The Portfolio, Open Access and Sustainability
We’ve got some good news and some worrisome news about the state and future of AAA’s publishing program.
The good news: At this time, publishing sections are financially healthy, in large part the result of the current revenue sharing arrangement with AAA’s publishing partner, Wiley-Blackwell (W-B). W-B guarantees AAA a royalty payment of roughly $500k per year, out of the net surplus (subscription proceeds in excess of production and marketing costs). This revenue is split 50/50 between publishing sections and the AAA publications office (that includes Anthropology News and American Anthropologist). In turn, AAA guarantees all participating publishing sections a share of this revenue regardless of whether an individual publication takes in less revenue than it costs to produce. Moreover, Wiley-Blackwell’s expansive international network is a major factor in steady gains in ISI ratings that several of the journals have seen over the past five years.
The worrisome news: Scholarly publishing is undergoing enormous change as a result of shrinking library budgets, the expansion in the number of new journal titles, new technology, and new end-user expectations. The net result is that the traditional subscriber base (libraries) is shrinking and will continue to do so.
The good news: At this time, publishing sections are financially healthy…. The worrisome news: Scholarly publishing is undergoing enormous change.
Profile in Publishing
The AAA publishing program operates in an ever-changing technological and market environment. The Executive Board (EB), an elected membership body charged with making decisions that tries to best represent the interests of AAA’s 38 sections (including 22 publishing sections) and its 11,000 members, takes seriously its charge to: (1) develop and maintain a diverse publishing portfolio; (2) make responsible, thoughtful decisions that support the long-term needs and interests of sections, members, and those who produce, access and reference anthropological knowledge and content; and (3) facilitate the adaptation of the publishing program to ongoing changes in publication conditions, promoting both sustainability of the publishing program and broadest possible dissemination of knowledge. At times, it is difficult to bring these multiple goals into agreement; our ideals don’t always match up with the competitive economic environment within which we all operate. AAA decisions involve balancing compromise in the context of real life contingencies and weighing consequences for the collective good.
But we are anthropologists, capable of understanding complexity. The publishing program is complicated, involving various players, 24 publications and sections of different size that produce and distribute a rich array of anthropological content in a way that does not break the bank of individual member households, sections, and AAA as a whole. At the same time, editorial control remains in the hands of editors and their sections, AAA retains copyright, and authors retain liberal rights. Individuals who participate as authors and editors accrue benefits that translate into academic jobs, prestige, promotion, merit increases, tenure, grant support, and office space—tangible and intangible gains. Their affiliate institutions (usually but not exclusively universities and colleges) also accrue the important benefits of enhanced reputation, exposure and prestige.
Towards an Uncertain Future
While maintaining a functioning and vibrant publishing program, AAA has created the infrastructure to ensure the overall publishing program goals are met, its fiscal health maintained, and its future viable by means of a consultative process. The Anthropological Communication Committee (ACC) and the Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing (CFPEP) are key member committees working on two central issues: how to ensure the broadest possible access to publications and how to sustain a diverse range of publications.
CFPEP is currently evaluating alternative publishing models in a consultative process with AAA section leaders, editors, members, association officers, the EB and the AAA publishing director to develop five- and ten-year plans for AAA publishing, including but not limited to open access models. Among the possibilities, AAA might consider converting to Gold Open Access (GOA) Publishing, in which every article published in any and all AAA journals would be delivered online to anyone, anyplace in the world without cost to users. There are two types of GOA publishing: gratis (without price to readers) and the libre OA type which expressly permits uses beyond fair use (no copyright or licensing restrictions).
Unanswered questions remain about how open access publishing might work for AAA, which represents a discipline distinct from others in terms of how, what and how much it publishes. The consultative process takes time to think through the consequences—intended and unintended—of such a significant transformation.
What would happen to the journals in a GOA publishing program? What would happen to section membership? “Free access” for readers does not mean “free from costs” even if the publisher does not print copies. Publishing involves copyediting, design, legal and accounting services, permanent archiving, indexing and search engine optimization, and the professional staff to undertake these activities in a timely manner. Who would pay these costs? Authors? If so, would only authors with the means to pay afford to publish? Or would only those who get large grants that cover publishing costs see their articles in print? What would happen to junior scholars, students, and those who don’t work at the top paying institutions, or to the vast majority of anthropologists who don’t get large grants? Would colleges and universities step up to the plate to underwrite section journals? If so, for how long and under what conditions would their support be assured? Will provosts value anthropology, when deciding between engineers and economists for author fees? When the political climate changes, will they pull the plug? Could AAA raise membership dues to underwrite the publishing program? If so, would there be a drastic drop in membership? Would members feel they are disproportionately supporting access to content that others—regardless of their ability to pay—are getting for “free”?
AAA might still be able to sell print subscriptions to libraries—perhaps that revenue would partially underwrite the “free” online program. In reality, only a handful of the top journals (eg, American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist) drive subscription revenue. Most likely, the smaller journals—those that represent the more vulnerable and historically underrepresented sections—would struggle to exist. If the smaller journals succumb, the larger publications would no longer need to participate in the association-established portfolio principle that had ensured the survival of all publications. The AAA developed the portfolio principle to allow everyone in the association to think and act collectively to support one another; those publications that drive subscriptions and bring in revenue get their cost needs met, and at the same time help sustain and bring in vanguard voices which, by virtue of being part of the portfolio, add value to the package of publications known as AnthroSource.
In the name of freedom, would GOA usher in a new “survival of the fittest” era? It seems there may be great costs to “free.” Who is to bear them? After all, “free” (as in “no charge” to end-user) does not mean “equal” or “egalitarian.” Perhaps “ability to pay” is a more fair and progressive approach.
The association has taken several specific steps towards opening up access to its publications in a way that balances fairness and equitability at the same time it makes financially responsible decisions. These steps include income-based membership dues; free access to qualifying institutions and under-resourced countries; green open access author access, among other policies (see next section). In the meantime, CFPEP and ACC continue to engage the consultative process, exploring, examining, discussing, and considering the state of AAA publishing and its future. Despite the difficulties and the obstacles, we feel a path has been cleared for AAA leadership to act responsibly while confronting challenges with open-mindedness, enthusiasm and optimism.
What steps has the AAA taken to facilitate access to its publications?
While still in the process of examining optimal scenarios for ensuring the broadest possible access to publications and the sustainability of a diverse range of publications, the AAA has already taken the following steps:
* Income-based membership dues: Access to AAA’s online portfolio is available to all AAA members as a benefit of sliding-scale income-based dues that range from $30 to $306.
* Free Access: Access to AAA’s digital, online literature is available free of charge to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges, and qualifying institutions from less developed countries. In addition, AAA participates in four philanthropic programs to provide free access to our content in under-resourced countries. These programs are administered by agencies with presence on the ground in these areas, such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the International Council for Science.
* “Ungating” back issues of journals: Access to back issues of AAA’s journal American Anthropologist (AA) is available free of charge 35 years and longer after publication. That means that in 2012, all back issues of AA are available free of charge from 1888 to 1977; in 2013, the year 1978 will be “ungated.” Sections are encouraged to follow the same plan. To date, three sections have agreed. CFPEP is charged with assessing the success and costs of this arrangement.
* Anthropology News online is open access for two months before content is gated and archived within AnthroSource.
* Grey Literature Hub. With funds raised by the AAA Research Development Committee (RDC), AAA endorsed and is working towards the establishment of an “Anthropology” category on the online open access Social Science Research Network (SSRN) for the purpose of disseminating grey literature, anthropological content that is otherwise not available.
* Author Rights and Permissions: In the author agreement for AAA journals, the author reserves the right (among other rights) to post the postprint manuscript draft or uncorrected page proofs of article on free, discipline-specific public servers. Because of these clauses, AAA’s author agreement is rated green by SHERPA/RoMEO, a project designed to help facilitate green open access.
Want to learn more? Go to Publications FAQ’s.
Alisse Waterston is chair of the AAA Anthropological Communication Committee and professor of anthropology, John Jay College, City University of New York. Edward B Liebow is AAA treasurer and director of the Seattle office at Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation.