To help fill the chasm that can exist between authors and their audiences—especially scholars writing for college and university presses—Amherst has partnered with a podcast network, becoming the web host for the New Books Network, which has published more than 5,000 episodes to date, all available online for free. Each episode consists of an interview with the author or authors of a recently published book. The network’s 260 volunteer hosts upload about 25 new episodes per week, resulting in about 30,000 listener downloads per day.
“I think of it as taking the information that’s sort of trapped in these books that university presses and other scholarly publishers produce, and putting it in a medium that people like,” says Marshall Poe, the UMass history professor who founded and serves as editor-in-chief of the podcast network.
“I saw what [Poe] was doing as really strongly aligned with our mission, which is a mission about making scholarly information available to everybody,” says Mark Edington, director of the Amherst College Press..
So, in 2015, the College partnered with Poe.
The network now boasts 81 subject-specific podcast channels, including African Studies, Art, Education, Film, Law, Medicine, Political Science, Popular Culture, Science, Sports, Technology and more.
The network has numerous Amherst connections:
- Various channels have interviewed Amherst faculty about their newest books. Ellen Boucher, Lawrence Douglas, Catherine Epstein, Adi Gordan, Allen Guttmann, Maria Heim, Jen Manion, Austin Sarat and Ilan Stavans have all been featured.
- The network has devoted episodes to two titles published by Amherst College Press: The Rise of Trump: America's Authoritarian Spring and The Limits of Religious Tolerance.
- David Gottlieb ’81, a Ph.D. student in the history of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School, is a host of the Jewish Studies channel.
Edington hopes to see more academic presses take advantage of this unusual opportunity to plug their publications.
“Lots of presses have tried to start their own podcast operation to interview their authors,” he says, “but even large, well-resourced presses find it very difficult to do, and have very limited success.”
What makes the New Books Network different is that, as an independent operation, it can promise listeners an impartial selection of books, chosen by academics in their fields.
“It’s not just that we’re interviewing the authors,” Edington said. “We’re presenting those authors to an audience of people who, by choosing to follow these podcasts, and are telling us they’re interested readers.”