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PostDecline of the University Press (Paul Preston, UK, 07/25/12 12:51 pm)
I too was interested by this thread. I was particularly struck by the remark, reported by Richard Hancock (24 July), about university presses doing "vanity publishing." I have no reason to suppose that that is or has been the case in the UK, although the possible contradiction between "the author's need to be published and the reader's need to know" poses interesting questions.
The principal presses here, Oxford UP and Cambridge UP, function on a highly commercial basis and subsidise their academic publications from their dictionaries and reference books. The lesser ones, Manchester, Edinburgh, Leicester and Liverpool, to name but a few of those which don't have lucrative reference publications, seem to have drifted off the radar. If this is true, and not just my ignorance, it will be for financial reasons since libraries can afford to buy fewer books and university press ones tend to be very expensive and often on obscure subjects.
The commercial priorities of Oxford UP and Cambridge UP mean that they will not publish doctoral theses, no matter how good, except very occasionally if the theses in question come from their own university. Since this badly hit my own field of twentieth-century Spanish history, I decided some years ago to do something about it. I created and edit the Cañada Blanch Series which has collaborated with various publishers, most recently Sussex Academic Press (not a UP). The series has managed to publish some terrific doctoral theses which otherwise would not have seen the light of day, and also some important books that the university presses had spurned. Included among these latter are WAISer David Pike's magnificent study of French public opinion and the Spanish Civil War (France Divided); the biography of Juan Negrín by the leading American historian Gabriel Jackson, and, relative to our recent Churchill-Fest, a book on the great man's relations with Franco by Richard Wigg (Churchill and Spain: The survival of the Franco regime, 1940-1945).
Should anyone be interested, I can supply a full list of the thirty-odd titles that have been published.
JE comments: It was one year ago this week (28 July 2011) that Paul Preston and his colleagues welcomed Aldona and me to the Cañada Blanch Centre at the London School of Economics, and I saw first-hand shelves of the Centre's publications. Paul even sent me on my way with a number of very interesting books. Hispanists the world 'round owe Paul a huge debt, not only for his own scholarship, but for the important studies he has midwifed over the years.