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University presses are keeping American literature alive

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University presses are keeping American literature alive

Nov 14 2022

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Margaret Renkl explores the importance of University Presses:

Many important manuscripts would not see the light of day if they were measured against expectations for nationwide sales. University presses take up titles that the Big Five, as the publishing conglomerates are called collectively, often won’t touch — not just works of scholarship but also small-market books for general readers: poetry, short stories and essays; memoirs and biographies; field guides and natural history; art and photography; local and regional history, among many others.

The consolidation [of publishing companies in the USA] is a response to the challenges posed by Amazon’s tyranny ... But consolidation is bad for more than just the most popular authors. “What I worry about are the writers and books that will not get published or could be otherwise marginalized because of this even greater concentration of power,” wrote Richard Howorth, the co-founder of Square Books, the legendary bookshop in Oxford, Miss., in a guest essay for The Times last summer. “The number of midlist titles (books with modest print runs and sales expectations) is being greatly diminished, which means that fewer books of quality — or indeed, fewer potential best sellers — will have the chance to be published and read.” ...

This is exactly what makes university presses so essential. Subsidized by the universities they’re a part of, they can afford to take a chance on the kinds of books that commercial publishers increasingly ignore...

University presses, like other nonprofits and independents, aren’t aiming to produce national best sellers, although sometimes they do just that ... Perhaps the awards keep coming because university presses understand something that ought to be obvious in a country as sprawling and pluralistic as ours: The same book doesn’t have to matter to everybody, but everybody ought to have access to books that matter.

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