POPULAR romance and detective novels are nowhere in sight. Instead, the new-arrivals shelves at the Cambridge University Press (CUP) bookshop exhibit copies of tomes few readers have heard of, such as “Memory in Vergil’s Aeneid” and “The Social Life of Greylag Geese”. Publishing works on such arcane subjects might seem like a death wish, but CUP has been doing this successfully since 1584. Peter Phillips, its boss, proudly calls it “the world’s oldest media business”.
CUP and the many other university presses around the world are not typical businesses, however. They are not-for-profit arms of their universities whose job is to publish works of scholarly importance. This forces them to balance intellectual impact with commercial interest.
Most get subsidies from their university, although some, like CUP and its larger rival, Oxford University Press, whose turnover exceeds £750m ($1.2 billion), generate big surpluses thanks to other businesses, such as journals, English-language training texts and exams. These two giants return tens of millions of pounds a year to their universities. In comparison, most university presses are minnows. But each has an important role in promoting the parent institution’s brand, much like a football team raises a city’s profile, says Carey Newman of Baylor University Press in Texas.
This is an excerpt of an article published in The Economist. Read the entire article.