With the rise of e-books, there’s been talk that the printed book is on its way out.
At the University of Nebraska Press, that’s not the story. It is still printing books while making adjustments to evolve with its ever-changing readership.
The Press, an extension of the University of Nebraska, publishes both scholarly and literary works. A majority of its books and journals are based in the humanities, and Native American studies, sports and sports history are the Press’ biggest draws. While the Press publishes from authors around the country, Director of the University of Nebraska Press Donna Shear said she feels a commitment to publish and promote books about Nebraska and the Great Plains.
“We also feel a tremendous amount of pride that we get to publish some of the state’s best authors, including Ted Kooser,” she said.
The Press’ commitment to supporting the state is something reciprocated by the university, from the professors who use the Press’ books in classes to top administrators.
“From President (J.B.) Milliken, Chancellor (Harvey) Perlman and Vice Chancellor (Prem) Paul, we have tremendous support for the work we do,” Shear said. “It’s a very different situation than some university presses.”
It was that support that attracted Derek Krissoff to the University Press. Krissoff took over as the Press’ new editor-in-chief this summer.
“I knew coming in, the University of Nebraska Press has a great reputation,” he said. “It’s a top-tier press. It gets talked about in the same league as the Ivy League presses and Chicago and California. Folks in the university’s administration seem well-aware of that; they know they’ve got a great press here and they are proud of that.”
In addition to the support of the university, the Press receives some funding from the state. Shear estimated about 90 percent of the Press is funded by its own revenue; the remaining 10 percent is funded by the state.
“For the most part, university administrators across the country understand that the 90 or 100 university presses in the country are publishing professors at thousands of universities, so we’re really performing an essential educational service.”
While the Press continues to publish and print more than a 100 titles each year, it, like any other business, has had to evolve to meet changing industry standards and stay competitive.
“In the last five years, there’s been an enormous amount of pressure placed on university presses,” Shear said. “Library budgets have been cut dramatically, and they’ve been forced to buy less. And then there’s the used book market. And of course, electronic publishing. We’ve really had to adapt.
“It’s hard to know right now how the market is going to be, so we’re doing things that will help us respond to the marketplace in the future.”
Earlier this year, the Press developed a five-year plan, which outlined directives for maintaining a financially competitive business while embracing the publishing industry’s changes.
“It’s all about how to balance the financial, market-oriented considerations with the standard of publishing excellence that we’re known for,” Krissoff said.
For the Press, that means evolving with the needs of readers, including publishing more e-books. The demand has been changing, albeit slowly.
“I think in general, university presses have been slower to go into electronic (publishing),” he said. “The audience for university press books have been slower to want electronic forms of their books than in other realms.”
Currently, the Press sends its books to vendors like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, which convert them into electronic versions for Kindle and Nook. Shear estimated about 20 to 25 percent of university presses create electronic versions of their own books, something the University of Nebraska Press has started to do this year. She said this is essential to quality control.
“It’s a tremendous investment and change,” she said. “But we’ll have control over each book, the way it looks on an e-reader, its design. It will look the way we want it to, and I think it’s a positive for our readers.”
And while the Press will continue to adapt to the ever-changing needs of its readers, Krissoff said he doesn’t think the Press, and the publishing industry as a whole, will stop printing books any time soon.
“I’ve seen really over-the-top predictions about the end of the printed book,” he said. “I remember at the end of the dot-com boom at the end of the late ‘90s when everybody was saying in the next five years, it’s all going to be electronic books.
“Having lived through a couple cycles of irrational exuberance about electronic publishing, I’m skeptical of those claims about total transformation.”