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AAA’s Publishing Program

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Oona Schmid

The publishing program’s benefits extend beyond the immediate experience of AnthroSource or receiving a print journal in the mail. I write this article to help members and readers understand the stakes and understand why the AAA needs to change its program’s trajectory.

Why Does the Program Matter?

Our publications offer hundreds of anthropologists each year the chance to disseminate their ideas across many outlets. In 2012, we published works by 1,326 different authors and coauthors. More than merely distributing these ideas, the AAA ensures ongoing—archival—access, so that our authors receive credit for their contributions in perpetuity.

AAA’s publications do not just make their authors’ ideas publicly available; they also vet these papers. Except for cases where a submission receives a “desk rejection” (an immediate decline because the paper is not appropriate for a specific journal), editors collect reviews and share that feedback with the authors, whether the paper is ultimately published in that journal. Nearly 1,500 papers were submitted to AAA’s peer-reviewed journals in 2012 and the majority of these papers’ authors received feedback that honed the authors’ ideas and work.

Publication in a peer-reviewed journal confers status. If the author is an academic, publication translates into tangible rewards with promotions and salary increases. Said differently, if AAA’s publishing program disappeared tomorrow, many anthropologists—and particularly cultural anthropologists—would find a radically diminished space within which they could produce publications that “count” on their CVs.

Perhaps less obviously, AAA’s publications featured 428 reviews of museum exhibits, books, and multimedia materials last year. This exposure helps the scholarly presses and film distributors sell books and DVDs. Ongoing successes in archaeology, anthropology, biology, cultural studies, ethnic studies and linguistic lists means a publishing house can sign more authors. Getting a book contract from a reputable press fuels the careers and reputations of anthropologists. Further, reviews also serve important roles in the hiring and promotion of academic job candidates.

Finally, as a resource, AnthroSource helps students and non-anthropologists benefit from anthropological knowledge. Professors report using AnthroSource in the classroom and AnthroSource is available through philanthropic programs to Native American schools, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and to institutions in under-resourced countries.

What Is the Problem?

Baldly stated, costs are rising and revenues are decreasing. One publishing consultant examined trends from 2008–11 and predicted that by 2016 the journals collectively will no longer produce a financial surplus. Without making changes, the association would have to subsidize all publication costs. Had the program been supported exclusively by membership dues in 2012, each member would have had to pay more than $142 just to support the publications program.

Over time, unless changes are made, the cost problem will grow. If we act sooner, the association and its sections will face more options, and fewer if we act later. As with any high-stakes decision, thoughtful implementation requires a lot of time and communication, so AAA must heighten the urgency for making these collective decisions, even if the effective date requires several years to implement.

AAA can solve its publishing problems. Some possible solutions would be for the association to eliminate printing and distribution expenses; reduce content creation costs by looking at fewer site licenses to support its journals; lower its administrative costs by having fewer editorial offices; shrink typesetting expenses by changing the platform and workflows for book reviews. All these ideas are under discussion.

No one wants to spring changes on the membership. Efforts to articulate the critical need to make changes include a series of AAA blog posts, a publishing forum at the 2011 Annual Meeting, and previous Anthropology News articles, including a September 2012 piece on “The State of AAA’s Publishing Program.” More recently, the publishing committee conducted a survey and commissioned an analysis the publishing program. The results of the survey and Raym Crow’s financial analyses were published in the May 2013 issue of Anthropology News and have been online for members since October 2012.

Please join us in helping the publishing program reinvent itself, so it can continue to credential anthropologists, disseminate ideas, and teach a new generation about anthropological ideas.

Oona Schmid is the director of publishing at AAA.


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