When Textbooks and Scholarly Monographs Collide

The Higher Education Division of UTP is quickly approaching its fifth anniversary, and in advance of this hallmark, we will be contributing monthly blog postings on the purpose and various functions of our division. Our first five years have been set amidst a background of rapidly changing technologies and shifts in the needs of teachers and scholars, and we would like to contribute our voices to the wider conversation. Our Senior Publisher’s Representative, Mat Buntin, continues the conversation, focusing on the benefits of having two publishing divisions—Scholarly and Higher Education—working alongside one another at UTP.

As a publisher’s representative, my job is to meet with undergraduate course instructors across Canada and the United States to promote the use of UTP publications in the classroom. Perhaps the most frequent reaction I receive upon introducing myself for the first time is “I didn’t know that UTP publishes textbooks!” The truth is, UTP has published popular textbooks for decades, including Making Sense of Adult Learning, Anthropology: A Student’s Guide to Theory and Method, History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction, and many more. Historically, these titles have represented a niche part of UTP’s publishing mandate, but that is changing with the advent of UTP’s Higher Education Division.

The idea of a university press publishing textbooks is exciting for many reasons, not least of which is the opportunity this offers us to more closely link scholarship and pedagogy. Publishing a textbook with a university press can be an opportunity for an expert in his or her field to communicate with a broader audience and (when most successful) to set the tone for teaching and learning in a discipline for years to come. One great example of this is Barbara Rosenwein’s bestselling textbook A Short History of the Middle Ages. Work is currently underway on the fourth edition of this text, which has succeeded at invigorating introductory medieval studies courses across North America and also broadening the narrative in these courses to incorporate Islamic and Byzantine histories into the European tradition.

The creation of UTP Higher Education in 2008 offered existing UTP textbooks a kind of foster home within the press, and introduced them to hundreds of new foster siblings from Broadview Press’s former backlist. Our sister division, Scholarly Publishing, continues to publish a select number of textbooks each year, and in fact some of our own Higher Education publications are more “scholarly” than the average textbook. Building a team within UTP that specializes in publishing and promoting textbooks has allowed us to promote all of our “pedagogically-focused scholarship” more effectively.

In keeping with UTP’s tradition of reliable, high-quality scholarship, all UTP publications are peer-reviewed. In addition, the textbooks we publish have survived rigorous internal review to ensure these books are well suited to students’ and instructors’ needs, and that these titles fit well with UTP’s publishing plan. When considering each book project, we conduct market research in order to balance scholarly merit with pedagogical value. Our internal review process is also designed to make sure that we have the resources to effectively promote these books so that the press and the book’s author(s) receive an adequate “return on investment.”

One of the things we’re most proud of, however, is our ability to keep book prices as low as possible for students. Despite (or perhaps because of) our limited resources, we take our commitment to each book seriously. We always strive to do justice to the scholarship and the pedagogy each book offers by producing a quality publication and making sure that as many people as possible know what it has to offer!

When it comes to promoting UTP textbooks, both our Scholarly Publishing and our Higher Education divisions benefit from HE’s sales and marketing expertise in the textbook market. Collectively, the Higher Education team has many decades of experience in course book publishing, offering unique perspectives on content, pedagogy, and the best ways to communicate these to as many people as possible. Since 2008, UTP has benefited from having publisher’s representatives visiting campuses across Canada and the US. Each year we contact literally thousands of undergraduate instructors (over five thousand in the 2011-2012 academic year), and we spend almost equal time promoting our books and collecting feedback about what instructors and students want in the classroom. Feeding this information back into our editorial process makes us a better publisher—and it makes us unique among Canadian university presses!

Finally, while not quite unique among publishers, UTP’s balanced interest in publishing both “textbooks” (often first- or second-year) and more specialized (often upper-year) “course books” offers undergraduate instructors and students a thoughtful alternative to the offerings of other presses. Ultimately, this balance is also the most valuable element of having our two publishing divisions under the UTP umbrella. Drawing on a community of content that includes original scholarship, strong pedagogy, quality textbooks, and appropriately challenging course books, together with the long tradition of monograph and reference book publishing at UTP, allows all of these offerings to benefit from each other and to become stronger as a result.

The constellation of content and expertise we have built at UTP between the Higher Education and Scholarly Publishing divisions is unprecedented in Canadian publishing. As this partnership matures, more people will understand the unique place that UTP occupies in the publishing world, and all of our books (textbooks included!) will benefit.

-Mat Buntin, Senior Publisher’s Representative