Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Oxford University Press (OUP) is a publishing house and a department of the University of Oxford in England. It has branches all over the world including India, Pakistan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Nigeria and the Republic of South Africa. OUP USA, established circa 1891 and incorporated in 1896, is a private limited company affiliated to the parent body and was the Press's first international venture. The Indian Branch, set up in 1912, was the second. OUP as a whole is managed by a body of elected representatives called the Delegates of the Press, who are all members of Oxford University. Today it has two main imprints: Oxford University Press, under which the bulk of its reference, educational, and scholarly publications appear, and the Clarendon Press, which is its "prestige" scholarly imprint. Most of the major branches function as local publishers as well as distributing and selling titles from OUP headquarters.
OUP was first exempted from US Corporation Tax in 1972 and from UK Corporation Tax in 1978. As a department of a charity, OUP is exempt from income tax and corporate tax in most countries, but may pay sales and other commercial taxes on its products. The Press today transfers 30% of its annual surplus to the rest of the University, with a commitment to a minimum transfer of £12 million per annum. OUP is the largest university press in the world by the number of publications, publishing more than 4,500 new books every year and employing some 4,000 people. OUP publishes many reference, professional, and academic works including the Oxford English Dictionary, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the Oxford World's Classics and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. A number of its most important titles are now available electronically in a package called "Oxford Reference Online", and are offered free to holders of a reader's card from many public libraries in the UK.
In 1990 in the UK Court of Appeal OUP lost a legal action brought by philosopher Andrew Malcolm over its breach of a 1985 contract to publish his book Making Names. In 1998 OUP closed down the much-loved Oxford Poets series. In 2001 OUP acquired UK law publisher Blackstone. In 2003, OUP acquired from Macmillan Publishers the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and the Dictionary of Art. In 2005 OUP acquired US law publisher Oceana Publications In 2006 OUP acquired UK publisher Richmond Law & Tax.
Books published by Oxford have International Standard Book Numbers that begin with 0-19, making the Press one of a tiny number of publishers who have two-digit identification numbers in the ISBN system.
From the 1850s onward the University of Oxford underwent a protracted and painful programme of modernisation, under the aegis of William Gladstone among others. The Delegacy of the Press ceased to be 'perpetual' in 1856. It now had five perpetual and five junior posts filled by appointment from the University, with the Vice Chancellor a Delegate ex officio.
As the reform of the University got under way, the Delegates were split into two groups. One, epitomized by Mark Pattison, a classicist whom Mrs Humphrey Ward once described as looking 'like a discontented lizard with a cold',
Reorganisation in the nineteenth century
Frowde had no doubt that the Press's business in London could be very largely increased and was appointed on contract with a commission on sales. Seven years later, as Publisher to the University, Frowde was using his own name as an imprint as well as 'Oxford University Press'. This style persisted till recent times, with two kinds of imprints emenating from the Press's London offices. The last man to be known as 'Publisher to the University' was John Brown, known to his colleagues as 'Bruno'.
The distinctions implied by the imprints were subtle but important. Books which were issued by London on commission (paid for by their authors of by some learned body) were styled 'Henry Frowde', or 'Humphrey Milford' with no mention of OUP, as if the Publisher were issuing them himself, while books that the Publisher issued under the rubric of the University bore the imprint 'Oxford University Press'. Both these categories were mostly handled by London, while Oxford (in practice the Secretary) looked after the Clarendon Press books. Commission books were intended to be cash cows to fund the London Business's overheads, since the Press did not lay aside any resources for this purpose. Nevertheless Frowde was especially careful to see that all commission books he published met with the Delegates' approval. This was not an uncommon arrangement for scholarly or antiquarian presses.
Frowde regularly remitted money back to Oxford, but he privately felt that the business was undercapitalized and would pretty soon become a serious drain on the university's resources unless put on a sound commercial footing. He himself was authorized to invest money up to a limit in the business but was prevented from doing so by family troubles. Hence his interest in overseas sales, for by the 1880s and 1890s there was money to be made in India, while the European book market was in the doldrums. But Frowde's distance from the Press's decision-making meant he was incapable of influencing policy unless a Delegate spoke for him. Most of the time Frowde did whatever he could within the mandate given him by the Delegates. In 1905 when applying for a pension he wrote to J.R. Magrath, the then Vice Chancellor, that during the seven years when he had served as manager of the Bible Warehouse the sales of the London Business had averaged about £20,000 and the profits £1,887 per year. By 1905, under his management as Publisher, the sales had risen to upwards of £200,000 per year and the profits in that 29 years of service averaged £8,242 per year.
The London business
Price, trying in his own way to modernize the Press against the resistance of its own historical inertia, had become overworked and by 1883 was so exhausted as to want to retire. Benjamin Jowett had become Vice Chancellor of the University in 1882. Impatient of the endless committees that would no doubt attend the appointment of a successor to Price, Jowett extracted what could be interpreted as permission from the Delegates and headhunted Philip Lyttelton Gell, a former student acolyte of his, to be the next Secretary to the Delegates. Gell was making a name for himself at the publishing firm of Cassell, Petter and Galpin, a firm regarded as scandalously commercial by the Delegates. Gell himself was a patrician who was unhappy with his work, where he saw himself as catering to the taste of 'one class: the lower middle', and he grasped at the chance of working with the kind of texts and readerships OUP attracted.
Jowett promised Gell golden opportunities, little of which he actually had the authority to deliver. He timed Gell's appointment to coincide with both the Long Vacation (from June to September) and the death of Mark Pattison, so potential opposition was prevented from attending the crucial meetings. Jowett knew the primary reason why Gell would attract hostility was that he had never worked for the Press nor been a Delegate, and he had sullied himself in the City with raw commerce. His fears were borne out. Gell immediately proposed a thorough modernising of the Press with a marked lack of tact, and earned himself enduring enemies. Nevertheless he was able to do a lot in tandem with Frowde, and expanded the publishing programmes and the reach of OUP until about 1898. Then his health broke down under the impossible work conditions he was being forced to endure by the Delegates' non-cooperation. The Delegates then served him with a notice of termination of service that violated his contract. However, he was persuaded not to file suit and to go quietly.
The Delegates were not opposed primarily to his initiatives, but to his manner of executing them and his lack of sympathy with the academic way of life. In their view the Press was, and always would be, an association of scholars. Gell's idea of 'efficiency' appeared to violate that culture, although subsequently a very similar programme of reform was put into practice from the inside.
Conflict over the Secretaryship
Charles Cannan, who had been instrumental in Gell's removal, succeeded Gell in 1900, and Humphrey S. Milford, his younger colleague, effectively succeeded Frowde in 1907. Both were Oxford men who knew the system inside out, and the close collaboration with which they worked was a function of their shared background and worldview. Cannan was known for terrifying silences, and Milford had an uncanny ability, testified to by Amen House employees, to 'disappear' in a room rather like a Cheshire cat, from which obscurity he would suddenly address his subordinates and make them jump. Whatever their reasons for their style of working, both Cannan and Milford had a very hardnosed view of what needed to be done, and they proceeded to do it. Indeed Frowde knew within a few weeks of Milford's entering the London office in  that he would be replaced. Milford, however, always treated Frowde with courtesy, and Frowde remained in an advisory capacity till 1913. Milford rapidly teamed up with J.E. Hodder Williams of Hodder and Stoughton, setting up what was known as the Joint Account for the issue of a wide range of books in education, science, medicine and also fiction. Milford began putting in practice a number of initiatives, including the foundations of most of the Press's global branches.
The twentieth century
Milford took responsibility for overseas trade almost at once, and by 1906 he was making plans to send a traveller to India and the Far East jointly with Hodder and Stoughton. N. Graydon (first name unknown) was the first such traveller in 1907, and again in 1908 when he represented OUP exclusively in India, the Straits and the Far East. A.H. Cobb replaced him in 1909, and in 1910 Cobb functioned as a travelling manager semi-permanently stationed in India. In 1911 E.V. Rieu went out to East Asia via the Trans-Siberian Railway, had several adventures in China and Russia, then came south to India and spent most of the year meeting educationists and officials all over India. In 1912, he arrived again in Bombay, now known as Mumbai. There he rented an office in the dockside area and set up the first overseas Branch.
In 1914 Europe was plunged into turmoil. The first effects of the war were paper shortages and losses and disturbances in shipping, then quickly a dire lack of hands as the staff were called up and went to serve on the field. Many of the staff including two of the pioneers of the Indian branch were killed in action. Curiously, sales through the years 1914 to 1917 were good and it was only towards the end of the war that conditions really began pinching.
Rather than bringing relief from shortages the 1920s saw skyrocketing prices of both materials and labour. Paper especially was hard to come by and had to be imported from South America through trading companies. Economies and markets slowly recovered as the 1920s progressed. In 1928 the Press's imprint read 'London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leipzig, Toronto, Melbourne, Cape Town, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Shanghai'. Not all of these were full-fledged branches: in Leipzig there was a depot run by H. Bohun Beet, and In Canada and Australia there were small, functional depots in the cities and an army of educational representatives penetrating the rural fastnesses to sell the Press's stock as well as books published by firms whose agencies were held by the Press, very often including fiction and light reading. In India, the Branch depots in Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta were imposing establishments with sizable stock inventories, for the Presidencies themselves were large markets, and the educational representatives there dealt mostly with upcountry trade. The Depression of 1929 dried profits from the Americas to a trickle, and India became 'the one bright spot' in an otherwise dismal picture. Bombay was the nodal point for distribution to the africas and onward sale to Australasia, and people who trained at the three major depots moved later on to pioneer branches in Africa and South East Asia. The Press has evolved since then to be one of the largest players in a globally expanding scholarly and reference book market.
Development of overseas trade
When OUP arrived on Indian shores, it was preceded by the immense prestige of the Sacred Books of the East, edited by Friedrich Max Müller, which had at last reached completion in 50 ponderous volumes. While actual purchase of this series was beyond most Indians, libraries usually had a set, generously provided by the government of India, available on open reference shelves, and the books had been widely discussed in the Indian media. Although there had been plenty of criticism of them, the general feeling was that Max Müller had done India a favour by popularising ancient Asian (Persian, Arabic, Indian and Sinic) philosophy in the West. In Madras, there was never a formal branch in the same sense as Bombay and Calcutta, as the management of the depot there seems to have rested in the hands of two local academics.
The Indian branch
OUP's interaction with this area was part of their mission to India, since many of their travellers took in East and South East Asia on their way out to or back from India. Graydon on his first trip in 1907 had travelled the 'Straits Settlements' (largely the Federated Malay States and Singapore), China, and Japan, but was not able to do much. In 1909 A. H. Cobb visited teachers and booksellers in Shanghai, and found that the main competition there was cheap books from America, often straight reprints of British books.
Japan was a much less well-known market to OUP, and a small volume of trade was carried out largely through intermediaries. The Maruzen company was by far the largest customer, and had a special arrangement regarding terms. Other business was routed through H.L. Griffiths, a professional publishers' representative based in Sannomiya, Kobe. Griffiths travelled for the Press to major Japanese schools and bookshops and took a 10 percent commission. Edmund Blunden had been briefly at the University of Tokyo and put the Press in touch with the University booksellers, Fukumoto Stroin.
One important acquisition did come from Japan, however: A. S. Hornby's Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
East and South East Asia
The North American branch was established in 1896 at 91 Fifth Avenue in New York City to facilitate the sale of Oxford Bibles in the United States. Subsequently, it took over marketing of all books of its parent from Macmillan. This office grew in sales between 1928 and 1936, eventually becoming one of the leading University Presses in the United States. It is focused on scholarly and referential books, Bibles, and college and medical textbooks. In the 1990s, this office moved from its original home to 198 Madison Avenue, which was the former B. Altman Company headquarters.
In December 1909 Cobb returned and rendered his accounts for his Asia trip that year. Cobb then proposed to Milford that the Press join a combination of firms to send commercial travellers around South America, to which Milford in principle agreed. Cobb obtained the services of a man called Steer (first name unknown) to travel through Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and possibly other countries as well, with Cobb to be responsible for Steer. Hodder & Stoughton opted out of this venture, but OUP went ahead and contributed to it.
Steer's trip was a disaster, and Milford remarked gloomily that it 'bid fair to be the most costly and least productive on record' of all traveller's trips. Steer returned before he had covered more than half of his itinerary, and on returning failed to have his customs payments refunded, with the result that a hefty sum of £210 was lost to the Press. The Press was obliged to disburse 80 percent of the value of the books he had carried as 'incidental expenses', so even if they had got substantial orders they would still have made a loss. Few orders did in fact come out of the trip, and when Steer's box of samples returned, the London office found that they had not been opened further down than the second layer.
Some trade with East Africa passed through Bombay.
Important series and titles
Oxford English Dictionary
Concise Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Advanced Learner's Dictionary Dictionaries
The Religious Books of the Sikhs
Sacred Books of the East
Rulers of India
The Early History of India Indology
Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis, also know as the Oxford Classical Texts History
OUP has also been a major publisher of academic journals, both in the sciences and the humanities. It has been noted as one of the first university presses to publish an open access journal (Nucleic Acids Research), and probably the first to introduce Hybrid open access journals.
Printer to the University Horace Hart. It has lent its name to the Oxford comma.
OUP's contribution to typography and presswork
Since 2001, Oxford University Press has financially supported the Clarendon Bursaries, which are graduate scholarships open to Oxford University students liable to pay tuition fees at the overseas rate. About 100 awards are made annually.
Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford
Books associated with Oxford
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