School Ties: At CUNY J-School, a New Model for Publishing

April 28, 2013 | Salute to Scholars, The University

At CUNY J-School, a New Model for Publishing

THE UNIVERSITY is now in the book business with the launch of the CUNY Journalism Press. The academic press housed at the
Graduate School of Journalism will use a new publishing model to produce books related to the craft.

Tim Harper, editor of CUNY Journalism Press

Tim Harper, editor of CUNY Journalism Press

“There are a lot of worthy books about the journalism field that wouldn’t be published nowadays because of changes in the business. Changes in technology are also presenting us with a lot more opportunity to be innovative and to get books published that might not otherwise see the light of day,” says the editor of the new imprint, Tim Harper.

Titles will include how-to books, anthologies, critical histories, memoirs and more. The press will publish about five books a year. The first book, which came out in January, was Distant Witness: Social Media, the Arab Spring and a Journal-ism Revolution, authored by National Public Radio senior strategist Andy Carvin. “There has always been a huge interest in books about the media and the future of journalism — we would not have gone into this if we didn’t think that this would be a sustainable enterprise for us,” says Harper, who is also a visiting professor and writing coach at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and a veteran publishing consultant.

The CUNY Journalism Press will operate in partnership with OR Books, an independent publisher based in New York City. The partners are pioneering a unique, “co-publishing” arrangement with authors. OR Books will provide back-of-the-shop services like cover design and printing.
“Authors are asked to be more involved in the marketing of their books than typically required at traditional publishing houses. It’s a winning strategy because most of our authors know about personal branding, and they are knowledgeable about social networking,” says Harper.

The new model will offer higher returns to authors based on sharing profits from actual sales, instead of emphasizing upfront royalty payments to authors in the form of advances against a relatively small percentage of prospective sales. “I tell our authors, ‘This is not going to be the old model where we provide you with a stack of money as an advance and we dictate how things are going to be run.’ We want authors involved every step of the way. So when we make money, they make money,” says Harper.

Low overhead cost is another desirable feature of the co-publishing model says Harper. “We get such a terrific bang for our buck or I should say bang for our book. We are not ordering thousands of books and keeping them in warehouses. We are much more close to the bone. Most of the print books we sell are printed on demand, but we’re also producing an eBook for every title and we expect significant digital sales,” says Harper.

In the future, Harper expects more institutions to incorporate the new publishing model. He also hopes to see publishing houses set up at many more CUNY colleges. “I think the new model is going to be something educational institutions will experiment with.” There are other big academic universities with publishing operations that are having cutbacks, says Harper. “They’re operating under traditional models and to survive they are going to have to reinvent themselves with the type of model that we’re using.”