13 February 2005

Death-knell for UQP?

IP’s Director Dr David Reiter today called upon Premier Peter Beatty to take urgent action to address the crisis facing the publishing industry in Queensland following revelations in the media that the University of Queensland Press (UQP) is facing an uncertain future.

‘For decades, the Queensland Government has maintained a one-publisher policy,’ Dr Reiter stated, ‘at the expense of protecting the cultural fabric of this State. It is now confronted with a possible consequence of that folly — our State being left with no major literary publishers.’

For years Dr Reiter has been advising the Government to adopt a more equitable approach that would see other players in the industry receive a chunk of the tens of thousands of dollars in public funds now diverted annually to UQP. ‘It should be Smart State policy to spread the risk, particularly in an industry that’s changing dramatically, and to reward enterprises that have already adapted successfully,’ he argued.

While the Premier and the Minister for the Arts ‘sit on their hands’, UQP has amassed a deficit of $3.6 million, despite generous handouts from Arts Queensland and the Australia Council, support from the University of Queensland, and revenue from the UQ Bookshop, a café and Print-on-Demand (POD) operation. ‘Queensland has the largest population in Australia next to New South Wales, yet this Government thinks it’s possible for a single publisher to meet the needs of all Queenslanders — the readers as well as authors. I can assure you that is not happening, despite the brave face put on by Arts Queensland bureaucrats.’

Dr Reiter expressed doubt as to whether UQP will be able to rise out of the ashes in a desperate move to reinvent itself as a publisher embracing new technologies. In contrast to IP, which has been at the forefront of digital publishing for years, with a growing list of audio books and multimedia, UQP has little expertise in that area. UQP would be starting from scratch at a time when they need to take immediate steps to improve their bottom line. “Digital publishing remains a niche area a decade after the gurus announced the book was dead,’ Reiter pointed out. ‘Publishers who see e-books as having mass-market appeal in the short-term are kidding themselves. Bookshops resist digital titles, and libraries seldom order them.’ Further, several years on, the jury is still out on the viability of UQP’s POD operation. ‘Their brand of POD has a way to go before it will compete in the marketplace,’ he maintained. ‘Aside from that, authors still want to be published in physical books produced in decent sized print runs, and bookshops and individuals are dubious about the quality POD can offer. More importantly, the Australia Council will not fund books printed via POD because they are fearful of cutting into author’s royalties.’

A recent article in The Courier-Mail says that it will take ‘some years’ for it to become clear whether UQP will survive. The fact of the matter, Reiter maintained ‘is that UQP would be better off as a specialist publisher of academic work — a true university press — as its name suggests it is. And Arts Queensland and the Australia Council should stop injecting good money after bad and start funding it according to what it does best.’

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