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

Universities in Asia such as the National University of Singapore and Hong Kong University have printing presses whose sole objective is supporting the university’s academic goals.

delhi Updated: Nov 06, 2016 08:14 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times
University printing press,Hong Kong university press,Singapore university press
Peter Schoppert, director, National University of Singapore Press, says university presses should focus on quality of research and support a field of research. (File photo)

The Delhi University Press, modelled after academic presses at Oxford and Cambridge, was established in 1961. But since it’s inception, the DUP is nothing more than a printing shop, churning out answer sheets and envelopes. Not a single academic work of note or even a course book has been published by the press for many years.

In contrast, universities in Asia such as the National University of Singapore and Hong Kong University have printing presses whose sole objective is to support the university’s academic goals.

Hindustan Times spoke to Peter Schoppert, managing director of National University of Singapore (NUS) Press and Malcolm Litchfield, publisher and director of the Hong Kong University Press, to gain some insight into how their university presses work.

Peter Schoppert, managing director, National University of Singapore Press

We publish around 30 books a year, plus three journals. We will launch a new journal early next year on Southeast Asian contemporary and modern art. Our biggest markets for book sales are Singapore, Malaysia, and the United States, in that order.

Our authors come from all over the world. We work particularly hard to recruit authors from our region, Southeast Asia, and we have many authors and series editors in Australia and Japan, as well as Europe, North America and the rest of Asia. Authors from the National University of

Singapore make up only around 20% of our authors. We publish three or four translations every year.

Profit-making is not our main goal, though we operate as a business. The modest support we receive from the National University of Singapore helps us pursue our first goal, which is to publish high-quality, high-impact humanities and social science research of relevance to the region.

Our typesetting/composition and printing are largely contracted out to suppliers mostly in Singapore, Hong Kong or in India.

We work closely with sales, marketing and distribution partners around the world, including the University of Chicago Press in the US. We have two head count in Singapore dedicated to sales, marketing and promotions and publicity, managing our distribution partners.

University presses just have a different set of goals than the commercial presses. Most of us are able to stay focused on 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. We’ve learned that staying focused on a few areas of expertise delivers better results than trying to be too broad in approach.

Malcolm Litchfield, Publisher and Director, Hong Kong University Press

HKUP is a non-profit department of the University of Hong Kong and is partially subsidized by the university in addition to our sales revenue. If you take out the subsidy, then the press does not make any profit.

Our goal is to publish 60 new titles a year, but are presently publishing about 30-35 new titles every year.

We look for authors all over the world — anyone who is a respected academic working in an area in which we publish, primarily Asian studies. Looking at our Fall 2016 catalogue, I see that nine authors are from Hong Kong, four are from the US, three are from the UK, two are from Australia, one is from mainland China, and one from Macau.

Our goal is to serve the academia by publishing works of high scholarly merit that may have low commercial potential. The books we publish typically would not be published by a commercial publisher because they are not likely to make a profit, so if it were not for us, they would not be published at all.

While our books often have a very small audience of specialists, the publication process remains important to the progress of scholarship. That is the endeavour to which we contribute.

(As told to Manoj Sharma)

First Published: Nov 06, 2016 08:14 IST