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Success comes to New Mexico

How does a university press change from relative obscurity, fiscal troubles, and shaky support from its parent university to become a thriving enterprise that does more than break even, that receives attention locally and in national media, and that is the apple of its faculty's eye? The University of New Mexico Press (UNMP) must have the answers. Under its energetic director, who was hired just four years ago, this press has witnessed an astonishing growth in the length and breadth of its publication list and in sales. Both have doubled. This has occurred during a period in which virtually every academic press has been nervous about fiscal matters. In addition, UNMP has achieved its success in a part of the country not known as a strong book-buying area. A record 29 percent of its sales have been to residents of New Mexico, a state with a population of only 1 million people. Working with a $1.3 million budget (which includes a university line budget subsidy of $65,000), press director Luther Wilson found that ``earnings and costs pretty much balanced out. We even faced the prospect of making a profit this past year,'' he smiles, with pride. This pride is well founded, since that profit, just a mirage on the horizon four years ago, is now within reach.

With a background in both trade and scholarly publishing, Wilson was hired to secure fiscal control and give the press a sense of direction. He has met these goals by applying trade techniques in marketing and other areas and by encouraging an esprit de corps among his staff based on communication among departments and genuine respect for the talents of his personnel.

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Marketing director Joanna Hurley, who, like Wilson, has experience in commercial publishing, notes, ``What excited me was to try to apply the techniques of trade publishing to a university press. Trade publishers market their books more aggressively; they think much more about the visibility of their products. I think that scholarly publishers in the past have tended to be more conservative in the way they market their books. They didn't want to do anything that was going to smack of the marketplace, when the reality is, if you don't sell your books, you really haven't done your job because you haven't brought them to the public.

``We're very aware of the fact that we are competing in the marketplace against some very strong odds . . . so we have to be a lot more creative and aggressive in our promotions. We don't have time or money or people to waste.'' Time is also saved by close cooperation among the staff, facilitated by frequent and clear communication concerning the budget and and other matters.

Longtime staff member and current sales manager Carol A. Myres says, ``The change since Luther [Wilson] came is that we no longer work in the dark. There are no secrets.''

Emily Ezzell, art and production manager, affirms this: ``We all know where our responsibilities lie. All along the line those who work with the book are aware of how it's going to function for the reader, the librarian, and the bookseller. We understand how what we do will affect the costs.''

``I see the production process as an organic whole,'' Wilson sums up.

Ezzell says, ``When people ask me what kind of a director Luther is, I say that he hires bright people, assumes that they are going to do a good job; and the result is that we do.'' Assistant director David B. Holtby adds that Wilson's style ``is not autocratic and I think that's what makes for the greatest success. If you give people responsibility for something, you also need to give them the authority to carry it out. We don't have to motivate our staff. They are their own best bosses.''

Rosemary Herbert is a free-lance writer who specializes in writing about the book world.

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