The University Record, September 17, 2001

Press director aims at wider audience

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Pochoda (Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services)
University presses have traditionally based their existence on the academic monograph, though in recent years most of them have diversified their list in a variety of ways in response to growing financial stresses. The University of Michigan Press had remained steadfast in its original course—that is until now.

Its new director, Philip Pochoda, wants to take the U-M operation on a path that will include fewer monographs combined with a greater heterogeneous array of books directed equally at scholars, undergraduates and a culturally diverse community of non-academic readers.

Pochoda sees not just survival but a major cultural contribution in such diversity. “It is not all bad news for university presses,” he says. “This is a timely opportunity for sorely needed new markets and readers. A university press should speak to and for the same readers and constituencies that a major state university such as Michigan tries to serve.”

“Over the years, the U-M Press has enriched the academic community through its scholarly monographs,” says President Lee C. Bollinger. “I am delighted that it will be expanding its outreach to wider audiences, who, I believe, also will be captivated by the variety and high quality of publications that have earned the U-M Press an international reputation in scholarly circles.”

Pochoda is concerned about the trend, which has seen virtually every major New York trade publisher acquired by an international media group. But he notes that, “As so many other agents of cultural production and transmission get gobbled up by the insatiable international media conglomerates, university presses, despite their current economic travails, are still in an unmatched position to resist the homogenization and trivialization of their product and of the culture at large. While maintaining a proud tradition of academic and scholarly publishing, university presses also can play a crucial role in sustaining the endangered intellectual exchange and the cultural debate that a civilized and multicultural society requires.”

Given what he sees to be the impoverishment of public discourse in current book publishing and other media, Pochoda perceives both an opportunity and an obligation for university presses to publish titles “unmistakably intended primarily for a national, non-academic, multi-cultural audience— books on topical and public issues, on pop music and pop culture, memoirs, poetry, and even fiction.”

“Phil Pochoda has an outstanding record and an exciting vision for the Press,” says Earl Lewis, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. “Under his direction the Press will continue to publish scholarly monographs, without question, but it will also publish in a variety of new areas. The combination of the old and the new is a real winner for all committed to the maintenance of a vital university press.”

Pochoda comes to U-M after major positions at Doubleday and Simon & Schuster. For the past seven years he has been associate director and editor-in-chief at the University Press of New England.