Our Opinion: Press university to retain print publishing

University of Missouri officials may not equal the “firemen” in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” but they are no friends of printed books.

In the futuristic novel, society considered books subversive and employed firemen to round up the banned volumes and burn them.

At our state school, officials have deemed the book publishing operation of University of Missouri Press too expensive. The initial plan to eliminate academic publishing entirely has been eased; instead, the university press will transform from print to digital book publishing.

Critics of the initial plan have not been appeased by the planned transition from print to digital.

Opponents have collected about 5,000 signatures and plan to gather on the Columbia campus next week to discuss their next steps.

In addition, some authors are signaling discontent, not only with their voices but with their manuscripts.

Former U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, a Lexington Democrat who previously represented Central Missouri’s 4th District, intends to take his memoirs elsewhere, perhaps out of state, for publication.

And Don Spivey, author of a biography of Satchel Paige, has asked the university to return his publishing rights.

“After 12 years of research to achieve the definitive biography of the legendary Satchel Paige, I think you can understand why I want the book, in all of its forms, in competent and stable hands for both the short and the long term,” Spivey wrote in an e-mail to Tim Wolfe, university president.

University officials said their decision was prompted by costs. The university press received a $400,000 subsidy from the university system.

We understand technology provides a less expensive way to deliver information. A survey this week revealed sales of e-books more than doubled, from 6 percent to 15 percent of the market, from 2010 to 2011.

Digital publishing is here to stay.

But we believe e-books should be an alternative to, not a replacement for, printed volumes. Among publishers, academia should appreciate and respect that.

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