Imagine what would need to happen for university presses to return to what was once, long ago, their virtually exclusive mission: the publication of scholarly monographs intended for restricted, indeed sometimes infinitesimal, audiences. It would require more changes than the mind can readily picture.
Libraries would need to have bigger budgets. The costs of printing and distribution would have to deflate. Chain bookstores, apart from paying for their inventory up front, must agree never to return books to publishers. And that’s just for starters. Professors, while cultivating an interest in fields well outside their own, ought to buy more books. Graduate students would be given generous stipends earmarked for building up their own collections.
Also, while we’re at it, everyone should get a pony.
But reality, which tends to be pony-free, has long compelled university presses to split their catalogs ever more sharply between specialized works and commodities designed for a wider market. Occasionally, though, a new title hits that sweet spot somewhere in between. In a column earlier this month, I began scanning the fall lists for possible “crossovers” — books that might reach an audience beyond the ivory tower. Here are a few more possibilities…..