For a Kinder, Gentler Society
About University Presses

North American Branch 40
October 21, 2001
Professors F.& G., University of California

Dear Professors [ . . .]:

I am writing to say that we have very regretfully decided not to publish your book, [ . . . .]. This was a difficult decision, as the specialist reports enthusiastically supported publication, but they indicated that the market for the book would be limited. Their assessment of the market was accurate, as I was reminded by senior management of the Press, and I was not able to persuade them that this was a commercially viable project for us.

I am sure that you are aware that the sales of scholarly books in some fields have declined precipitously from 1250-1500 copies to less than half that number during the past twenty-five years; indeed, for some fields, it is difficult to sell more than 600 copies. The austerities visited upon university presses by the shrinking library market continue to worsen.

While library budgets have increased overall. they have been stretched in many different directions, including the purchase of electronic machinery, preservation of disintegrating materials, and the purchase of very expensive scientific serials Libraries that used to purchase books in every field have stopped doing so, and they are relying more and more on consortia and interlibrary loans. What is more private foundations and public agencies have reduced their funding for subventions, and very few publishers have sufficient resources to underwrite unusually large deficits of specialized books. Because of the above-mentioned decline in sales of scholarly books to libraries, university presses have been forced to reduce the size of print runs for specialized studies. Faced with increasing production costs and diminished unit sales, most university presses see the losses on scholarly books mount, and every press must limit their size and number. 

In general the problem facing scholarly publishers is to balance increasing costs against diminishing sales by exercising greater selectivity in adding specialized studies and developing titles that have somewhat larger markets. The latter books support the more specialized studies we primarily still publish.

Even so, I argued for proceeding with this project because of its comparative nature and the reputation of the editors and contributors. Given these variables, I expressed confidence in the book's marketability. However, I was not able to convince senior management otherwise.

I can assure you that it gives me no pleasure to lose your work to another publisher. I hope you will understand, however, that we are finally trying to make the best decisions for the Press, and although we do not always agree in these discussions, I do appreciate my colleagues' uncertainty,

With best wishes.


[ . . . ]

Editor, Political Science