When the University of California Press, in November 2010, published The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, it was in for a surprise: the 760-page hardcover, priced at $45, became an immediate bestseller. Caught off guard, the press quickly adjusted to the flood of demand with the help of a cooperative printer, Thomson Shore. Two months later, in January 2011, Alison Mudditt became director of the publisher, and she spent her first year further stabilizing it and bringing in consultants to help streamline operations.
“We were very print-centric,” Mudditt said, “but now we’re embracing digital publishing and all that can offer. We’re thinking about how to build the depth and breadth of our content—a lot of it, especially in humanities scholarship, is now digital in nature and sometimes can’t be delivered in print.”
Mudditt, who is British, has worked in scholarly publishing for 20 years. She began her career at the humanities division of Blackwell’s in Oxford. Moving to the U.S. in 1997, she joined Taylor & Francis as publishing director in its behavioral sciences division, and then found herself in Southern California, where she served as executive v-p at Sage Publications for several years. Entering her third decade in the scholarly and academic arena, Mudditt views her directorship at U.C. Press as “the opportunity to have a foot in both worlds—academia and the business world. I love running a business, and my focus is to create the right conditions for the press to be successful,” she said. “My hope is to articulate vision, direction, and strategy.”
Indeed, Mudditt had to bring some business acumen to bear early on. U.C. Press currently employs about 100 people, but when Mudditt arrived the number was higher. Conditions at the press in 2011 required that she “right size” the staff by laying people off and adding new staff for new positions. “Finding the right people is essential,” she said, “and everyone who works here is passionate about publishing. They agree that scholarship is a means of enriching our lives.”
The editorial committee at U.C. Press consists of 20 faculty members, and Mudditt said she would like to work more closely with them “and bring them more into the editorial process.” History, anthropology, sociology, art and art history, and natural history are the top five fields in which U.C. Press publishes. This fall Mudditt will hold a two-day brainstorming meeting with her staff and faculty members in order to achieve a wider strategic perspective. Despite there being 10 campuses—and faculties—in the U.C. system, only 25% of the press’s authors are faculty members.
With the exception of a handful of art books for which image rights can’t be secured, all U.C. Press titles are available in digital formats. “Our e-book sales are growing,” Mudditt said, now accounting for 10% of units. The first Twain title did very well in digital, accounting for about 20% of sales, and Mudditt expects that percentage to be higher for The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2, to be published on Nov. 15. U.C. Press will order an initial print run of 100,000 copies. “We don’t want to go through an out-of stock situation again just when the holiday season hits,” she noted. The first volume has sold a total of 500,000 copies, including e-books, according to Mudditt. She attributes some of that success to the media surrounding the 100-year embargo on Twain’s papers, but she expects less media hype this time around.
U.C. Press publishes about 200 books a year and has 4,000 titles in print. Mudditt, at the helm of a publishing program connected to an institution that claims to be one of the world’s great public research universities, understands the challenge and the opportunity. “Our trade books are now much closer to our core academic program, which is reflected in the shift from books about California to books from California. This frames a dynamic and positive future.”