It started in 1908 under the leadership of three Yale classmates: two brothers and one of their friends. The Day brothers, George Parmly and Clarence S., along with Edwin Oviatt, got the blessing that year from their alma mater to publish The Journal of an Expedition Across Venezuela and Colombia by explorer/Yale professor Hiram Bingham. As Nicholas A. Basbanes writes in his forthcoming history of the press, A World of Letters (Oct.), the university's then-president, Arthur Twining Hadley, allowed the trio to call the venture Yale University Press, “with the explicit understanding that the university would monitor its activities.” After Hadley left his presidential post in 1919, Basbanes goes on to note, he said the launch of the press was one of the best things to come out of his tenure at the school.

Today, while many university presses are struggling, YUP remains a bright spot for the New Haven Ivy. According to YUP director John Donatich, the press, which does 400 titles annually, has grown roughly 40% in the last five years. Donatich, who left Basic Books in 2002 for the top job at Yale, said one reason for the house's success is that it has been able to put together a strong trade list and now “competes” in that area. (This, of course, has not been the case for a number of university presses, many of which are now paying for investing too heavily in trade publishing post-9/11.)

Yale's trade division, which does about 80 titles annually, has had a handful of sizable hits in the last few years, including E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World, with over 150,000 copies sold; Green to Gold by Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston (54,000 copies); Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (50,000 copies); and Caesar by Andrew Goldsworthy (35,000 copies).

“The fact is, if you insist on the highest-quality books, then there's room for a press like Yale,” Donatich said, adding that “a midlist author at a trade house can be a star for us.”

But Yale's vitality is due to more than its strong trade program. The press has been investing heavily in digital publishing projects—an acknowledgement, Donatich said, that this is where scholarly publishing is headed. Discussing these projects, Donatich pointed to the press's Mellon Grant—funded digital archive of Stalin's library—a project that will create a searchable database of the dictator's personal letters and library (allowing readers to peruse such items as Stalin's scribbled-on copy of The Communist Manifesto). A similar effort is being mounted for the Anchor Bible. The press is also working on a multimedia language program, which Donatich described as an “international language primer” that will feature videos, a game and an interactive Web site. Yale will also be publishing some literature in translation through its Margellos World Republic of Letters series; the press raised about $2 million for the program and, in January, will release Songbook, a collection from Italian poet Umberto Saba, and the novel Five Spice Street, the first English translation of Chinese author Can Xue. (Forthcoming are translations of Arabic poetry.)

So what does Donatich, who speaks so positively about the state of affairs at YUP, think other university presses should do? “I think there's too much victimization happening at university presses,” he said. Noting that scholarly houses were “visionary” in working with libraries on digital efforts, Donatich said more of that needs to continue: “As information gets more random, there's a greater need for gatekeepers, and I think that will validate what we do.”

AAP April Sales Report

(Measured in $ sales against same time periods, 2007)* Number of reporting companies.
Returns showed a marked spike in April in virtually all publishing segments, contributing to a down month in six categories, according to AAP's monthly sales estimates. Returns in the adult hardcover segment rose nearly 15% in April, knocking back net sales 4.6% in the month, while returns in the religious book segment soared almost 80%, a major factor in the 21.5% decline in that segment for the 11 companies that reported results to AAP. Every segment but trade paperback and children's paperback reported a return rate of at least 10% in April. For the first four months of the year, returns were up by more than 11% in adult hardcover and over 14% in university press hardcover, giving those segments the largest increase in returns so far this year.
Adult Hard (17)* -4.6% -14.5%
Adult Paper (18) 4.5 18.2
Mass Market (9) 4.7 1.7
Juvenile Hard (13) -19.9 -12.0
Juvenile Paper (14) -3.1 4.8
Audio (13) 1.7 -13.0
Electronic (14) 19.9 36.1
Religious (11) -21.5 -14.1
Higher Ed. (11) -30.5 8.5
Univ. Pr. Hard (38) 12.1 0.3
Univ. Pr. Paper (38) -2.0 -4.7
Professional (9) 3.6 5.0
Elhi (8) 4.6 3.7

Yale Up by the Numbers
88: Employees based in New Haven

40: Employees based in London

110: Title output for house's art division

5: Divisions that the press has

6: Number of directors the press has had in its lifetime

7: Number of different “homes” the press has had

3,224: Performances of the Broadway adaptation of founder Clarence Day Jr.'s memoir Life with Father

61: Age Clarence Day Jr. died

1 million+: Number of copies Long Day's Journey into Night has sold since it was published by YUP in 1957