I’ve been seeing evidence of the rumblings about the closure of Ashgate. The on-line petition seeking to stop the closure says “Independent academic presses like Ashgate have offered a safe haven for scholars working in certain subfields as University presses closed entire publishing specializations and fired editorial staff in response to campus austerity measures. Academic presses are more than profit margins, income from the backlist, utility bills, payroll, and marketing campaigns. Ashgate flourished through the bonds formed between editors and authors, the care and attention of copy editors, and above all, the good will of authors and readers.” There’s a Save Ashgate Publishing website.

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s report on the purchase by Informa (which most in book publishing will recognize under the label Taylor & Francis) includes these challenging words. “Critics now worry that Informa, which is a publicly traded company, will respect the desires of its shareholders more than those of the scholars who supply its product.” Who are these daring critics who are so far outside the box in their thinking that they can contemplate a publicly traded company which might pay more attention to academics than to its own shareholders? Academic presses may be “more than profit margins, income from the backlist, utility bills, payroll, and marketing campaigns”, but the glorious ideal of furthering important scholarship, blazing the odd trail, and providing a general cultural good don’t make these nasty money things go away. The tragedy of small companies in any line of business is that the better you run them the more likely they are to be a target for takeover and rationalization. One can hardly advocate incompetent management in order to discourage takeover interest. The ideal — which is just that, an ideal, unrealizable on any scale — is a company run by a philanthropic millionaire who doesn’t need to do anything he/she doesn’t believe in. Such beauties do exist, but can hardly be expected to provide mass employment.

If you’ve worked there for years, you naturally want a company to continue needing your services; after all what they are is in part because of your efforts. Takeovers are always bring pain and suffering. It’s awful to be forced into having to look for a new job. Let’s all hope the Ashgate folks make a safe landing, and find their new jobs as satisfying as their old ones.

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