Day before yesterday (Tuesday), the University of Michigan Press announced that it was no longer doing press runs of scholarly monographs. Henceforth, says the announcement, 50 of the 60 monographs published annually will be done “only as digital editions.”
What a retro way to position a progressive decision!
Publishing with no offset press run (or with one short offset press run) is a totally sensible way to deliver niche books, which scholarly monographs certainly are. But why make a big deal out of the fact that none are being printed in advance of orders?
The reason Michigan is going to this strategy is that so few of these books get sold. So why say you’re stopping anything? There should be no change in Michigan’s publishing and launch strategy (except possibly to go to a no-returns policy on monographs, or on certain parts of their list including monographs.) Why make an announcement that makes some people believe that the “book” they want might not be available to them anymore? Or that it might be available, but in something called a “print on demand” edition which, although they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, suggests the possibility that it somehow isn’t as good as what they would have gotten before?
The end user doesn’t need to know how many copies were printed and bound along with the one s/he bought. There is no reason to confuse the consumer, or the supply chain, with irrelevant information. Do you tell them what size press you printed on? What size roll of paper?
Smart digitally-based publishing, where most sales are made of an all-digital product and marginal add-on sales are of a printed (on demand) version, is going to be the most common model in a very short time. Nobody suffers. Everybody still gets exactly what they want. An announcement positioning this as some kind of a “cutback” is totally unnecessary and actually is probably counterproductive.