Though the University of California Press (UC Press) and Stanford University Press (SUP) are the only university presses in the Bay Area, they are among the country’s most innovative academic publishers. UC Press, a nonprofit publishing arm of the University of California system, is the largest university press west of the Mississippi and is one of the six largest university presses in the U.S. It publishes 175 books on average annually and 30 multi-issue journals in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, and maintains approximately 4,000 book titles in print. Recently UC Press made some significant changes: it moved its offices from Berkeley to Oakland in 2014, and, as of May 1, it changed its distribution to Perseus.
Alison Mudditt, director of UC Press, says that for decades, book and journal publishing at UC Press were very independent of each other, and that only over the course of the past four years has the press brought them together. “We know that the distinction between book or journal container is becoming much less critical than the value of the underlying content itself,” Mudditt says. Over the last several years, UC Press has realigned its publishing strategy to focus on content and audience first, format second. UC Press has also upgraded its systems and made significant investments in marketing and business information systems, redefinition of production workflows, the move to a new office space, new sales representation partners, and the transition to a new third-party distribution vendor. “This infrastructure work, while the decidedly unsexy part of publishing, is critical for us to deliver excellent content most efficiently,” Mudditt says.
Mudditt also notes that UC Press has begun building its digital-first publishing program, which includes defining digital strategies and the creation of a director of digital business development role, filled by Neil Christensen. Mudditt says the former Wiley executive has been instrumental in launching the press’s open access initiatives (the journal Collabra and Luminos, a monograph program), which expand publishing options for scholarly authors and researchers.
UC Press is also building partnerships with technology firms, including HighWire Press and Ubiquity Press, to “ensure we have the tools and flexibility to develop new products rapidly.”
In addition to investing in new modes of publication, UC Press has reinvigorated its traditional book program in order to support the progressive mission of the University of California, which includes not only research but education and public service. This is reflected in two areas: publishing upper-level undergraduate and graduate text and course materials, and translating scholarly work for a wider audience. “We believe that by breaking down barriers between the ivory tower and a wider public, we can drive an informed civic and democratic engagement that is for the public good,” Mudditt says. Some forthcoming titles that exemplify this aim to extend the conversation outside of academia to the general public are Jason de León’s The Land of Open Graves (Oct.), which focuses on undocumented migrants crossing the Sonoran Desert; Abdel Bari Atwan’s Islamic State (Sept.); and former Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin’s Sidewalking (Oct.), an investigation into the evolving landscape of Los Angeles.
Mudditt says that UC Press “benefits from a left coast perspective.” She adds, “California has both a reputation for being progressive and a long history of successful innovation. Our location, away from the dominant influences of Europe on the other coast, encourages us to look towards the emerging economies and nations of the global South. This perspective brings a unique voice to our publishing and underpins our progressive mission to foster a deeper understanding of our world.”
Alan Harvey, director of SUP, which moved offices from Stanford to Redwood City in September 2013, says that being situated near Silicon Valley “definitely makes a difference, and I’d love it to make more of a difference. There’s an attitude that permeates everything at Stanford, and it definitely reaches into the press. We operate on a shoestring, and yet manage to achieve some great things—in part because of the Stanford brand, but also because of our exceptional staff. We can react to opportunities quickly, and I give staff leeway to try things out, just to see how they fly—that’s how the Briefs were started.”
Harvey is referring to Stanford Briefs, the press’s short-form digital publishing program, which released its first title in the summer of 2012. “The philosophy behind Stanford Briefs was actually pretty simple—to rethink our traditional long-form publishing model to more closely fit the modern media appetite,” he says. Harvey notes that SUP wants to preserve the value of traditional scholarly publishing but present the core of an argument through shorter books. SUP can also produce shorter books more quickly, “allowing us to capitalize on timely issues,” Harvey adds.
SUP has released 12 briefs in total, and has five slated for fall 2015, including, Foreclosed America by Isaac William Martin and Christopher Niedt, a portrait of people who lost their homes during the foreclosure crisis; How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate by Andrew Hoffman; and #iranelection by Negar Mottahedeh, which explores the role of social media in the demonstrations that followed the 2009 election in Iran. The initial concept was for digital only, but Harvey says SUP quickly discovered that “as with all books, there was high demand for print copies as well”—so titles are available in both formats.
In February, SUP announced its new trade imprint, Redwood Press, which will publish four to six titles annually. Initial titles include the novel The Woman Who Read Too Much, by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, and The Shared Society, a manifesto on the future of Latin America by former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo. SUP also received a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to publish interactive scholarly works (ISW). “The purpose of the grant is to allow us to publish material that could not easily be presented as a book,” Harvey says. The first ISW title, Enchanting the Desert by Nicholas Bauch, an interactive project that uses geographic information system mapping and 3-D renderings to explore the Grand Canyon, will be published this fall. Harvey says SUP plans to publish 10 or more ISW works per year by 2017, and is currently reviewing projects that use text mining, video games, digital imaging, and graphical mapping.Bay Area Spotlight 2015: All Our Coverage