Most students graduating with a liberal arts degree hope their education prepares them for any sort of job. Jim Jordan's experience not only led to gainful employment but provided him with a professional philosophy, one that has served him well during a 25-year career in publishing.
Jordan succeeds Willis Regier as director of the Johns Hopkins University Press. When he begins his tenure on Sept. 28, he will bring along a tradition of working closely with scholars. It's a relationship that bloomed during his days as an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"The great attraction of Eckerd [College] for me was that it had very small classes, and I had a more personal relationship with faculty, which was a tremendous experience. I left school thinking I'd get a Ph.D. in comp lit but decided to take a couple of years off. So I took a job as a sales rep for W.W. Norton [and Co.]. Luckily I found the publishing process pretty fascinating. I found tremendously satisfying the daily routine of walking around campus, talking to faculty about what they were teaching and what their research and scholarly passions were."
He's been doing that ever since. He and the company--founded by social workers, who believed publishing was truly social work--were a perfect match, and it showed. From sales rep, Jordan became associate editor in the company's college division, then director of college marketing and an editor, then vice president and editor, and eventually a member of the board of directors.
Coming to Hopkins is, for Jordan, a logical extension for that experience and of his own philosophy and passion.
"The most exciting part of the publishing enterprise is working with authors to acquire projects, help shape them and publish them. To me publishing is working effectively with authors. If your authors, at the end of the day, don't recommend you to their friends, you haven't done your job." Jordan comes to the Hopkins Press amid rapid and fundamental changes in the publishing business. Big publishing houses have been consolidated into large multinational media conglomerates; smaller, idiosyncratic imprints have either been similarly gobbled up or driven out under the weight of corporate competition. And, as Jordan notes, fewer people are buying scholarly books.
"Publishers can no longer rely on the sales numbers they used to for their core titles," he says. "So it has become difficult to find ways to continue printing books of enduring intellectual merit and marketing them effectively."
But not impossible, particularly because, as he notes, he will be building on an already outstanding tradition at the Press.
Founded in 1878, Hopkins runs the oldest university press in continuous operation in North America. It is also one of the largest university presses, publishing upward of 170 new books and 52 journals each year with a staff of more than 100. Since its founding, the Press has published more than 3,000 books, of which almost half remain in print today. Many have won top prizes in their fields, enhancing the Press's reputation of publishing with distinction in literary studies, history, economics, politics, ancient studies, science and medicine.
"We expect Jim not so much to change what we have been doing but to manage the business side well, build upon our successes and help the press grow in areas that show particular promise," says university provost Steven Knapp.
One such area in which the Press is flourishing is scholarly periodicals, including the publishing of these journals online in a program known as Project Muse, launched in 1995 in cooperation with the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. The Press's pioneering effort in electronic publishing, Project Muse has influenced the pricing models, presentation and strategy of electronic publishing in the scholarly community. It was the first full-text, HTML project in scholarly publishing to put established, peer-reviewed humanities journals online.
Electronic technology, like corporate consolidation, is another of the challenges facing publishing and the Press.
"The idea of providing readers electronic access to material that had only been available in print is a tremendous advance, even though the economic advantages to the publisher are still not yet completely known," Jordan says. "I've been involved in electronic publishing with Norton and in private consulting, and the big question is whether advances will make it more affordable to publish things that deserve publishing."
While Jordan is not expected to produce, for the self-sustaining Press, a specific bottom-line figure annually, he believes that book publishing should not be a losing proposition.
"The mission of the university press is to be an effective business enterprise, to serve authors well, to publish books effectively and to leave enough resources at the end of the day to deal with the traditional vicissitudes of publishing," he says. "You have to run a publishing company like the business it is."
"It is so critical to a research university to have a successful scholarly press," says Jim Neal, the Sheridan Director of the Sheridan Libraries at Hopkins, and a member of the selection committee. "What made Jim such an attractive candidate for this position was his rich body of experience in the commercial publishing world, working with the higher education community, and his substantive and energetic vision for academic publishing."
Provost Knapp agrees. "A university wants to be recognized for its scholarship," he says. "A strong press enhances the university's stature as a center of scholarly excellence, which, in turn, affects the caliber of the students and faculty we attract. Jim comes to us with the ability to carry out this mission and to build on a great tradition."
Jordan says he'll spend his first weeks at the Press meeting with senior managers, to forge a consensus about its direction.