Sunday, June 20

Oxford University Press: Oxford University stops printing its own books | Culture


The University of Oxford began printing books continuously in 1586, thanks to a royal decree.
The University of Oxford began printing books continuously in 1586, thanks to a royal decree.MATTHEW CHILDS / Reuters

Minutes of meetings of the committee of academic delegates led by Oxford University Press (OUP), the prestigious English university publishing house, stopped being handwritten in 1969. By then, the typewriter had been invented almost a hundred years ago. . The arbitrariness, slowness, prejudice and economic inefficiency of a department that prided itself on not allowing itself to be contaminated by business professionalism were compensated, for many of its authors, by the aura of respectability that was supposed to publish under the seal of a renowned academic institution. world. A symbol as British as the BBC or the NHS (the National Health Service) has announced that it will definitively leave the printing business on August 27. Until that day, the Oxuniprint trading company will try to relocate the 20 workers who are still hired to other positions. It is the only remaining delegation of a company that has been outsourcing, since 1989, the printing of its own books.

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The first book that saw light in Oxford dates from 1478. It was Flavio Rufino’s commentary on the Apostolic Creed. But it was not until 1586, through a royal decree, when the university began to print continuously. The building of the British Empire was also the expansion of an institution that symbolized its essence. OUP grew into a global organization with more than 6,000 employees in 53 countries, with international branches in the United States, Canada, Australia, India, and South Africa.

The slow decline in recent years, with sales in freefall, has worsened over the months of the pandemic. “We intuit that the result could have been different if the OUP management had not committed itself to the end in an outsourcing strategy for the business or had not inexplicably renounced the use of the Employment Retention Scheme [como se han denominado oficialmente los ERTE puestos en marcha por el Gobierno de Boris Johnson durante la crisis]”Said Kevin Whifflen, the director of the Oxford regional office of the Unite union, the UK’s most powerful union. “We have been abandoned by a short-sighted leadership that has made unfair decisions.” Most of the printing jobs, according to the union, have been done in recent years in India and the Philippines, and warehousing and distribution tasks have been entrusted entirely to other companies since 2019.

The slow decline in recent years, with sales in freefall, has worsened throughout the months of the pandemic

Resistance to change

The academic books of OUP, which range from business subjects to science, philosophy, religion, law, philosophy or literature, have a prestige above any question. He has published case studies that would not have been attractive to many publishers, and the prices of his copies have always been quite affordable considering the quality they offered. It has never depended on the demands of shareholders who put its financial decisions in question, nor has it suffered the turbulence of recent decades that has led to mergers, acquisitions and also the disappearance of other major players in the sector.

In return, it was slow to react to the technological or format changes that have occurred in recent years. His editing and revision process, sometimes exasperatingly slow, led to popularize the joke that, by the time he finally published a scientific theory or proposal, it had already been overcome or questioned. “For the Oxford Press to publish your work is like marrying a duchess: the honor is notably greater than the pleasure it gives you,” the historian William Roger Louis, director of the Oxford History of the British Empire.


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