Mellon-Funded Research Projects on Academic Book Publishing

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Strategic and Operational Guidance

A venerable organization funds research to support the not-for-profit academic publishing community.


The Mellon Foundation, as part of its mission to support humanities research, has been interested in academic book publishing for many years. The form this interest takes is broad, ranging from supporting university press activity, underwriting investments in digital tools, and seeking new revenue opportunities for presses. In order to pursue these areas, Mellon commissioned C&E, sometimes working collaboratively with our frequent partner Ithaka S+R, to research a number of aspects of academic book publishing, including patron-driven acquisition, purchasing patterns by academic libraries, and the use of OCLC’s WorldCat as a source for business intelligence.

What We Did

In a series of projects we assisted Mellon in getting more granular information on how the academic book publishing world operates. This included an analysis of book distribution that served as a feasibility study for the creation of an online academic book store, an assessment of the financial impact of patron-driven (aka demand-driven) acquisitions programs in libraries, a survey of the programs of American university presses with the aim of gauging the total output of monographs, and (with Ithaka S+R) an analytical assessment of how books find their way into libraries even from nontraditional sources.


The community’s knowledge of academic book publishing overall has been greatly augmented by these projects. For example, among the key findings is the relatively modest role academic libraries play in overall book purchasing (individuals buy far more books than libraries do), the sheer scope of university press publishing (about 15,000 titles a year in the U.S., of which about one-third are classed as original monographs), and the role of Amazon not only in sales to individuals but also as a somewhat secret library wholesaler (10% of all print purchases by libraries for academic books).