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university press,publishing house associated with a university and nearly always bearing the university's name in its imprint. The university press is normally a specialized publishing house emphasizing scholarly books, monographs, and periodicals that aid in the dissemination of knowledge to scholars and to well-informed lay readers.
The first English-language university presses were those of Oxford and Cambridge, both of which were officially established by the end of the 16th cent. Since the 17th cent. both presses have enjoyed a monopoly in Great Britain, granted them by royal charter, on the publication of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, giving them a financial resource such as no university press in North America enjoys.
The United States
Several university presses in the United States were started in order to centralize the printing and publishing needs of the university. They issued the official bulletins of the university and student and alumni publications, as many still do. Others began by publishing the scholarly works of the university's faculty, in cooperation with commercial publishing houses.
The first use of the term "university press" in the United States was at Cornell in 1869. This venture, like the one begun at the Univ. of Pennsylvania the following year, failed in its early efforts (the presses operating at these universities today were started in 1930 and 1920, respectively). The oldest American university press in continuous existence is the Johns Hopkins Press (1878). It was followed in 1891 by the Univ. of Chicago Press and in 1893 by Columbia Univ. Press and the Univ. of California Press. By 1920 there were recognized presses at the following American universities: Fordham (1907), Yale (1908), Univ. of Washington (1909), Princeton (established in its present form, 1910), Loyola (1912), Harvard (1913), New York Univ. (1916), and Univ. of Illinois (1918).
In 1935 there were 17 university presses which published five or more books, and they published 6% of all the books produced by publishers of that size. By 1949 the number of university presses had risen to 30, publishing 7.2% of the books put out. In that year, in addition to the presses listed above, university presses included those of Duke, the Univ. of Georgia, Iowa State Univ., Louisiana State Univ., the Univ. of Michigan, the Univ. of Minnesota, the Univ. of Nebraska, the Univ. of New Mexico, the Univ. of North Carolina, the Univ. of Oklahoma, Rutgers, Stanford, the Univ. of Wisconsin, and the University Press in Dallas.
Growth was accompanied, especially in the larger presses, by a broadening of scope. University presses undertook more and more to present the results of scholarly research to lay readers, to encourage regional literature, and to supply texts for new educational programs of the universities. University presses have continued to expand, keeping pace with the extraordinary growth of the institutions with which they were affiliated. Funding has always been a major problem for the presses, but it is even harder now as academia is more specialized. A declining library market in the face of decreased budgets has forced university presses to depend on bookstore sales and to publish controversial titles and to adopt marketing strategies used by commercial houses.
In the early 1920s the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) was founded, and in 1937 it was given formal organization. Since that time the number of university presses has continued to grow; Helen Sears's comprehensive survey of the field, American University Presses Come of Age (1959), listed 42 university presses and 7 outside institutions that are affiliated with the AAUP. By the late 1990s the AAUP had 110 members, mostly in the United States but including 6 Canadian presses and 5 others outside the United States. The association members published some 10,000 titles annually; university presses in the United States had sales of $391.8 million in 1998.
The journal Scholarly Publishing, founded in 1969, has become recognized as the unofficial professional journal of university press publishing. See also R. G. Underwood, Production and Manufacturing Problems of American University Presses (1960); G. R. Hawes, To Advance Knowledge (1967); H. S. Bailey, Jr., The Art and Science of Book Publishing (1970); D. C. Smith, Jr., A Guide to Book Publishing (rev. ed. 1989).