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University presses blend scholarship and business
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In the early 1970s, Austin, Texas became a haven for legendary musicians like Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. The story of how it happened and what's happened since is told in the 2004 edition of Jan Reid's 1974 book The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, available from the University of Texas (UT) Press.

"The book had been out of print for more than a decade, and when the UT Press suggested reprinting, I wanted to update it and add what had happened over the last 30 years," Reid said. "UT Press allowed me to do that and gave me input on the book's design and the photographer. It published my book the way I wanted it done."

Working with UT Press gave Reid an added measure of creative control, and has allowed him to keep his book in print. Many commercial publishers don't offer that.

University presses publish, market and sell books, but unlike commercial publishers, they are nonprofit. Texas' two largest are UT Press and Texas A&M University Press.

Strange beasts
"University presses are strange beasts," said Joanne Hitchcock, UT Press director. "They have their feet in two very different worlds: the rarefied, somewhat bureaucratic world of academia and the business world of publishing where risk-taking is the norm."

Since its birth in 1950, UT Press has published more than 2,000 books and publishes about 90 new books annually, including some paperbacks of previously published works and a variety of journals. It sells about 300,000 books annually, keeps nearly 1,000 titles in print and maintains an inventory of about 825,000 copies.

"UT has a dual mission," Hitchcock said. "We publish books for the world of learning, that is, for scholars and students all over the world and for the people of Texas and the general public."

Fruits of research
Texas A&M University Press, the state's second-largest university press, started in 1974, and since that time has published more than 800 books. Each year it publishes about 60 new ones, including about eight to 10 first-time paperbacks of previously published books, according to Charles Backus, A&M Press director.

In addition, A&M Press markets and distributes more than 700 additional books published by nine other institutions through a consortium that includes Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, the University of North Texas, Baylor University, Texas Review Press at Sam Houston State University, McWhiney Foundation Press at McMurry University, Winedale Publishing, the Texas Almanac and the Texas State Historical Association.

Through the consortium, A&M Press offers distribution services and economies of scale to smaller, scholarly and general interest publishers throughout the state, Backus said.

A&M Press and the consortium together sold nearly 200,000 copies in 2003. Of those, about 115,000 had the Texas A&M imprint, Backus said. A&M Press's own inventory and the books it distributes for the consortium total nearly 937,000 copies.

"We help the university achieve one of its most noble purposes, which is to publish the fruits of research and to disseminate that knowledge for broad use," Backus said. Universities have long realized that the dissemination of knowledge is as important as its creation."

In 2005, A&M Press will publish a book by Texas Historical Commission archaeologist Jim Bruseth about the excavation of French explorer La Salle's shipwrecked La Belle in Matagorda Bay.

"A&M press has been wonderful to work with, so that we can get information out to a broad audience about this incredible chapter of Texas history," Bruseth said.

Not just homegrown
University presses generally do not exclusively feature the work of their own faculties. Hitchcock said UT faculty writes about 10 percent of its books, and Backus said fewer than 15 percent of A&M Press' books fall into that category.

Both presses publish authors from across the nation and around the globe, from Syria and Brazil to South Africa and Bosnia. UT Press published the works of five Nobel laureates, including a translation of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets, which UT Press first published in 1986. It is still one of UT Press' most popular books, Hitchcock said.

In fall 2004, A&M Press will publish a translation of French author Pierre Hazan's Justice in a Time of War, which details the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

It's a business
Like any commercial publisher, university presses receive hundreds of unsolicited proposals from authors hoping to be published. UT Press and A&M Press, however, accept only about 10 percent of the proposals submitted annually.

UT Press' 2003-04 annual budget totals $5.3 million. About 86 percent of its annual income comes primarily from sales, supplemented by private subsidies, grants and the interest on its endowments. The remaining 14 percent comes from UT.

Backus estimates about 12 percent of A&M Press' total operating budget comes from the university, and the rest is made up of income from sales, grants and endowments. Sales for fiscal 2003 topped $1.5 million; adding consortium members' sales doubles that figure to about $3 million.

Most university presses specialize in selected fields of study. For example, UT Press emphasizes Latin American studies, Texana (the history, culture, arts and wildlife of the state), archaeology in the ancient world, Middle Eastern studies and film and the media.

A&M Press specializes in military and aviation history, nautical archaeology, agriculture, anthropology, architectural studies, presidential studies and the history and culture of Texas. One of its most popular books is a book on Texas flags, which accompanies a Texas Christian University-sponsored exhibition.

Up and coming
Texas Tech University Press is the third-largest university press in the state. It has published about 400 books since 1971, with about 275 still in print. It publishes about 20 new books a year, according to Noel Parsons, press director, with annual sales of about $500,000. The press specializes in Texas history, American Southwest studies, natural history, natural science, the Vietnam War and costume studies and textiles.

One of its best sellers is Amanda Goes West, first published in 1983, a book on fashion history that includes paper dolls. It is still in print, and the press has sold nearly 24,000 copies.

"Some people buy two copies, one for historical reference and one for their grandchildren to play with," Parsons said.

Lit landscape
Texas' newest university press is at Trinity University in San Antonio. Trinity University Press, which closed in the 1980s, reopened in 2002.

The press plans to publish about six new titles in fall 2004 and will specialize in the people and culture of Texas, Mexico and the Southwest, and the art of writing by writers, according to Director Barbara Ras.

"We also will publish books on the landscape--how places shape who we are and how we affect the places we live," Ras said.

Ras says university presses are essential for sharing scholarship and for contributing to a "literacy of place" by publishing about specific regions.

"Without this important local perspective, we'd all be looking at a map of the world with New York at dead center," she said. "We seed the culture with seminal works--the quiet voices, which enrich the intellectual and literary landscape immeasurably."

Pam Wagner