Setting up a University Press in the Digital Age Revisited

Setting up a University Press in the Digital Age Revisited

One of the questions we have been asked about establishing a new university press is ‘how long does it take’? So we have recently reviewed on our history and experience detailing the University of Westminster Press timeline below. Here was the view in September 2015, four months after UWP’s website launch about what might be involved, which seems a lifetime away now that our second and rather substantial 2019 catalogue has recently been released in April 2019.

Some tentative conclusions to the question are presented below – based also on anecdotal evidence from our peers – as well as UWP’s experience. They suggest some pointers for others considering setting up a comparable operation and one overall conclusion: early stages take a long time (and the wheels can grind a bit here) but then momentum grows.

  1. The early stages of a new UP tend to take a long time. We’d hazard a guess that 18-21 months+ would not be unusual.
  2. Governance and internal procedures may need to be reconsidered at an early stage and then clarified again in the light of actual experience.
  3. There should be alignment between budgets and academics’/stakeholder expectations and that relevant linkages between the two (ideally) should be clearly made at operational and strategic levels, not just one of those.
  4. It is useful to have publisher and librarian experience to tap into but harder to ensure in practice that both are available in one person or across a team.
  5. Universities (like all operations) frequently restructure and this can affect (2) or be really crucial in moving things forward (in our case) or holding them back.
  6. Once out of first gear where considerable push may be needed, progress can be rapid.
  7. Never underestimate the importance of tangible products (aka books) in manifesting a presence that colleagues and external parties see. Not even a gleaming and functional website can do this.
  8. Plans need to be revised on a regular basis. And even six months is currently proving to be a long time in the world of scholarly communications and digital-first open access publishing.

7 May 2014. University agrees basic arrangements to establish a new open access digital press.

10 September 2014 A University Steering Group approves the governance structure and principles for operation of the University of Westminster Press including peer review protocols and the composition and remit of its Editorial Board. UWP is founded as a department within the University.

23 February 2015 UWP’s first and only employee starts.

12 May 2015 UWP’s website goes live for the first time.

15 September 2015 First journal issue from UWP published, Vol 10.1 of Westminster Papers in Communication.

10 October 2016 UWP publishes first book title: Critical Theory of Communication

14 November 2016 UWP becomes part of a new Research and Scholarly Communications team; on 1 August 2018 this with UWP becomes part of Library and Archive Services, within the Student and Academic Services directorate in the university’s new structure.

17 November 2017 UWP issues first catalogue. 

14 December 2017 Revised terms of reference for the UWP board and governance of UWP are tabled and shortly after formally approved.

8 October 2018: 250,000 views and downloads of books, chapters and journal articles reached.

8 April 2019 UWP issues 2019 catalogue with 19 books and 11 journal issues published and with 15 new titles forthcoming previously unannounced . By this time over 350,000 views and downloads had been achieved.

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