Milestones for UCT Press

03 September 2003
UCT Press celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, a milestone made all the more memorable by the fact that the company turned a small profit at the end of 2002, the first since its inception, says the organisation's Glenda Younge.

Juta and Co Ltd is the shareholder in the university press but UCT exercises editorial control through the UCT Press Editorial Board, chaired by Professor Brian Warner (astronomy). The board is comprised of 10 academics from various departments, who act as quality controllers.

Although the company has published some renowned UCT authors on a range of subjects, UCT Press publishes wider works, and has added field guides to its traditional lists of monographs and textbooks. One of the company's new titles is West Coast Tourist Guide (also available in Afrikaans), by Cornel Truter, one of 98 authors listed by the publisher.

"We publish the best scholarship from many sources and make it available to a wider audience," Younge said.

But, as is the case with most publishers, UCT Press has also felt the effects of a diminishing culture of reading, affecting sales and new acquisitions and resulting in smaller and smaller print runs.

Financial considerations have meant that the company has to be "business minded" about that they print. According to Younge, a viable book project should sell at least 1 000 copies per annum.

"And it helps if authors are able to raise a subsidy to defray printing costs," she added. The current exchange rates have pushed up the prices of imported books, making these largely unaffordable to students. Solani Ngobeni of Juta Academic Publishers feels that locally produced academic books are not only more competitively priced but have the additional bonus of local content and examples.

In a paper presenting an overview of academic publishing at the 8th Annual Qualitative Methods Conference last year, Ngobeni said there was a belief in the local academic community that South African publishers did not support local scholarship, especially if that scholarship could not be transformed into a textbook.

"This has resulted in what I prefer to call intellectual imperialism," he said. This is a situation where South African academics publish with either American or British publishers but the knowledge does not reach home because the books become highly expensive locally.

The challenge facing academic commercial publishers like UCT Press was how make a profit while furthering critical projects such as indigenous knowledge production.

"How do you satisfy shareholders without necessarily alienating your authors, which are an important, integral part of the publishing business?"

One of the answers is to have co-publishing contracts with international publishers and UCT Press has these in place with two companies abroad: Lynne Rienner Publishers in the United States and Zed Books in the United Kingdom. It is an arrangement Young feels works well.

"For example, UCT Press has sold 1 000 paperbacks and 200 hardbacks of Patrick Bond's Against Global Apartheid to Zed Books."

New titles from UCT Press include A Place Called Home - Environmental Issues and Low Cost Housing by Merle Sowman and Penny Urquhart, The Novel - Language and Narratives from Cervantes to Calvino by André Brink and Black South African Women - Anthology of Plays by Kathy A Perkins.

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