How shall I value a university press? Let me count the ways.

To mark the anniversary of the founding of the University Press Redux conference on March 16th 2016, LUP’s Chief Executive Officer Anthony Cond reflects on the many ways university presses add value to their universities.

We have just been through annual report season at LUP, a time for sharing details of our activity for the period August 2020 to July 2021 with the senior management of the University of Liverpool. University presses can make a number of different choices for their reporting metrics, but here are some of the ways in which we think we add value to the University:

Liverpool University Press’s books and journals were accessed in 193 different countries during the year. That is, we took the University of Liverpool imprimatur into almost every country in the world. Over the past five years our book and journal authors have come from 62 different countries. We have a global footprint.

Broken down into chapters and articles, we published more than 2,500 high-quality research outputs during the year. We consider ourselves to be at the goldilocks point of scholarly publishing, large enough to have a robust infrastructure, small enough to nurture and appreciate everything we publish. Supporting 2,500 research outputs annually is a significant contribution to the humanities in that context, not micro-publishing but most definitely not sausage-machine publishing.

Our marketers sent close to 500,000 promotional emails during the year across 400 or so distinct email marketing campaigns. We posted around 1,000 tweets with 2.35 million impressions and ran more than 100 author blog posts.

The Press’s books continue to be shortlisted for, and to win, an astonishing breadth of awards. I’ve always been sceptical of publishers making a claim about their books winning awards because it is the author’s outstanding work that wins, right? But the claim still holds water: first, it speaks volumes for editorial talent-spotting that nary a Forward Prizes evening passes without some reference to a collection from our Pavilion Poetry list, or that LUP-published books are staples of shortlists from Industrial Archaeology to Science Fiction, from Irish Studies to French & Francophone Studies. With that eye for talent, it is fair to assume that an LUP book is going to be a good book. Second, helping the raw project bloom is our speciality – from peer review to high-quality production, from copyediting to finding an audience. We can take an author’s brilliant ideas and help to amplify them.

On the subject of amplification, LUP – unlike many academic publishers – does not really dabble with introductory textbooks. We are a research-based publisher on the whole. Nevertheless, around 10,000 university syllabi worldwide listed the books and journals from our various imprints last year. Those book-proposal author claims that a monograph might find its way onto upper level undergraduate or postgraduate courses are true.

And what of money? The elephant in the valuing-your-university-press room. University presses come in all shapes and sizes and no two are the same once you consider the finances. In fact, scholarly publishing is pretty polarised on the subject in general. On one hand are the large commercial publishers. STEM publisher Elsevier cops a lot of flak for its profit margins, but LUP’s world is the humanities and the biggest beast in it is Taylor & Francis, part of a group that made a profit of £268 million according to its last set of annual accounts. There is nothing wrong with profit – among other things, a for-profit motive can drive innovation — and Business 101 is that limited companies exist to generate a return for shareholders. In some cases, that return might be roughly equivalent to the entire annual operating budget of a medium-sized UK university. On the other hand, there are a good number of mission-driven publishers that are reliant on various kinds of subsidy. There is nothing wrong with that either, as it can support developing models that broaden readership or the publication of research in fields that, while strategically or societally important, are not large enough to be a viable market for publishers.  A subsidy can be essential for ensuring there is a publisher of record for the breadth of human knowledge or that research reaches its maximum audience. Inevitably, this route requires the long-term commitment of universities and funders in order to ensure sustainability.

LUP sits somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios. The Press is an entirely self-funding, mission-driven publisher, receiving no operating subsidy whatsoever. Self-funding means careful financial planning and the need to generate a modest profit (a word university presses should use without embarrassment). Mission-driven means we’re in it to disseminate scholarship and not to see a penny we generate taken out of the scholarly ecosystem. For last year that meant we turned over around £2.75 million and at first blush, before we decided to make some exceptional adjustments, the profit was around £60K. It’s not a lot, but I could give you a long list of things we could have chosen not to do if our priorities were different, which would have enabled us to quadruple the bottom line in an alternative scenario. The fact is, wherever the money comes from for a university press it facilitates the mission – it is not the mission itself.


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