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UNM Press debacle hurts state’s reputation

On March 1, the University of New Mexico Press was to be placed under the aegis of the Dean of UNM Libraries. The Dean of Libraries accepted the move on the condition that the University of New Mexico Press warehouse – 21,000 square feet, housing close to 1,000,000 books that are distributed for several regional presses as well – be moved to an out-of-state location and the warehouse given over to the university libraries that had run out of space for their collections.

Recently, UNM administrators decided to rehab another UNM building for the library needs and to provide the UNM Press warehouse to a public charter school – the Albuquerque Institute of Math and Sciences. Although the UNM administration has bemoaned the so-called endless “debt” of now $7 million they claim UNM Press has accrued over the past few years, this debt will somehow magically be absorbed by the university. Why was this decision made? Who made it? What will it cost to renovate a 21,000-square-foot warehouse for a charter school? Who is paying for the rehab? No one is saying.

As an author who has published with the University of New Mexico Press since 1984, I know that the press is one of the jewels in the academic and cultural crowns of the university and the state. It has published thousands of books and won hundreds of book and design awards over the course of its 88 years. It is ranked in the top third of the American Association of University Presses in terms of sales and revenues.

The last team of consultants concluded – and this is their emphasis – “There is simply no such thing as a university press book publishing program that is self-sustaining on book sales alone.” They agree, as previous teams have, that the reason the press is in so-called debt is because the University of New Mexico is the only university that has a press for which it doesn’t provide a subsidy; instead, it has allowed for deficit spending, with the debt accruing each year – except for three years, during 2013 to 2016, when the university provided a $250,000 annual subsidy. The bottom-line subsidy needed for the press to publish 50 books a year and maintain its high profile in the world of scholarly research and publishing is $600,000. The average university support for presses in their tier is $650,000 per year.

This year the university will give the Dean of Libraries $350,000 for the press, to be used at his discretion. None of the consulting teams have had a negative word to say about the way the press has been managed or staffed, which did not stop the university from firing its last director and laying off seven staff members last year, leaving a skeleton crew to handle acquisitions of new books, editing, production and marketing. Pro-rated out over the last decade, the press, according to the most recent consultant team, has cost the university $75,000 a year – as they point out, an extraordinary bargain.

The savings to the university for taking away the warehouse will be $175,000, but only if the majority of affiliated presses move their books to the new distribution warehouse. Who are some of these presses that readers in New Mexico and around the country depend on? SAR Press, West End Press, the Museum of New Mexico Press. What will happen to these presses if their books are moved to an East Coast location? They will lose massive revenues, and many of them may have to downsize greatly. Why? Because a new distributor is not going to move 1 million books – they will cull what they think will sell and the presses will have to pulp the rest and declare other titles out of print. Customer service and shipping fees will increase such that bookstores, museums and other outlets for UNM Press and its affiliates will not be able to afford the shipping costs and thus will carry fewer books from these presses.

The tragedy of this move in terms of losses to our state and nation are innumerable, while the rationale for the outsourcing of the books is completely unjustifiable – especially when the library no longer needs the warehouse. The bottom line for those of us who love and care about UNM Press and affiliated presses is that not only will New Mexico’s economy and tourism be impacted negatively, but our identity as a state – our reputation as a center of arts and culture, as well as our history and heritage, will be damaged beyond repair.

Lois Rudnick is a retired professor of American Studies from the University of Massachusetts Boston, who has authored and edited nine books, seven about northern New Mexico arts and cultures, published by the University of New Mexico Press and the Museum of New Mexico Press.


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