I learned this year at the Association for Jewish Studies conference from Gary Dunham, director of Indiana University Press something about academic publishing in today’s market climate. Picking up on a question that a colleague and friend asked him and me sometime before the conference, I asked him why IUP had not made an appearance at the much larger American Academy of Religion conference a few weeks prior to the AJS.
These are the facts of life. In today’s publishing market, profit margins are narrow, meaning that publishers have to calculate down to the dime whether it makes sense to pay the costs it costs to go to an annual conference (airline tickets, hotel reservations, packing and transporting books, renting out exhibition space).
Some of us in Jewish Studies are preoccupied by “the particular and the universal,” and still others of us complain about the parochialism of Jewish Studies, the parochialism of the Jews. But maybe there’s something that this critique fails to grasp.
In Gary’s estimation, it’s not worth it for a publisher to go to the big conferences. Not to Religion, not even to Anthropology or to the Modern Language Association (MLA), although Philosophy is an exception. These fields and these conferences that support them are too big. To publish and not perish, books need to be area specific. They need their own protective niche place out there in a hostile world. That’s why IUP showed up at the AJS and not to the AAR. In his exact words, Jewish Studies is “the right size to survive.”
[Dee Mortensen is about to enter into a well deserved retirement. About Gary, you can read more here. At Indiana, he’s taking over many of the responsibilities handled with such incomparable brilliance by Dee until they find a permanent replacement for her. One of these responsibilities include helping oversee the series in New Jewish Philosophy and Thought, which, proving Gary’s point, I hope, seems to be flourishing in its own little corner.]