Layoffs Hit Oxford U. Press

January 22, 2009

In what it described as a “cost-cutting exercise,” Oxford University Press has eliminated 60 positions company-wide, Publishers Weekly reported. The largest university press, Oxford had a staff of about 700 before the layoffs.

The cuts affected several parts of the press’s operations, according to Christian Purdy, director of publicity, but they “centered around restructurings” in the law, medicine, and reference divisions. In an e-mail message, Mr. Purdy said the changes were “intended to better position those divisions in their ongoing transition from print-based to online programs. Every effort was made to reduce the effect on the press’s general editorial program, however.”

Oxford went through a major restructuring a couple of years ago. The press’s president, Tim Barton, issued a brief statement today in which he attributed the cuts to “the difficult economic environment impacting the publishing industry.” He said that “these measures, although regrettable, are necessary to ensure that OUP can continue to fulfill its mission in these unprecedented economic times.”

In an interview with The Chronicle, Niko Pfund, vice president and publisher for academic and trade books, invoked the concept of “cut once, cut deep.” The layoffs were painful, he said, but “the desire here is not to have to do something like this again.”

He emphasized that Oxford’s central business — the dissemination of high-quality scholarship — remains unaffected. “We’re actually quite bullish about the performance of our core publishing,” he said, and “we have a very robust online division now.”

Like many publishers, though, Oxford is bracing for what could happen when the recession eats away at the budgets of the libraries that buy its wares. “We’ve seen very good results in many of our core areas this year, but we’re understandably nervous about the environment several months out,” Mr. Pfund said. —Jennifer Howard