and Dunham said.

Less demand for the academic books and journals the press publishes has resulted in revenues that barely cover expenses, a trend that would've soon put the university publisher in the red, Dunham said.

The cuts also stem from a desire to protect the press's editorial and acquisitions departments from the sort of trimming that already has happened at the Stanford University and University of Wisconsin presses.

None of the current layoffs come from those departments, Dunham said, and no future layoffs are planned.

It's good to see that the press is protecting the editorial department. And it's also reassuring to know that the press, overall, is still operating in the black. The past 10 years or so have been vicious to university publishers. Those with strong journal lineups have continued to do well, but the ones that traditionally have concentrated on obscure fields, limited interest books and monographs have taken a beating. Nebraska is one of the largest university publishers in the country, and exceptionally diverse, but there's no way anyone could mistake them for one of the colossal multinational publishers that so dominate bookstores today.

That said, where the cuts did come from aren't reassuring:
It's the firing of six full-time business and marketing employees that comprise the lion's share of the more than $500,000 the press will cut from a $6.5 million operating budget in the coming fiscal year.

Dunham said $100,000 will be saved annually by an upcoming March move to 1111 Lincoln Mall, a new home with roughly half the space of its old headquarters at 247 N. 8th St.

Coming from a marketing and journalism background, I always cringe when a company's first reaction to declining sales is to reduce its marketing budget and staff. It just flies in the face of reason. I just hope this doesn't trickle down to the marketing plan they've outlined for Voices of Vision. It's a modest one, no doubt, but I believe it does a good job of targetting the ideal audience. I'd hate to lose that. Especially since I want VoV to do well enough to warrant a second volume.

One thing I find surprising, however, is the fact that the press isn't housed on campus. What's this rent stuff? The Texas A&M University Press has digs on campus in College Station, as do most other university presses I'm familiar with. Renting commercial space simply strikes me as odd, particularly considering how strong a reputation Nebraska has. Texas State University, unfortunately, has no press. There's been wishful thinking in that direction, but no real action. Our faculty produces some very strong work, but has to go through the UT Press for actual publication. Ah well. Whatcha gonna do?

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Staying Home to Watch the Rain

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