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Jewish Publication Society sold to University of Nebraska Press

September 12, 2011

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From Jewish Exponent:

[Byline:  Robert Leiter]  Change is hardly a stranger to the Jewish Publication Society, and it’s come knocking at its doors yet again.

Founded here in Philadelphia more than 120 years ago, the venerable institution is now set to embark on the newest — and in some senses most radical — phase in its long history of publishing high-end scholarship, a famed Bible translation, biblical commentary as well as contemporary novels and poetry.

It’s about to turn over a major aspect of the publishing process to the University of Nebraska Press, which as of Jan. 1 will assume all production, distribution and marketing of JPS manuscripts, according to Rabbi Barry Schwartz, CEO of JPS.

The agreement between two well-established publishing units, said Schwartz, is the end result of a long search for an academic publishing partner for JPS that will allow the Philadelphia institution to concentrate on finding and shepherding good books into print. With Nebraska by its side, he said, JPS can also ensure these works a wider audience.

When the society was founded in 1888, Jewish books weren’t published in America, so JPS filled a considerable void.

But over the course of the 20th century, Jewish books began to be published by commercial houses and university presses, leading to criticism — especially as the 21st century dawned — that the publishing house was a dinosaur, obsolete and teetering on economic ruin.

Schwartz dismissed such criticism, even though he admitted that the partnership with Nebraska was “an economic decision.”

“Economics propelled us,” he said, but this was a move motivated as much “by the enormous changes taking place throughout the publishing world right now, along with the particular circumstance of a small, not-for-profit publisher like JPS.

“This partnership will give us an expanded reach, especially in academia, but also in the Jewish and general arenas as well.”

Schwartz said that JPS chose an academic publisher because of its emphasis on scholarship.

“But the books of JPS will bear the JPS imprint solely,” he said, “and our core mission will continue uninterrupted.”

Schwartz said he understood why some might say JPS is obsolete, but he begged to differ.

“With all the competition in Bible scholarship today, I can say without hesitation that nobody comes close to what JPS has produced and will continue to produce with its landmark biblical commentaries. Nobody else would attempt these multiyear, comprehensive Bible-related projects we’ve been doing. The uniqueness of JPS as a publisher is that it takes the long view in its projects, especially its commentaries, and continues to produce them.

Far from being a dinosaur, he asserted, “we are on track to create the next great Bible for the 21st century — an electronic Bible — and with it, we will once again take the lead with a Bible presentation that will be groundbreaking.”

According to the CEO, the JPS staff will be reduced but the institution will remain in Philadelphia, at the Community Services Building where it is now housed.

Are there any thoughts about expanding the JPS list and return to publishing novels or poetry, which it ceased doing in the late 1990s?

“Our greatest strength is our biblical scholarship, but it is not our only strength,” said the CEO. “We plan to expand in the area of Jewish history and Jewish thought, though we have no plans to move into fiction or to return to children’s literature. But in the realms of history and thought, we’ll be publishing groundbreaking things from Israel, translated from the Hebrew, and from France.”

To continue JPS’ mission well into the future, said Schwartz, “we have to think of ourself — in the words of our board president David Lerman — as a 120-year-old start-up. And I couldn’t agree more.”

From Jewish Telgraphic Agency:

(JTA) — The University of Nebraska Press has purchased the entire book inventory of the Jewish Publication Society.

The university’s Board of Regents approved the agreement last Friday despite concerns that the purchase of the publication society’s 250 book titles, for $610,000, would not be profitable.

JPS, a 123-year-old publisher based in Philadelphia, reportedly has an annual revenue of $1 million to $1.5 million. Half of its sales — about 50,000 books — are of the JPS Bible, the most widely read version of the Old Testament, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Under the agreement, JPS would continue to find and develop new works.

The University of Nebraska Press owns nearly 3,000 titles, including 50 Jewish studies titles and Bible commentary.

(HT: Michael Pitowsky)

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