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July 26, 2012 Volume 33, No. 35

University of Missouri Press to begin new chapter under MU governance

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CHANGING TIMES Speer Morgan, editor of The Missouri Review, faces challenges as director of the reimagined University of Missouri Press. He’ll be hiring an editor-in-chief, managing editor and marketing director in coming months. Rachel Coward photo


The reimagined publishing house will include digital and audio books

new model for the University of Missouri Press was unveiled July 16, two months after the University of Missouri System announced that it would gradually phase out the press due to fiscal constraints. MU will resume governance of the press, which will continue to publish print books for the foreseeable future while exploring digital forms of scholarly communication.

Speer Morgan was named director of the new press and will continue as editor of The Missouri Review, a literary quarterly. He will report to Michael O’Brien, dean of the College of Arts and Science. The University of Missouri Press offices will be in McReynolds Hall near The Missouri Review offices.

Morgan said he plans to hire a Missouri Press editor-in-chief, managing editor and marketing director within the next three months. 

The new Missouri Press model will be similar to that at the Columbia Missourian and The Missouri Review, where faculty and students work together in a real-world media environment. Applying the model to Missouri Press will enable students to gain hands-on publishing experience under faculty supervision. “The press will be embedded into the broader academic enterprise,” Provost Brian Foster said.

Missouri Press will publish about 25 print titles a year, roughly its output in recent years. Graduate students and freelance editors will perform the bulk of the manuscript editing. A board consisting of representatives of all four campuses will give input on acquisitions and editorial content. 

Contracts with current and past authors will be honored, and the press will solicit for new manuscripts. The new press’s budget hasn’t been decided yet.

“The press function of disseminating scholarly information will not change,” Foster said.

The Dean’s Press Advisory Committee was formed July 18 consisting of Morgan; Dean Mills, dean of the School of Journalism; Daniel Clay, dean of the College of Education; Scott Cairns, a professor of American literature; and Jim Cogswell, director of MU Libraries.

The committee will advise O’Brien on a future course for the press, Morgan said.

Missouri Press history

Opened in 1958, Missouri Press has published more than 2,000 books on world history, biography, journalism, women’s studies and creative nonfiction. It is a leader in scholarship on Missouri natives Mark Twain, Langston Hughes and Harry S Truman. The UM System has managed the press since 1967.

In recent years, most book publishers, newspapers and magazines have experienced a print sales decline as more readers turn to the Internet for news, information and entertainment. Scholarly presses have not been immune, and a handful of university publishing houses besides Missouri’s have shut down or suspended operation.

Given the changing media landscape, the Missouri Press will be forward thinking and innovative in its approach to scholarly publishing, Morgan said. There will be more ebooks, audio books and intercampus collaboration with the School of Journalism, College of Business and other academic units — all goals of Mizzou Advantage’s Media of the Future initiative.

Media of the Future “provides a platform to reinvent the role of university presses in future scholarly communications and outreach to the public,” MU Chancellor Brady J. Deaton said in a press release. 

“The interdisciplinary foundations of the Mizzou Advantage enable a reimagined press to draw on significant campus strengths such as The Missouri Review and to build on scholarly programs in English, creative writing, communications, journalism, and library and information science.”

The closing of the current Missouri Press has not been without controversy. 

When the UM System announced the press closing in May, there was outcry among some authors, alumni and professors. 

In the days after the announcement, a Facebook page dedicated to saving the press was created. An online petition asking the system to reconsider had 5,000 signatures at press time. 

Moving Forward

Morgan is not blind to the criticism. 

“I understand the concern,” he said. “The leaders on this campus feel the same way, which is the reason for this effort. Our hope is to have a press that is economically as efficient as possible, adventurous with its book list, which also serves a broad educational and experimental function in the future of books.”

Digital scholarly publishing has had mixed results so far. Rice University’s publishing house went digital for a few years but shut down in 2010. But Project Muse, an online database for scholarly journals overseen by the Johns Hopkins University Press, has had success (The Missouri Review has been on the site since the early 2000s). Seven months ago, Project Muse began offering digital “top quality book-length scholarship,” according to its website.

Morgan stresses that the new Missouri Press won’t be an overnight transition. Putting a new model in operation takes time. “In about a year, we should have our feet under us,” Morgan said.