Dan Segal has posted an excellent response and explanation of how sections work in the AAA. He makes several important points. First is that there is an accounting weirdness in distinguishing between Member Dues and Journal Subscriptions–because some people buy memberships in order to get the journal, but sections have no way of knowing how many do that–or how many people join multiple sections to get multiple journals. Second, that the switch to AnthroSource is distinct from, but happened at the same time as, the outsourcing of journal production to UC Press. According to Dan, neither of these things appear to have created greater costs for the sections.
The problem he sees is in the fact of bundling. If it is now possible for all members to get access to all journals, then what incentive does anyone have to join a section? And if Anthrosource revenue can be seen as a flat fee for access to all section journals, then how should it be re-distributed? If some journals are more desirable than others, should they get more of the pie, and how should that be determined? Worse, in some ways, he notes, is that one journal is getting distinct treatment: American Anthropologist. So membership in AAA subsidizes AA, not AA that drives membership in AAA.
From my perspective, this confirms my suspicion that the AAA, and the sections, need to enumerate, carefully and explicitly, the services and value they provide members beyond journal subscriptions. If a section provides nothing more than access to a journal, then this is simply reliance on copyright and exclusivity of access in order to extract rent from members. I have little sympathy, even though I would be angry and frustrated if we lost more quality publishing outlets. On the other hand, I think sections do provide other values and services that are worth paying for… and I think it would behoove the sections to make that clear to members when they take their money.
It also raises a very interesting and politically charged question about income re-distribution in the AAA. If the AAA wants to remain as ecumenical as it has been in the past with respect to the enormous range of research interests in Anthropology, I would think that a strict system of equal re-distribution of income to all journal-producing sections would be the only way to avoid a knock-down drag-out fight about which publications are more popular and the criteria by which re-distribution should or shouldn’t reflect that.
Thanks to Dan for such a clear and detailed explanation.