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Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:40
Cambridge University Press is the oldest printer and publisher in the world, having been operating continuously since 1584, and is one of the largest academic publishers globally. Its purpose is to further the University's objective of advancing learning, knowledge and research worldwide.
Richard Fisher is Executive Director of Academic and Professional Publishing at Cambridge. He worked for many years as a Cambridge University Press commissioning editor in history and politics, and has also been much involved with public bodies in the UK like the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, and The Royal Historical Society, of which he is currently a Vice- President.
Book Depository: What/who do you see as your primary market?
Richard Fisher: The primary market of the Academic and Professional Books Group of Cambridge University Press (NB that we publish extensively for schools and ELT/ESL, and also publish large numbers of academic journals) is as it says on the tin, academic and professional. We publish over 1400 new academic books each year, from publishing centres in Cambridge, New York, Melbourne and Delhi. We have a small annual programme of books with wider retail or popular aspirations, but our main focus is firmly on faculty, librarians, students, professionals and practitioners. Our sales, marketing and distribution operation is emphatically global, as is our author base, and roughly half of our book sales are made in North America. The majority of our publishing (about 60%) is focussed on the humanities and social sciences, but we are very unusual for a University Press in having also a substantial programme in STM, with historic strengths in areas like maths and physics (as befit's Isaac Newton's own university!)
BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?
RF: At the university and research level, attrition in institutional funding on both sides of the Atlantic, with the continued squeeze on library budgets, with constant pressure from (e.g.) scientific serials and other forms of (increasingly) on-line information. This will be exacerbated as we enter the promised recessional squeeze. The global 'H&SS' community has not yet developed viable and sustainable models for on-line publication of extended material, and there is a huge paradox in that there will actually be more scholarly books published in 2008-09 than ever before, whilst simultaneously large parts of the community are wracked with a sense of doom, especially at the 'humanities' end. Sorting out that future is a massive priority, and a massive challenge. The Digital Revolution has, of course, proved a massive opportunity for even the most traditional publishers. Cambridge University Press is good at the 'invisibles' of publishing, like bibliographic information, and our content is now accessible in more forms to more people than ever before. The capacity to publish very short-run-paperback-impressions of backlist titles (our 'Lazarus' programme) has also proved hugely popular. Nearly 7000 titles have now been brought back into print, and this short-run stream now represents nearly 15% of our overall book revenues globally.
BD: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?
RF: Academic or pedagogic excellence is the most important thing, but that's a necessary but not a sufficient condition for publication by Cambridge University Press. Each has to be 'fit for purpose', and pitched at an appropriate and viable audience, whether of students (textbooks), faculty (monographs), medical, engineering or legal professionals (practitioner works). Graduate students at Masters' or doctoral level are a hugely important audience for Cambridge University Press books, especially of our paperback strands like Cambridge Companions, Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics, and Cambridge Introductions to Literature. We publish over 1400 new academic books each year, across a vast range of subjects, and each has to make its own way in the marketplace. Rigorous peer review remains absolutely central to what we do. We do very little, nowadays, of what used to be called 'in-tray' publishing: the large majority of Cambridge University Press books have been actively commissioned by our acquisitions editors around the world.
BD: What books are you most proud of having published?
RF: I am still a part-time editor in the History of Ideas, and look after scholars like Quentin Skinner (his most recent book, Hobbes and Republican Liberty, published in February) and John Pocock. The latter's Barbarism and Religion about Edward Gibbon sequence is, by any reckoning, one of the great solo scholarly projects of recent times. The single book I think is perhaps the best I have ever published is Saint Anselm by the late Richard Southern (once nominated by The Observer as 'The Historians' Historian').
For Cambridge University Press as a whole, our tally of Nobel Prize -winning authors went up last year to something like 57, with the prizes awarded to the International Panel on Climate Change (for peace) and to Leonid Hurwicz (for economics). We are also the only publisher with access to Charles Darwin’s letters and have just published two books to mark the bicentenary of his birth in 2009: Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin 1822-1859 and Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin 1860-1870. That's not too shabby!
BD: What books are you working on right now?
RF: In the course of 2008-09 I shall publish new books from Quentin Skinner, John Pocock, Stephen Greenblatt, Jack Goody, Jim Tully, Pierre Rosanvallon and Gareth Stedman Jones, inter alia. I immodestly think that's quite a distinguished, and saleable, cohort.
These are The Book Depository's 5 favourite Cambridge University Press titles:
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