More on the AAA-Wiley Agreement

A Memorandum (dated Sept 14th) has been circulating announcing the AAA’s deal with Wiley. So far there has been no sign of its official appearance on the AAA website (or the Wiley one), but I’m sure that website is quite hard to update, so I have nothing but sympathy for the poor soul who has to use it as a forum for communicating information that the membership of the AAA might find crucial to their careers. I hope I don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers by posting bits and pieces of it here. As soon as I can link to the official site, I will do so.

It is basic boilerplate about the agreement. Here are some choice parts, with my commentary:

We are pleased to inform you that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and Wiley-Blackwell, the scientific, technical, medical and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. have signed a contract for a five year publishing partnership to commence in 2008.

Mark your calendars in case things don’t work out, and hope the executive council is better a communicating the next change of press in 2013…

Under the agreement, Wiley-Blackwell will publish, distribute and promote AAA’s twenty-three anthropology journals and newsletters. Wiley-Blackwell will also host AnthroSource-the premier online portal to full-text anthropology articles serving the research and teaching needs of scholars and practitioners in the U.S. and around the world. The AAA Executive Board’s decision to partner with Wiley-Blackwell was the result of a year-long process, centering on a detailed
request for proposals, evaluation of publisher submissions, interviews, and reference checks with other scholarly societies. The request for proposals was developed with input from journal editors, authors and members who had communicated their concerns to AAA’s Executive Board, Committee on Scientific Communication, Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing, and staff over the past four years. The RFP was sent to nine publishers. Six responded with proposals, and five were interviewed.

Now was that so hard? Why did we, as members, have to wait until after it was over to learn that the AAA actually had a process for this, and may even have been consulting a few members here and there. Would it have killed them to say they were doing this in public?

In its development of AnthroSource in 2002, the core goals of AAA included developing a portal that could provide scholars with innovative discovery tools for accessing scholarly content, in text, photo, audio and video media, and an electronic means to expand the reach of anthropological knowledge to additional readers world-wide.

Should that not say “additional Members world-wide”?

The AAA Executive Board voted unanimously in favor of a partnership agreement with Wiley-Blackwell. Members of the Executive Board saw Wiley-Blackwell’s stellar reputation for creative partnerships with learned societies, its substantial investment in innovative technology and its world-wide network of offices as providing AAA with the greatest potential to propel AnthroSouce to the cutting edge of digital publishing and expand the readership of AAA’s publications and the dissemination of anthropological research to critical new international audiences.

Now I am getting into this! Woo-HOO! AnthroSouce is actually kind of a nice typo. And shouldn’t that say “critical new international members?” They aren’t giving this away openly, right? That would be a bad business model.

Under the new partnership, AAA members and journal subscribers will have uninterrupted access to AnthroSource and AAA’s print publications. We will continue to provide AnthroSource at no cost to under-resourced institutions. Journal editors and the AAA will retain complete editorial control over publication content and form. The content of our existing standard author agreements will remain unchanged. Ownership of all journal content will remain in the domain of the AAA. AAA will make final decisions on subscription pricing for all 2009 and later publications. All Wiley-Blackwell contractors and subcontractors must comply with a code of fair labor practices. In addition to these agreements, Wiley-Blackwell and AAA will undertake a series of rolling three year strategic development plans for each
publication.

Substance, finally: this is all good news, seriously. It means that AAA staff have at least refrained from moving backwards if not forwards.

The contract incorporates a financial agreement between AAA and Wiley-Blackwell that is very different from that which we had with the University of California Press. Under the new profit-sharing agreement, Wiley-Blackwell will manage both revenues and expenditures for the Association’s publications program and share some of the risk and reward associated with it. Excess revenues over expenditures will be shared annually on a 60% (AAA)/40% (W-B) basis. The agreement provides for a guaranteed minimum income to AAA over each of the next five years. The guarantee will total approximately $2.7 million overthe 5 year contract period. This change in the financial agreement with AAA’s publishing partner will mean that our Sections will no longer be directly charged for the production and distribution services provided by the publisher. The impact on our Section budgets will be immediate in 2008 and all publication sponsoring sections will see an improvement in their net publishing financial activity. While the AAA Board adopted formula for distributing AnthroSource digital revenues will remain in place for 2008, the Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic
Publishing, the Committee for Scientific Communication and AAA the Executive Board will review alternative models for allocating future royalty payments between and among the Association and Sections.

This is more information than anyone ever got about the previous arrangement, as far as finances go, but it is still a bit mysterious. If sections will not be charged, does that mean they all have the same size budget? Is that the right way to go? Where will the member fees per section go? If a handful of journals generate most of the revenue, will we know that? How will journals be able to monitor their success financially, or in turn be controlled if they are profligate. And it leaves unchanged the most problematic of the revenue issues, that of the current system for dealing with anthrosource revenues. We can only hope that the various Committee’s reviews will be a bit more open at least, if not inclusive, than this process has been.

For my money, this is certainly not the end of the world, and I have faith that the new arrangement will actually improve various things about the AAA’s publishing program. I can honestly say that I support the move, and that I think the AAA did the right thing. Unfortunately, that’s not the worst (or best) part: the process by which it happened has been demoralizing– more evidence that as a scholarly society the AAA does not see any need to communicate with its membership at large, solicit their input or operate in an even quasi-transparent manner that might send the message that they are doing this for the advancement of anthropology as a discipline and as a field of knowledge. Notice that I haven’t used the OA word anywhere too, this isn’t really about open access anymore, as that now seems to be so far from the concerns of the AAA as to essentially have dropped off of the map. What is at stake is the AAA’s survival and financial solvency, and I will pose this question once again, in a very direct form: what good is the AAA to its members if its primary goal is survival, rather than the promotion and dissemination of our research? If anything, Wiley might do a better job at increasing the number of subscribers, and they do have relatively green OA policies, but it isn’t clear that this played any role whatsoever in the AAA’s self-interested survival strategies.

At the very least, journal editors and section presidents are being involved in what’s left of the process, so if you have concerns or questions, they are the people to communicate with.

Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

6 thoughts on “More on the AAA-Wiley Agreement

  1. Thanks to Chris and others who regularly gather here for your attention to this important issue. Since the matter went back underground and out of general view, it has continued to be exhausting and frustrating. I would note here the following points to consider about our new partner.

    They very helpfully use open access techniques to widely disseminate their anti-open access position papers (see the “Executive Presentations” sub-section of the “About” section of the Blackwell webpage).

    They are part of the AAP (like UC Press, unfortunately), the people that have brought us PRISM. To my knowledge, they have not followed the leadership at Columbia UP or Rockefeller UP and disassociated themselves from the PRISM effort.

    If one goes to the “About Wiley” tab on the Wiley website and looks for the press release reporting 1st Quarter Growth, one can read a document that begins:

    “John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (NYSE:JWa) (NYSE:JWb) announced today that revenue for the first quarter of fiscal year 2008 of $389 million increased 48% from $263 million in the previous year, including $116 million of revenue from Blackwell Publishing Ltd. (Blackwell), which Wiley acquired on February 2, 2007. Revenue excluding Blackwell increased 3% over last year’s strong first quarter to $273 million, or 2% excluding favorable foreign exchange.”

    On the bright side, I am confident that the W-B production staff are going to be wonderful, talented professionals from whom I and my editor colleagues will learn much.

    Thanks Chris for asking more of the right questions. When the AAA release does appear (it had been promised for Friday afternoon), it would be wonderful is someone could find a site where it could be placed into CommentPress format and annotated by all concerned.

  2. The AAA homepage now has a link “Memorandum to the AAA Membership on Wiley-Blackwell Agreement”. This label suggests that it is separate from the presidents and editors memo that Chris was discussing, but a quick look suggests that it is the same document, including the discussion of the upcoming teleconferences for these stakeholders.

  3. hmmm. the “press room” link is borken and the Humanities in The News link gives me:

    Hot Stock Picks…
    Growth stocks, penny stocks, stock tips, investments, trades. Sponsored Link – www. gorillainvestor. com Thu Sep 20 2007 05:28:00 GMT-0400 (EDT)

    I fear this website must be really hard to update 🙁

  4. The librarians don’t seem all that happy:

    http://acrlblog.org/2007/09/20/anthropological-association-selects-closed/

    Chron coverage:

    http://chronicle.com/news/article/3062/anthropology-group-makes-official-its-long-rumored-publishing-deal-with-wiley-blackwell

    “Its the process, stupid.”
    The AAA keeps on defending its substantive decisions, assuming that people are critical of the decisions, when in fact we keep asking questions about the process by which they are made. *sigh*

    This sounds totally alarmist and impossible but… is it impossible to imagine a future in which the AAA tries to put the genie back in the bottle, stops full access for dues paying members, and starts charging members for content?

  5. Has anyone noticed how long it seems to be taking for 2008 issues of AAA journals to start appearing at AnthroSource? Does anyone have news on this delay?

  6. There may be others that have appeared, but I think that most 2008 issues are still in the works. The one that I know about is the 1st issue of Cultural Anthropology for 2008. It is in AnthroSource as of today, but it only got there recently. It appears that issues may wind up showing up in the Blackwell Synergy system prior to going into AS. For the Synergy view of the new Cultural Anthropology issue, see:

    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/loi/cuan

    I’ll stop there.

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