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Nothing to print or show: The decline and death of Delhi University Press

Since its inception in 1961, the Delhi University Press has been nothing more than a printing shop.

delhi Updated: Nov 11, 2016 20:09 IST
Manoj Sharma
Delhi University Press

The office of Delhi University Press in North Campus, New Delhi.(Manoj Sharma/HT Photo)

Delhi University with its collegiate structure is perhaps the only university in the country modelled on great institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge. For good measure, it boasts what its website calls Delhi University Press (DUP), which seems to borrow its name from the iconic university presses such as Oxford University Press (OUP) and Harvard University Press (HUP).

But this is where the similarities end.

While other university presses such as the OUP and Cambridge University Press (CUP) are global publishing giants, advancing their institution’s mission of research and scholarship, DUP, since its inception in 1961, has been nothing more than a printing shop. It prints envelopes, registers, answers sheets, minutes of meetings, etc.

Ironically, the university, which was a defendant in a copyright suit filed by a consortium of publishers against a photocopying shop on its premises, has failed to realise that one of the objectives of a university press is to make high-quality academic text available to students at affordable prices.

Delhi University Press is like a museum of vintage printing machines. (Manoj Sharma/HT Photo)

Delhi University Press has been allowed to die a slow death — its printing facility on DU campus is a museum of vintage treadle printing machines, rusting and gathering dust for decades. The two offset machines bought in the late nineties with grants from Ford Foundation haven’t been used for over a decade. Its website says, “due to lack of infrastructure and staff, presently university press prints, degrees, answer books, envelopes, etc”.

Over the years, its staff strength has been dwindling. The press has 10 people (against a sanctioned strength of 95), including two machine operators, three clerks, and a storekeeper. Interestingly, for a university press that prints only answer sheets and envelopes, it has a formidable advisory committee that includes a battery of professors, deans, and deputy registrars, among others.

“No vice-chancellor ever showed any interest in the Delhi University Press, creating an editorial team and developing a publishing programme,” says a professor, not wishing to be named.

Read | What the Delhi University Press can learn from Asia’s best academic presses

Both the vice-chancellor and the registrar did not respond to HT’s repeated phone calls, SMSes, and emails regarding the state of affairs at the press.

Many former and present teachers believe that a university press is the academic arm of the university and DUP should be an instrument of learning and teaching, not printing.

“I wanted my books to be published by Delhi University Press but got to know they do not have an editorial team. I would first like to give my book to our own university press because it is a matter of pride for a teacher to be published by his her own university press,” says Anjana Neira Dev, who teaches English at Gargi College, and has written several books, including course books for Delhi University, to her credit. “Unlike a commercial publisher, a university press can easily make academic books available to students at affordable prices.”

Famous university presses
  • Oxford University Press, 1586: The world’s largest university press is a department of the University of Oxford and publishes more than 6,000 titles a year worldwide. It has offices in more than 50 countries, including India where it has had an office since 1912. OUP India publishes nearly 150 new academic and higher titles every year.
  • Cambridge University Press, 1584: It is the oldest and the second largest university press in the world. It has offices in more than 40 countries and publishes 2,500 books and 200 journals every year.
  • Johns Hopkins University Press, 1878: It is the oldest press in the US. Daniel Coit Gilman, the founder, had this to say about the need of a university press: "It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures, but far and wide".
  • Columbia University Press, 1893: Some of its most famous publications include The Columbia Encyclopedia. The press currently publishes approximately 160 new titles every year in the fields of Asian literature, philosophy, politics, and history, etc.
  • The Yale University Press, 1908: It publishes 300 books every year. In 2001, it partnered with Harvard University Press and MIT University Press to build a 155,000 square foot warehouse and distribution centre in Rhode Island, US.
  • MIT Press, 1962: It publishes over 220 new books every year and over 30 journals in the field of science, art, architecture, economics, cognitive science, game studies and computer science to name a few.
  • Stanford University Press, 1895: It publishes 140 books/year across humanities, social sciences, law and business.
  • Harvard University Press, 1913: It has since published 4,500 books. Some of its most famous publications include Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being and Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture.


Swati Pal, principal, Janki Devi Memorial College, who has co-authored a course book for Delhi University, says the objective of a university press is to promote academic rigour and excellence. “A university understands its academic needs and requirements better than any outside publisher. There is certainly a need for a re-look at the functioning of the Delhi University Press,” says Pal.

Having a good press, she says, is necessary because publishing books, monographs and study papers have the highest rating in the Academic Performance Indicator (API) scores of the faculty. “It is like publish or perish,” says Pal. “The university has to be a patron of learning; a university press’s publishing programme shows that the university is the equal partner in the academic development of the faculty,” says Dev. “The books published by a university press are the permanent record of the university’s academic achievements, and enhances its brand value”.

The offset printing machines at the DUP have not been working for over a decade. (Manoj Sharma/HT Photo)

Dealing with commercial publishers, which is what most faculty members do at DU in the absence of university press publishing programme, is a complicated process, said Pal. She said that a commercial publisher may not be interested in an academic or scholarly book that a faculty member or the university wants to publish because the market, and not the university’s academic needs, are its primary focus. “But a teacher does not face this problem with a university press because the faculty members are on the editorial board and they are on the same wavelength as you,” said Pal.

Professor PB Mangla, a former head, department of library and information science, Delhi University, who served on the DUP advisory committee, says university press is an essential component of the varsity’s research and academic pursuits.

“The Delhi university Press should be professionalised and have a well-defined publishing programme in the interest of both teachers and students,” he says. “Most prestigious universities across the world have their own presses with diverse publishing programmes.”

He is not exaggerating. There are about 100 universities presses in the United States and even an association of university presses — and their strength is reflected in the diversity of their catalogue. Not just the US and Europe, many universities in Asia such as National University of Singapore and Hong University have presses whose sole objective is supporting the university’s academic goals.

“University presses just have a different set of goals than the commercial ones. Most of us are able to stay focused on the quality of research and publishing to support a field of research, and then trying to make that work accessible to the public, with affordable pricing,” says Peter Schoppert, managing director, NUS Press.

The Oxford University Press in Oxford, United Kingdom. (Picture courtesy: Wikipedia)

Malcolm Litchfield, publisher and director, Hong Kong University Press, shares his view: “The books we publish typically would not be published by commercial publishers because they are not likely to make a profit, so if it were not for us, they would not be published at all.” The Hong Kong University Press also has its bookshop on the campus.

In India, there are some exceptions such as Jamia Millia Islamia, which perhaps has the oldest university press in the country with its own bookshop. Called Maktaba Jamia, it was established in 1922 as a book depot to help Jamia procure textbooks for students. Two years later, Maktaba started publishing books and journals, and today it is one of the biggest publishers of Urdu books with thousands of titles to its credit.

Some universities and institutions such as Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore and Manipal University launched their universities presses in the past decade and their publishing list is growing slowly but steadily. The IISc Press that started in 2009 has so far published about 31 books — 8 of them textbooks.

“Eighty per cent books that we publish are from our own faculty members, most of whom do not want to be published by foreign publishers because that means the price of their books will be too high and students in India would find them unaffordable,” said Prof GK Ananathasuresh, who heads the IISc Press committee. “The objective of the press is to make high-quality books available to post-graduate students at affordable prices.”

Some of the journals published by Indian Institute of Science Press. (HT Photo)

The Manipal University Press too has a fledging publishing programme and has brought out 55 books -- both academic and general interest -- since its inception in 2011. It is slated to release about 40 more titles in the coming months.

“Having a world-class university press and its bookshops will help the cause of Delhi University students more than promoting photocopying shops on its campus. The university has the academic and intellectual resources to develop a world-class university press,” said another professor who does not wish to be named.

Typical structure of a university press
Editorial Board: Most university presses have an editorial board that has faculty members and professionals.
Marketing and sales: Prominent university presses such as Oxford and Cambridge have their sales marketing division and offices and sales representatives in many countries.
Distribution: Very few university publishers have their own distribution networks and outsource it to their professional distributors.
Rights and permission department: Looks after the copyright issues and granting of rights.
Printing facility: Most university presses have had their printing facilities, but now prefer to outsource their printing.