A bad week for publishing, but sometimes it seems like they all are. First I was greeted with the news that the New Orleans Times-Picayune has cut back circulation to three days a week. Apparently later in the same day, three papers in Alabama announced a similar move to downsize and reduce circulation. Apparently being an award winning newspaper that does heroic community service in the midst of the disaster of a century is no longer enough.
Then today’s twitter feed brought me news of another University Press closing.
University of Missouri Press is closing after more than five decades of operation, UM System President Tim Wolfe announced this morning.
The press, which publishes about 30 books a year, will begin to be phased out in July, although a more specific timeline has not been determined.
Ten employees will be affected. Clair Willcox, editor in chief, declined to comment but did note that neither he nor any of the staff knew about the change before a midmorning meeting.
In a statement, Wolfe said even though the state kept funding to the university flat this year, administrators “take seriously our role to be good stewards of public funds, to use those funds to achieve our strategic priorities and re-evaluate those activities that are not central to our core mission.”
Plenty has been said about the worrisome demise of daily papers and what the transformation of journalism into an online blogosphere really means for the body politic. Will the Huffington Post, after all, actually cover anything in New Orleans if the paper goes under entirely. Reposting is still not reporting, and having opinions at a distance is great fun but not exactly a form of knowledge.
The demise of or cutbacks to university presses is less bemoaned in the national press or blogosphere, but it is still worrisome. Although I am now a believer in the possibilities of serious intellectual work occurring online, I am not yet convinced the demise of the serious scholarly book with a small audience would be a very good thing. Indeed, I believe the best online work remains in a kind of symbiotic relationship with the traditional scholarly monograph or journal. I keep my fingers crossed that this is merely an instance merely an instance of creative destruction, and not an instance of destruction plan and simple.
On a more hopeful note, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the New Yorker tweeting Jennifer Egan’s latest story Black box and am looking forward to the next installments. I’d encourage everyone to “listen in”, if that’s what you do on twitter, but if you can’t you can read it in a more traditional but still twitterish form at the New Yorker Page turner site. To get the twitter feed, go to @NYerFiction. The reviews have been mixed, but I liked it a great deal. Egan is a great writer, less full of herself than some others, she has a great deal to say, and she’s willing to experiment with new ways to say it. Her last novel, Waiting for the Goon Squad, experimented with Powerpoint like slides within the text. And, there’s a nice article over at Wired about the piece, suggesting it may be signaling a revival of serialized fiction.
Let’s hope so, it will make up for the loss of the U of MIssouri Press, at least today.