The AAA budget and publications

Over the break I’ve been reading John Willinsky’s “The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Reserach and Scholarship”: It’s a good book and I recomend it to anyone with an interest in Open Access issues but who can’t digest the massive stream of information that is Peter Suber’s “Open Access News blog”: In the case of the AAA, I think the argument for open access is more or less won — given anthropology’s populist sensibilities and obsession with ‘relevance’ it’s not surprising that there is strong support (at least in my experience) for the AAA to make its journals open to the public. The biggest problem that open access advocates have is the business model — how will we pay the production costs of these journals?

I was surprised, then, to see that in Appendix B of his book Willinsky inclued the annual publication budgets of a dozen or so scholarly associations — including the AAA. I have to admit that I had never thought of looking up any of these figures, or even wonder where they might be found. Willinsky’s data is based on the AAA’s tax forms for 2000. According to him the AAA made US$4,680,764 that year, US$637,950 of which came from publication revenue as well as US$6,679 in royalties. However, it cost US$790,113 to produce AAA journals. In other words, the AAA lost US$145,504 producing its journals in 2000.

Curious, I poked poking around some and downloaded the AAA’s 2004 annual report — you can “download the PDF”: from their website (yeah transparency!). Check out pages 18 and 19 — that’s where the numbers are. I have to admit that while I regularly kvetched about membership fees, I had never actually wondered where they went or what they were used for. According to the report, two of the eight sources of revenue account for 54% of all revenue — publications worth US$1,301,954 (28%) and membership fees US$1,148,087 (26%). However, publications accounted for 42% of expenses (US$1,859,346) — in other words, in 2004 the AAA lost US$557,392 on journals (please correct me if I’m using these figures wrong).

Based on an almost total ignorance of AAA administration and armed only with two pie charts, it looks to me like “membership” and “sections” are subsidizing journals — only 8% of income is spent on “membership” while this category accounts for 26% for revenue (the figures for “sections” are 3% and 13%).

What does this all mean? I have absolutely no idea. I was just struck that I had never looked at or thought about these figures before — and this despite the fact that I have heard many, many rants from people on everything ranging from the incredible inefficiency and corruption of the AAA to endless griping about how the rank and file doesn’t understand that yes, it actually costs something to run the AAA. Seeing these figures at least provides some ballpark understanding of where the AAA is, and what kind of latitude it has to go to other places as it pursues different approaches to publication.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

4 thoughts on “The AAA budget and publications

  1. An alternative view is that the AAA is using funds from membership dues or other sources to subsidize journal production. It is, in other words, a form of redistribution. The argument against it is based on the notion that every distinct activity should be self-financing, not a good assumption for academics who depend at least in part on public tax revenues to subsidize their activities.

    That does not mean, of course, that the particular redistribution in question is either just or optimal in some other sense. Sorting such questions out is the bulk of practical politics.

    Happy New Year!

  2. It should not actually be surprising that membership dues subsidize publications–this is true accross the board in science and the arts. What’s interesting is that from 2003 to 2004, the cost of publication more than doubles (I assume this is because of Anthrosource, I can find no other explanation), and the income nearly doubles.

    The issue it should raise, however, is: why is publication so expensive? What are the costs being spent on? If we could see that data, then we might be able to have an interesting discussion about the financial feasibility of open access– so long as members are fine continuing to subsidize publication through dues…

  3. Chris and John have a point — pretty much all non-hard science associations Willinsky cites run their journals in the red (interestingly the exception is the History of Science Society, which clears US$60K a year).

    I wonder if the increase in publishing expense is AnthroSource though, unless AnthroSource suddenly began making and spending money in the exact same ratio as the publications did before. Perhaps I will request a copy of the full budget.

  4. Let me try to clarify what the AAA publishing budget figures mean, for me, in terms of this access principle.

    First of all, the figures from 2000 make it clear that less than 1% of publishing costs were covered by royalties ($6,679), presumably from the rights to past articles. This suggests that making older (6-12 months) articles open access would not do serious financial damage, while hugely increasing access to the anthropological literature not only for researchers but teachers, students, the media, and the public. This open access would benefit, as well, the authors (members), given how open access increases citations rates (see However, I recognize that in 2006, AAA is now charging $12.00 an article online, as well as having a revenue-sharing relationship with JSTOR, and there may be far more money at stake.

    A second point to be drawn from the 2000 figures is that publishing revenue from libraries and other subscribers (outside of membership fees) covered 82% of publishing costs. What I was drawing from this figure is that an asscoiation such as AAA would be in a position to start a new open access journal or to move a few of its existing journals to electronic-only open access publishing if it (a) reduced its typical journal expenses by 60-70% through dropping print; (b) used open source journal management and publishing software (such as Open Journal Systems, which we’ve developed through the Public Knowledge Project for this purpose), and (c) formed an open access publishing cooperative with an organization such as the Association of Research Libraries (as ARL is currently investigating cooperative publishing models) to cover the remaining 10-20% of its publishing costs.

    That said, AAA is still to be commended for permiting its authors to post pre-print and post-print copies of their published work on personal websites and in institutional repositories, and if it simply did more to promote this practice, it would further the principle of open access to knowledge, as well as boost the citation rates of its journals and authors.

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