The venerable Stanford Publishing Course for Professionals, serving book publishing and magazine professionals since 1978, has closed, a victim of both the economy and larger transitions in the program's core fields. Longtime director Holly Brady is leaving Stanford--saying she "expects to continue the conversation from another vantage point here in Silicon Valley"--and her staff has been dismissed. This move comes amidst broad cost-cutting at Stanford University, with the school recently disclosing a 27 percent drop in their endowment capital over the last fiscal year, with investment losses of approximately $3.5 billion. They reportedly cut over 400 positions earlier in the year and intend to layoff another 60 employees soon.
University Librarian Michael Keller, who oversees the SPPC along with Stanford University Press and many other resources, says that the publishing program "is believed not to be capable of self-sustaining status." Keller writes: "It is deeply troubling to all of us who have been involved in the SPPC over the years, but the recession is affecting the publishing industries and higher education, as it has all other sectors of the global economy. The other factors are, of course, the fundamental changes wrought by the digital information revolution and its many aspects, the changes in reading habits and expectations of consumers of professionally written, edited, and published information, and the perturbations in the advertising arenas, also brought by the World Wide Web." Paid course attendance reportedly declined significantly last year on both the book and magazine sides. Brady echoes that "the problem that got us here is, of course, the digital transformation of the business which has caused so many layoffs in the publishing industry, coupled with the recession. When a company has laid off dozens of people and is struggling to survive itself, it's hard to send staffers to Stanford," regardless of the potential benefits.
Spurred by longtime SPPC faculty including Martin Levin, Dorothy Kalins and Paul Saffo, Keller has appointed managing director of Stanford University Press Geoffrey Burn as surveyor to study "whether another program with a revised pattern of revenue and a different programmatic governance structure might yield an SPPC that is self-sustaining." Other SPPC academic directors have joined in the efforts to enlist industry support to continue and reinvigorate the program and its reach.Keller, Burn and Levin will meet with course alumni at the Frankfurt Book Fair and are consulting with others in the book publishing community with interest and ideas for a revamped program. Burns's assessment and recommendations are due in January and Keller says he has reserved facilities for next summer "on the chance that the SPPC will be revitalized,...but there is no guarantee that the revitalization will occur."
The above appeared in Publishers Lunch Deluxe on September 30, 2009
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