Mellon initiatives—collaborative publishing at university presses

Switching from collaborative entrepreneurship to collaborative publishing and promotional efforts, we received updates on Mellon-funded initiatives underway at university presses: South Asia Across the Disciplines, First Peoples, Early American Places, and the American Literatures Initiative.

In each case, groups of presses have come together to found a single new series in an “under-served areas of the humanities." Book projects are acquired and published under the imprint of one of the partner presses, with expenses for design, marketing, and publicity then shared by partner presses.

Mellon funding allows for aggressive acquisitions and marketing for projects that might have been less than attractive money makers and/or outliers on partner presses’ lists; in aggregate there’s enough of a “there, there” for cohesive presence to compel the series.

We don't have to call them anarcho-syndicalist publishing communes quite yet; they are not wholly autonomous collectives. Most are uncertain if the initiatives will achieve self-sustaining monetary returns. However, all agree that the many hands make light work approach is strong "if several presses wanted to make a big impact in a small market" and all agreed there were ancillary upsides.

One press director was quoted as having said: “If collaboration were easy, university presses would already be doing it.” I take at least two inferences from this statement: 1) there are clear, inherent benefits to our working together in such ways, and 2) we will have to continue to work together to get over “the difficulty hump” to access those benefits more richly.

Hence and in sum, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
is “priming the pump” of our collaborative undertakings, helping us to help ourselves. Partner presses may be doubly wise in availing themselves of such funding: enhancing their list/series offerings and supporting important scholarship while and by forging strategic alliances with other university presses.