More on Anthrosource and the AAA

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.


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.

2 thoughts on “More on Anthrosource and the AAA

  1. It is worth noting that the “extraction of rent” is not always a bad thing (though for some reason it is usually uttered in a tone one might use for phrases like “the thrashing of toddlers”). In the case of the AAA, being forced to join a section with your membership helps support a range of journals, does it not? The model of “redistribute income equally among all sections/journals” would risk, I think:

    (1) quashing the foundation of new journals/sections, as existing journals/sections would oppose the narrower slicing of their collective pie.

    (2) rewarding extant journals/sections for merely existing, rather than for attracting an interested readership/membership.

    I would guess the fact that AnthroSource gives AAA members access to all journals, regardless of section membership, will cause a decline in the number of people choosing multiple section membership, which probably will hurt some sections and thus some journals. Maybe the AAA could introduce something like “proportional voting” — that is, after the “basic membership” fee there could be a parsable “section membership” fee and you could break it down into 4 units of 25% or something — I might choose to give 100% to one section, or 2 units of 50% to 2 sections, or 4 units of 25% to 4 sections. New sections/journals could be proposed from time to time, and sections/journals would end up getting supported to the extent they actually had a base of support. It would be a hassle to set up but eventually could work a bit like the Working Assets ballot…

  2. I think, as far as I understand it, joining the AAA (the base membership fee) goes to the AAA, and to the publication of AA. Secondarily, funds go to the sections… but I don’t know how much or how. It is only when members choose to pay an additional amount to join a section or two, that more money flows to those sections. So, if the ONLY thing those sections offer members, is access to a journal, then yes, they stand to suffer at the hands of Anthrosource. But if they offer more than that (i.e. are not extracting rent, but exchanging something), such as a yearly conference, advising, peer review, prestige and hipness, or whatever, then they may still be able to convince members to join multiple sections.

    Indeed, this is the crux of open access–either scholarly societies need to re-define their value, and remind members of all the tangible and intangible reasons why they join, or they are going to have to figure out ways to make the enforced “subscription” to scholarly journals compatible with our desire to make our work available. These are not mutually exclusive, but they are confused with the idea that “membership in a society is about getting a journal”–it should be more than that.

Comments are closed.