Academic publisher Michael Holdsworth dies, aged 73

Academic publisher Michael Holdsworth dies, aged 73

Tributes have been paid to academic publisher Michael Holdsworth after his death, aged 73.

Holdsworth, who was best known for his work at Cambridge University Press between 1983 and 2006, suffered a heart attack on 9th September while on holiday in France. 

An internal announcement sent to CUP staff said: “His relatively early death at the age of 73 will come as a sadness to many, but his legacy here will be long-lived.” Staff remembered him for his love of ornithology, in which he took a scientific interest, attending the ballet and adventurous travel.  

Holdsworth, who also worked at Allen & Unwin during his career, was described by CUP as “arguably the strongest publishing presence in the entire organisation with a well-justified reputation as one of the most original, thoughtful and clear-sighted non-fiction book publishers in the world”. 

A tribute from the press said: “Michael also fought very strongly for the distinctive place and vital importance of the social sciences within Cambridge publishing, and was responsible for some of the first ever CUP books in political science, as well as launching with his old friend Steve Smith what became Cambridge Studies in International Relations, to this day a central pillar of our academic book publishing programme. The social sciences editorial team he directed was a formidably productive and successful publishing unit. 

“By the late 1990s, Michael was becoming well aware of the challenges that were beginning to confront academic and educational publishers of all kinds, as the first rumblings of the digital revolution began to sweep the industry, and he grasped very quickly the absolute centrality of data and related workflows to all publishing operations: what had been a computer department of three people in 1983 became a fully-fledged international IT department, and the second part of Michael’s Cambridge career, from 1997 until his departure in 2006, was dominated by operational and commercial questions, which he ultimately oversaw as managing director of Europe, in the branch (rather than group) structure that then existed. Michael was responsible for very early and important conversations with (e.g.) Amazon and Google, in which CUP was amongst the first imprints that either upstart company spoke with, and the strength of press publishing systems, perhaps especially on the academic books side, was legendary throughout the industry. 

“An influential member of the press board for many years, Michael was also (unusually for the press of those days) actively engaged with the wider publishing industry on both sides of the Atlantic, and a regular speaker at major industry meetings like those of the Booksellers Association or IPG or AAUP, as well as taking a pan-industrial role as chair of the book industry study group.” 

Colleagues added: “Michael Holdsworth was unquestionably a great and innovative academic publisher, and to this day there remain major aspects of the ways in which transatlantic academic book publishers do their business over which his shadow continues to fall. Michael was in some ways a rather a shy man but he was also an exemplary boss and colleague; always clear, straight and absolutely fair.”