It’s been a mixed month for the academic sector, with news of growth and ambitious new initiatives interspersed with more worrying developments. Figures released by the Publishers Association alongside its annual Statistics Yearbook give the impression of a sector on the rise, with academic journal publishing up 5% to £1.1 billion, and academic and professional books up 4% to £262 million. Both areas outperformed the wider industry, which nevertheless saw an encouraging 1% rise to £4.4 billion after a couple of disappointing years of zero growth or decline.
Bloomsbury has announced a major new strategic initiative that will see the company’s academic publishing focus increasingly on digital content and business-to-business sales, with the aim being to capture a larger share of the estimated £3.4 billion market for digital scholarly materials for academic libraries. The new strategy, entitled ‘Bloomsbury 2020’, will involve a significant restructure, separating the company into two divisions. The consumer side will comprise Bloomsbury’s existing children’s and adult trade businesses; the non-consumer division, incorporating everything else, will be headed up by Jonathan Glasspool, formerly managing director of Academic and Professional. Part of the thinking behind the move is to reduce Bloomsbury’s dependence on the UK domestic market, with 60% of existing academic revenues being generated from outside the UK. It also aims to build on the publisher’s existing successes in these areas, with a range of successful digital services already launched and digital resource revenues up by nearly a quarter in the past twelve months.
Evidence of the particular challenges faced by the university press sector came with the news that Northern Illinois University Press is under threat of closure. Assessed under a university-wide “program prioritization” review, the press was deemed – in somewhat circular phrasing – potentially “a non-essential service that the university cannot afford to afford”, and one unlikely “to generate outside revenue and rely less on university resources”. Founded in 1965, Northern Illinois University Press has more than 600 titles in print, and publishes around twenty to twenty-five new books a year, a high proportion of which win awards – of last year’s crop, Ursula Phillips’s translation of Zofia Nalkowska’s 1927 modernist novel Choucas won the Polish Cultural Institute’s Found in Translation Award for 2015, and William D. Franks’s history of Russian skiing and the Soviet Biathlon Everyone to Skis! took home an Ullr Award for an outstanding contribution to the historical record of skiing. Supporters of the Press were urged to write to the university’s administrators ahead of the May 23rd deadline for feedback; with the deadline now passed, it remains to be seen what action the university will take.
Further bad news came with the announcement that Exeter-based Polestar Wheatons, the specialist academic, professional, and higher education printer, faces an uncertain future after parent company Polestar, the UK’s largest independent printing company, went into administration following the loss of a major contract with Daily Mail publisher DMG Media. Administrator PricewaterhouseCoopers is currently looking for potential buyers, and Unite the union has pledged to do all it can to protect jobs at the group.
The academic sector continues to enjoy a high profile within the industry. Two prizes at the British Book Industry Awards – the rebranded and revamped Bookseller Industry Awards – rewarded the best in the field, with the Hodder Education Grouptaking home the Academic, Educational, and Professional Publisher of the Year prize at the while Jessica Kingsley Publishers won the Independent equivalent. Meanwhile, Nigel Farrow, chairman of Ashgate Publishing until its sale last year to Informa and subsequent incorporation into the Taylor & Francis Group, has become the latest patron of the Independent Publishers Guild, joining a growing number of former publishing company members of the IPG, including Oliver Gadsby, Martin Woodhead, and Kathryn Earle. Scholarly publishing also remains well represented on the Publishers Association board, with Stephen Barr, President of SAGE International, elected as the new President, and Lis Tribe, Managing Director of Hodder Education, elected as Vice President. Cambridge University Press’s William Bowes is the new Chair of the International Board, and the renamed Academic, Professional, and Learning Publishers Council is now chaired by Alicia Wise of Elsevier.
Alastair Horne writes our Academic Newsletter.