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University Press Blogs

For several months now I have been reading the blogs of 15 university presses. For the most part, university press blogs are publicity engines, advertisements for press authors and their books. They catalog media appearances and mentions; they publicize the awards their books win. I can say without qualifications that it has been terribly depressing reading. Will they never stop publishing new books I would like to read but have neither time nor money to afford?

I am sure that the quality of a university press blog is often directly proportional to the resources a the press has at hand. The University of Mississippi Press blog, for example, publishes interviews with its authors and has a nice regional focus, but the blog itself appears as an afterthought, a supplemental part of the press’s marketing. But the quality-to-resource ratio does not always hold. Some press blogs, such as those by Cambridge and Georgia do not publish often enough to even qualify as blogs. Others, such as the University of Tennessee Press blog are little more than brochures—useful for what they are, but not particularly good at making use of the resources they have. Given the quality of the books they publish and the fact that early American history titles fascinate me, I wish that the Penn Press Log were more than what it is. And Harvard University Press has separated its blog into too many parts: not only do they have Off the Page: The Harvard University Press Author Forum, which as of today averages one post every three months, but also there is the main publicity blog and the Author Interviews podcast.

The University of Nebraska Press blog is good. That they published Sonya Huber’s memoir Opa Nobody does not hurt my estimation of the press itself (for more on Huber, see here and here and then go to her website), but in general the writing is engaging and nicely eclectic. The MITPressLog can be similarly engaging in a nerdy sort of way, though it is sleight by comparison. The Chicago Blog is deeply informative, though its focus on the ongoing discussion of its titles’ reception by the press can be repetitive when one or two of their books are more critically popular than others.

The Oxford University Press blog is the best of them. The press frequently invites its authors to write posts that summarize their work and, more importantly, explore the intersections of their research to current events. Not afraid to experiment, the blog has encouraged reading groups and dialogues between scholars, and regular columns such as features such as Anatoly Liberman’s Oxford Etymologist. (Because the blog also publishes Benjamin Zimmer, it sometimes reads like an offshoot of Language Log.) OUP’s blog conceives of publicity as a service: books and blog alike are vehicles for ideas and serve as means to make sound scholarship available to the world. In the process, they support their authors and their books well. Other university presses would do well to emulate them.

 

Comments

Nicely put.

Here at Cambridge, we’re getting the blog rolling again (as of the past couple of weeks); it hung around awhile with not much there. I hope we can get to be at the level Oxford, Chicago and MIT soon enough. I know that some University Presses have full-time blog editors, and it tends to show in what they’re able to produce.

We’ll be posting Monday/Wednesday/Friday from here on out.

Thanks, Jonathan—and welcome! Out of curiosity: I do realize it is one thing to read and criticize the theoretical benefits of a press blog (exposure at lesser cost; publicity that is attuned to a broader aim of a UP—that is, it works in service to readers) and quite another thing to dedicate the resources to making it happen. Clearly, however, you and other presses have decided that it is worth the try. Has it been easy to get your authors to participate so far (caveat of course that you’re rebeginning)?

FWIW, I would be interested to see a UP blog write more about university presses in general. The American Association of University Presses does a lot to situate UPs in the publishing arena, but it is by nature insular. Inside Higher Ed also keeps pretty solid tabs on UPs. Nevertheless, I think it would be very interesting to see a UP discussing how it sees other UPS and the world.

And btw, if Cambridge ever wants to hire a FT blog editor, I can make myself available pretty quickly.

Excellent feedback, thanks.

If you haven’t seen the Yale blog yet you should check it out. It’s consistently interesting and more visually appealing than most.

The approach we take at Chicago is to recognize that blogs are inherently an ephemeral medium, so anything what we want to endure we don’t blog. More content, by other means. See here.

(You’re making me self-conscious about pimping myself in 2.)

Anyway, Yale’s was one I read regularly, and on reviewing it again, it is solid for what it is. However, something about it—I am at the moment having trouble putting my finger on what it is—left me unentuhused. The online Annals of Communism should be an incredible resource and even a model for the direction UPs will head in the future.

It occurs to me that one thing I should have included in the post: The AAUP wiki has a list of UP blogs, which is no doubt incomplete since I populated most of the list. If there are others, well… it’s a wiki.

Hello all-

I just wanted to say thank you for the kudos on the OUPBlog. Often I feel like I am blogging into the abyss and it is nice to know people are paying attention.

Best,
Rebecca

g, on your last note: if other university presses charged as much as OUP does for its books, maybe their blogs would rock out too.

OUP books are indeed expensive, but if it makes you feel any better about getting gouged, Mary, most (all?) OUP profits go to fund scholarships for students at the university. B’s PhD wouldn’t have been possible without it.

Hooray for downward redistribution of wealth!

Hey, Hermits Rock—thanks for your support!! Nebraska really has put a lot of time into their blog…they have even assigned various authors (like me) to write short articles or commentary on our work specifically for the site.

Great posting. At UNP, we do our best to make our blog a fun, informative space for literary discussion. It’s always a delight to hear that people are reading and enjoying what we post. One small favor to ask: our link in the article actually takes you to the OUP blog page—can this be corrected? Thanks again.

10: And thanks for stopping by, Sonya! I look forward to reading Opa Nobody as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

11: My apologies, Kristen! The link has been corrected.

Since writing, I realized that what I like about Nebraska’s and OUP’s blogs is that they attempt to lower the walls between the press and the public. Publicity in that sense is more than a catalog of ephemera (I like the Chicago blog and I respect the sentiment expressed in 3, but I wonder if it is not overly conservative)—it is an engagement with others that seems to me at the heart of what a UP should aspire to be. (Obvs, the need to lower walls suits the responsibilities of land-grant presses moreso than others.)

Though I’m commenting long after the original discussion, I must say that it’s very helpful to have feedback from an audience that understands blogs and I wonder if this discussion should be revived.

The biggest challenge for the UP community, after inadequate staffing, is how to define a clear blogging strategy in late 2008 when a “blog” can mean quite a few different things. In my view, blogs should not try to be a substitute for the web site. I’m in full agreement with Dean—blogs are inherently an ephemeral medium—and as such should offer content and engage readers in a very different way from the web site. I think there should be a clear editorial difference between the blog(s) and the main web site. It’s all about giving our visitors choice and making those choices intelligible. I keep the author interviews—video and audio—on the main site because that’s where the vast majority of the traffic goes. But there are links to these features from both blogs.

The author forum that I set-up has definitely been too slow to take off (for reasons not worth discussing here), but it was never intended to be a traditional, frequently-updated blog. I selected a blogging platform only to make archiving and commenting easy in my effort of offer non-book, non-publicity pitch content. So, part of the problem is that we don’t always have the right technology on hand.

I’m working on a big site redesign so this will be an ideal time to rethink our blogging strategy at HUP. Sorry for such a long-winded response!

Denise, your thoughts are welcome no matter the length. This week I am particularly sympathetic to the problems of staffing.

Looking at it from the outside, I imagine that any given UP’s online presence will only increase in importance in the future, especially (though it’s not entirely relevant to this discussion) as recommendations such as those in the Ithaka report become the reality of university publishing.

I do think that the medium (though ephemeral) can be particularly useful in creating an exposure that books and authors wouldn’t normally have. It was from HUP’s blog that I learned of Stagolee Shot Billy, which I look forward to reading (someday when I’m not writing about Precalculus). Though the post I remember was primarily publicity—if I remember correctly, after the book won an award, nevertheless I appreciated the pointer. The book would have ultimately slipped by me otherwise. The more ways that good scholarship and, in many cases, great books and their writers can be brought into conversations, the better conversations will be.

Greg, hope things settle down a bit for you soon.

Yes, I read the Ithaka report last year. It’s either depressing or uplifting depending on how one views publishing’s future. I was uplifted.

I agree with your point, of course, that we must be imaginative and broad in the ways we disseminate information about our books and authors. Last summer, I started creating an HUP presence on Facebook, Ning, and Gather, and will be working furiously with my staff to expand this effort to other social networking sites (books, travel, history, health, etc.) as well as reaching out to blogs and web sites offering worthwhile content such as slide shows, author videos that aren’t just cheesy book trailers, book excerpts, and author musings.

Our publicity blog is handled by a very talented publicist—I’ll share these postings with him.

Cheers,
Denise
aka the HUP web and new media marketing director

Thank you. Things will indeed settle in just over a week… but god, will that week be long.

In what spare time I can muster, probably between the moment my head hits the pillow and I fall asleep, I will be scheming again (now that the thread has been resurrected) ways to turn the attention this post garnered into a UP job!

I think of having a blog that discusses books as being part of the great discover-to-delivery chain. I run a blog-as-website for our library, and I’m always thrilled when I see someone has found it by searching for a book we’ve written about. Of course, we’re trying to get people to borrow books and UPs are presumably trying to get people to buy them, but the principle of being findable may still apply.