Over break I’m reading Battle Cry of Freedom, the definitive one volume history of the Civil War (and also, incidentally, “available online for free”:http://ets.umdl.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=acls;cc=acls;rgn=full%20text;view=toc;idno=heb00677.0001.001 thanks to the super-excellent “History E-Book Project”:http://ets.umdl.umich.edu/a/acls/index.html). In the years leading up to the civil war, ‘sectionalism’ meant the divisive need to commit to either the South or the North — hence Robert E. Lee’s reluctant decision to serve the South, despite his own dislike of slavery and secession: “I must side,” he wrote, “either with or against my section.” In the context of the economics of AAA journals, on the other hand, I’m rapidly learning that understanding sectionalism is also very important.
In pre-war America, of course, sections were the source of a union-shattering divisiveness. In the case of the American Anthropological Association, on the other hand, they are the source of our greatest strength: sections like American Ethnological Society and the Society for Cultural Anthropology are the fundamental building blocks of our organization, and allow anthropologists who share a research focus to come together and exchange ideas in a variety of formats, including journals, sessions at the annual meetings, and even their own independent meetings.
Anthropology’s sectional organization also has a great impact on its publishing model.
In a “recent post”:http://savageminds.org/2006/01/01/the-aaa-budgest-and-publications/ and the ensuing comments, we discovered that according to John Willinsky’s book “The Access Principle”:http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=10611 as well as the AAA’s own budget, it looked like membership dues were subsidizing the publication of AAA journals. Looking over the annual reports for the sections, though, I am seeing a different picture. Although none of the section reports I’ve looked at have much in the way of detailed financial records, the overall impression I get is that sections fund their activities through membership dues. Members join because they want a subscription to the section’s journal, which is a benefit of membership. So — again, this is only what I’ve gathered from the AAA website — the model here looks to be that you run the journal for less than the dues, and use the surplus to fund your other activities.
I am not sure if this is how things actually work, and how sections relate to the wider AAA budget. However it does demonstrate the difficulty of coming up with an open access model for anthropology journals — publishing and its economy is deeply embedded in the organizational (and thus political) life of the AAA.
So in the case of the sections, it seems that even relatively ‘closed’ online setups like AnthroSource, much less an open access model, can prove to be contentious. Currently, all AAA members (and only AAA members) can access all of AnthroSource’s content, including the latest issues of journals. This creates what John Willinsky has called a situation of ‘redundant access’ — members receive the latest edition of the journal electronically by virtue of their generic AAA membership fees and a paper copy by virtue of the additional dues they pay to individual sections. As a result, sections fear that anthropologists will cancel their membership subscription in favor of relying on AnthroSource.
“We remain concerned and vigilant on the question of how our revenues will be affected by the recent inauguration of AnthroSource,” writes the authors American Ethnological Society (and publishers of American Ethnologist) 2004 annual report, which also noted that their membership numbers continued to fall. The Society for Cultural Anthropology continued to have strong subscriptions to Cultural Anthropology, but they also that that “with the launch of AnthroSource in November 2004, CA became available on-line to all AAA members. The Board will closely monitor the effect this has on memberships.” The General Anthropology Division of the AAA reports that it “is concerned that… the new availability of Anthrosource will hurt membership.” “Like all other sections,” notes the Society for Visual Anthropology, “our finances will be drained deeply because of AnthroSource.” The Association for Political and Legal Anthropology noted that it was concerned about “the uncertainty of future AnthroSource revenues” and noted that “Unless the revenues from AnthroSource turn sharply up, PoLar [their journal] would be projected to go out of business within two years.” “The cause of our decline in membership is unknown, though we suspect it is related to… the launching of AnthroSource” writes the Society for Medical Anthropology. Passages like these can be found in practically every section report.
So on the one hand the association’s overall budget seems to indicate that journals are running at a loss and subsidized by memberships, but the section reports seem to indicate revenue from journal subscriptions and membership dues (which are essentially also journal subscriptions) are vital to their budget. Am I missing something here?