University presses: Where knowledge finds a voice

UPW-Logo-2014_croppedThis post is a part of the 2014 AAUP University Press Week blog tour. Other presses posting today include Princeton University Press, University Press of Kentucky, Georgetown University Press, University Press of Mississippi, and University of Wisconsin Press. Please click through to read them!

Academic presses sometimes get a bad rap. The majority of the books we publish are scholarly, and don't always appeal to a general audience. Some of the books are so narrowly focused, in fact, that only a handful of people in the world will read them.

But that's not all we do.

Appealing to readers of all stripes

150_15168 150_15261University presses also publish a huge breadth of material that appeals to readers of all sorts, not simply academics, scholars, and students. In the past year, one of Penn Press's most popular titles has been The Sabermetric Revolution: Assessing the Growth of Analytics in Baseball by Ben Baumer and Andrew Zimbalist. Examining the state of statistical analysis in baseball ten years on from Moneyball, Baumer and Zimbalist see the forest for the trees, showing what's worked and what hasn't, and where the stats-in-sports movement heads next.

Another book of ours getting some good buzz hasn't even been released yet: Blue-Collar Broadway: The Craft and Industry of American Theater. By Timothy White, it goes backstage to explore the history of those people who work behind the scenes, literally, to make Broadway possible.

Being topical

150_15313 150_15328Penn is also trying to find ways to speed up the traditional publishing process. Most books take about ten months to get from finished manuscript to printed book, making it difficult to seize on moments in the culture as they happen. So Penn has started a series of digital shorts—shorter, topical books that go from start to finish in about a third of the usual time (and yes, print versions are available).

One of those, Richard Vague's The Next Economic Disaster: Why It's Coming and How to Avoid It, has been selling like crazy this summer and fall, with its prescriptions for avoiding a recurrence of the financial problems of 2008 (and warnings of how the country is failing to do so). More recently, we released American Justice 2014: Nine Clashing Visions on the Supreme Court by journalist and Supreme Court scholar Garrett Epps, which reviews the Supreme Court's term that ended in July. By taking each justice in turn and looking at one of their opinions or dissents, Epps not only summarizes and analyzes the court's year, he illuminates the minds behind the decisions.

Staying relevant

150_15288150_15197But even our traditionally published books have powerful things to say about current events. In September, Scotland held a referendum vote on whether or not to declare independence from the United Kingdom. Our author Matt Qvortrup, whose book, Referendums and Ethnic Conflict, deals with that very process, gave his witty and insightful view on the result. With Catalonia in Spain the next region in line to think about independence—having called an informal referendum in favor just this past Sunday—his knowledge will no doubt be needed again soon.

Here in the U.S., as the nation has followed the ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri, that began this summer, we at Penn Press are lucky enough to have Cathy Schneider, author of Police Power and Race Riots, on hand to lend some perspective.

Knowledge finds a voice

These books are just a small slice of those that Penn Press has published in the last year, and the point is not to raise them up as somehow better than the more esoteric or specialized books on our list. Rather, it is simply to highlight the fact that Penn Press publishes a huge variety of material. Yes, there is minutiae for niche, scholarly audiences—and that's a good thing. The world needs outlets for that sort of work. But we also publish about sports, the arts, politics and human rights, religion and history. More than simply selling books, the mission of the press is to give a platform to people with important things to say, regardless of discipline. If it needs saying, then Penn Press and others like us will publish it; that's what university presses do.

University presses: Where knowledge finds a voice.

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