MIT Press Will Focus More on E-Books;Press Saw Ten Percent Drop in Book Sales

As the transition from print publication to digital publication of scholarly work becomes more prevalent, university presses are being forced to adapt their business plans to appeal to the new electronic demand: MIT Press is no exception.

MIT Press will restrict its budget by focusing less on printing books and more on digital publication.

Earlier this month, MIT Press launched its new e-books store,, which allows its users to purchase recent, full-text publications including scholarly research, journals, and general interest books. MIT Press has also announced the release of the “International Journal of Learning and Media,” the organization’s first electronic-only journal.

Last month, the Association of Research Libraries met with other national organizations to discuss ways to improve the dissemination of scholarly work. As a result of the meeting, they issued a “call to action” to urge universities to “ensure the broadest possible access” to faculty research and scholarship.

In today’s soft economy, the e-book system has acted as a way out of financial shortcomings. According to Rebecca Schrader, Assistant Director of Finance of MIT Press, a large portion of the university press’ e-book sales comes from users of the Amazon Kindle, a portable e-book reader that has access to over 250,000 books.

The e-books sometimes lack pictures or drawings originally in the physical copies, Schrader said. Many illustrators have not yet licensed their work to MIT Press for electronic distribution.

Schrader said MIT Press has suffered a 10 percent decrease in its book sales.

According to Schrader, university presses throughout the country have experienced similar declines in sales. A recent survey published by the American Association of University Presses estimates an average 10 percent loss in sales and revenue between July and December 2008.

As a result of declining earnings, university presses are also starting to take different approaches to their business models. For instance, Yale University Press plans to cut back on printing and focus more on their new e-book program.

The Cornell University Press is following the same trend, as a result of students purchasing fewer course texts and borrowing more books from the library.

The University of Michigan Press, however, has reacted differently by reestablishing itself as a sub-organization of the university’s library. In effect, the press will receive funding as an academic department, lessening the pressure to follow a profitable business model.

MIT Press will continue to operate its bookstore located in Kendall Square, which contributes a small fraction of the press’s revenue. “The bookstore lets the MIT Press experiment with new and specialized books that are not normally found in general bookstores,” Schrader said. The bookstore also serves as a spot to host author events.