Chronicles‘ May issue (“Who Killed the Book?“) leaves open the question of how scholars publish their books now that the university presses have abandoned all pretense of serving the academic community. Short-run scholarly monographs —300-700 hundred copies—are the primary medium of scholarly communication at that level of technical mastery and expert knowledge required for serious learning to take place. In fact, though the state of American book publishing is bleak, today no area of publishing so thrives as the short-run scholarly monograph. That is because entrepreneurs, both academic and otherwise, saw a need and met it.

Even before the university presses began to abandon the work of publishing professors in dialogue with their fields, a succession to the university press began to take shape. In the study of religion, the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature sponsored Scholars Press, founded by Robert Funk a quarter of a century ago and the principal academic press in the field today. Old-line scholarly houses, such as E.J. Brill in Leiden, took up the slack. University Press of America found a niche for itself Peter Lang did the same, as did Walter de Gruyter, Mohr Siebeck, Sheffield Academic Press, Routledge, and many others. Their counterparts in the social sciences include Transaction Books, among many others. Few university presses today compete in breadth and coverage with these and kindred imprints. And, ridden as they are with personalities and sectarian politics, some of the once-distinguished university presses—Harvard, California, Columbia, and Princeton, for instance—turn out in the fields that I follow sub-standard—sometimes even weird—titles that attest only to the political clout of their faculty sponsors. But others, Chicago and Yale, Johns Hopkins University and New York University, by contrast, take pride in solid and intellectually distinguished lists.

In academic publishing, no one “killed the book,” which thrives.

        —Jacob Neusner
St. Petersburg, FL