Unusual Business: A University Press Goes Private, And No One is the Wiser — G. Geltner

“On 11 March this year, a brief announcement by the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Amsterdam University Press (AUP) marked the latter’s transfer into private hands. The upbeat text conjures up a healthy image: a rigorous restructuring had saved an ailing organization. Following a dire diagnosis, AUP achieved a great “track record” and “international visibility” and was “stable and growing.” “A good moment” presented itself to let AUP direct its own destiny, a “long-cherished dream” of its new owner, whose “network in the sector” reassured UvA Ventures Holding B.V., the company through which the UvA formally owned AUP, of the press’s bright future.

Anyone unversed in the corporate idiom of mergers and acquisitions could easily be forgiven for reading the press release as a tale of unmitigated success. The truth is more complex, and shrouded in secrecy since neither the UvA, nor UvA Ventures Holding B.V., nor AUP itself have been forthcoming about the precise circumstances of the press’s privatization. It seems, at any rate, that what led to the UvA’s decision was a desire to cut its losses, rather than faith in the press’s viability….

As a proud former author, advisory board member and a series editor at AUP until recently, I (like other colleagues I’ve polled) was never formally told in real time by the press about this rather dramatic change in its status. But perhaps even more telling is that the UvA never specifically disclosed the reasons why tax-paid scholarship and the labor of numerous staff members turn at the stroke of a pen into someone else’s private property, even if contributors originally signed up to publish, review, edit and indeed solicit scholarly texts on behalf of an ostensibly public press. Some of these “content creators” may not care that they are literally volunteering to produce wealth for a private company that is unaccountable to them, and which may fold or be sold to the highest bidder, with no guarantee that fields it supports today will be continued tomorrow. (On that topic, see, most recently, s.v. Ashgate). Others, like me, very much do care….”