Assessing the Pros & Cons of a Self-Publishing Journal Program in the Humanities

Modern Language Association

Publishing Services Agreements

Would moving to a publishing services partnership for MLA’s flagship journal serve the society, the discipline, and humanities education as a whole better than continued self-publishing?


The Modern Language Association (MLA) serves 26,000 members from 100 countries, offering a portfolio of foundational publications in the humanities. At the time of this project, MLA was in the process of systematically assessing the components of its publishing portfolio; after completing a strategic assessment of the MLA International Bibliography, MLA turned attention to its journal, PMLA. MLA sought to better understand the resources needed to ensure that PMLA would continue to thrive editorially while also continuing to support itself financially. C&E was retained to help MLA determine whether it was in MLA’s best interest to continue to self-publish PMLA or to select a publishing services partner.

What We Did

C&E managed a request for proposal process for publishing services for PMLA; this allowed 1) an avenue for direct assessment of current self-publishing activities and expenses, and 2) a way to then compare the current state to options under various publishing services partnerships. MLA was able to assess not only financial outcomes, but also potential benefits in the areas of editorial support, production efficiencies, sales and marketing, enhanced member benefits, and new product development. The process included designating a small, independent, and very agile group of MLA staff leaders to serve as the RFP Working Group for all analysis and decision-making activities.


After substantive discussions with candidate publishers and a thorough assessment of MLA’s internal capabilities moving into the future, the RFP process came to conclusion with MLA determining that moving to a publishing services partnership with Cambridge University Press — a publisher knowledgeable in humanities publishing and well-aligned with MLA’s philosophy — would provide expanded outreach (sales/marketing) capabilities, greater efficiencies in editorial and production support, additional member benefits, and greater long-term financial security, all while allowing MLA to redouble its focus on editorial advances, new product development, and its support for the humanities writ large.

Clarke and Esposito’s comprehensive knowledge of the landscape of academic publishing helped us to make the right decision about a partner for our journal. Their research is terrific. They handled everything from RFP to interviews and gave us access to everything we needed to understand our options. We had the right information and context because the team at C&E helped us know the right questions to ask.

Paula Krebs

Executive Director