Rice University Press to close next month

Rice University Press to close next month

Rice News staff

After four years as a digital-only experiment, Rice University Press (RUP) will cease operations next month, due to financial constraints.

“The hope was that without the burden of having to maintain a print inventory, the press might sustain itself largely on revenues from print-on-demand book sales,” said Eugene Levy, whose office provided initial funding for RUP when he was provost. “Unfortunately, book sales remained very slow, and projections discouraged the anticipation that revenues would, in the foreseeable future, grow to a level that could materially help sustain even minimal costs of operation.”

For many years Rice University had underwritten and operated RUP as a traditional print-publishing press, but in 1996 the press ceased operations because it was financially unviable at a time when the university budget was under increasing pressure. In 2006, Rice reopened RUP to operate in a digital mode on an experimental basis with interim financial support provided from the university’s general budget.

Rice University Press titles

Hilary Ballon and Mariet Westermann, “Art History and Its Publications in the Electronic Age” (2006)

Herbert L. Fred, M.D., MACP, and Hendrik A. van Dijk, “Images of Memorable Cases: 50 Years at the Bedside” (2007)

Sarah C. Reynolds, “Houston Reflections: Art in the City, 1950s, ’60s and ’70s” (2008)

Kevin Guthrie, “The New-York Historical Society: Lessons from One Nonprofit’s Long Struggle for Survival” (2008)

I.J. Good, “The Good Book: Thirty Years of Comments, Conjectures and Conclusions” (2008)

Stephen A. Fredericks, “The New York Etching Club Minutes: November 12, 1877, through December 8, 1893” (2009)

Marcia Brennan, “Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson” (2009)

Johanna Drucker, ed., “Le Petit Journal des Refusées” (2009)

Nancy Allen, “Art Museum Images in Scholarly Publishing” (2009)

Jerome McGann, ed., “The Black Riders and Other Lines” (2009)

Craig Saper, ed., “The Readies” (2009)

Craig Saper, ed., “Words” (2009)

Walter M. Widrig, “The Via Gabina Villas: Sites 10, 11 and 13” (2009)

Nicholas Frankel, ed., “The Sphinx” (2010)

Jerome McGann, ed., with Andrew Stauffer, Dana Wheeles and Michael Pickard, “Online Humanities Scholarship: The Shape of Things to Come” (2010)

Melissa Bailar, ed., “Emerging Disciplines” (2010)

William A. Blanpied, “A History of Federal Science Policy from the New Deal to the Present” (2010)

During its four years of operation, RUP published 17 books (see sidebar). Each book was posted online, where it was fully readable on the Rice Connexions website, and readers also had the option to purchase printed bound copies produced in a variety of bindings and black-and-white or color formats though the on-demand printer QOOP.
Among the books published in this manner was “Images of Memorable Cases: 50 Years at the Bedside” in 2007. This book, a study of the art and science of medical diagnosis as practiced in traditional bedside medicine, was written by Rice alum Herbert Fred ’50, professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and Hendrik van Dijk. It was peer-reviewed elsewhere but brought to Rice for publication on its digital platform. The book featured nearly 200 color images of medical conditions and disorders, so it could not have been published affordably by conventional means.

Final details are still being worked out, but the plan is to give authors of books published by RUP the option to have their work continue to be posted and sold through RUP presence on Connexions, Levy said. The intention is that books will remain available to be read online, and that readers will continue to be able to purchase published bound books through QOOP.

“The decision to close the press was neither taken lightly nor implemented precipitately,” Levy said. “In view of pressures on the university budget from the broad fiscal crisis of recent years, the university concluded that it could not continue indefinite subsidy of the RUP experiment, as painful budget reductions were being absorbed across the entire university, including in the core of Rice’s educational and research mission.”

Before making the final decision to close the press, Levy collaborated with leaders in the School of Humanities to commission a study and report from three expert external consultants. “The report confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that the prospects of meeting the goals of RUP were not encouraging and that there was no clear path to near-sustainability for the press without large continuing support from Rice,” he said.

In addition to publishing original scholarly work in fields particularly impacted by the high costs and distribution models of the printed book, RUP’s mission included fostering new models of scholarship, providing more affordable publishing for scholarly societies and centers, partnering with large university presses and publishing a small number of titles pertaining to medical diagnostics.

“We are hopeful that the lessons learned here at Rice, even extending to the use of Connexions as the platform, may help others working to establish new digital presses in the future,” Levy said.

About admin