AAA Open Access FUD

AAA Executive Director, Bill Davis released a press release in which he made public how the AAA finances its publication costs:

The cost of publishing and distributing AAA’s 22 peer-reviewed print and online journals is anticipated to be over $2.1 million in 2007. … Unlike some association publishers who subsidize other organization activities from journal publishing profits, within AAA the subsidy flows in the opposite direction. AAA and section member dues will subsidize our publishing program to the tune of more than $900,000 in 2007.

After rejecting an “author-pays” model Davis suggests some alternatives proposals:

substitute member dues for library subscription income … is would require an average increase in individual member dues of 71 percent, an average rise from $133 to $227. Alternatively, if dues were to remain the same, AAA would have to make up the loss of subscription income by cutting back or eliminating section support, anthropology department support, media outreach, advocacy for federal funding for anthropology, committee support and/or other benefits and services to members and the discipline.

Scary! Either we bankrupt members, or we eliminate member benefits. (The AAA does media outreach?) This reminds me of how the Republicans frame the Social Security debate by making it seem like an undesirable policy is necessary because the alternative would be an economic catastrophe. The heart of this argument is the claim that making our content available for free would result in a loss of revenue which would have to be made up for by members. But as Peter Suber makes clear, the study upon which Davis bases these claims is highly flawed. (Suber also highlights several other inaccuracies and misconceptions in the Davis article.) And as Rex has argued, the idea that a reader-pays model will solve these financial problems is largely a myth.

Tomorrow I will be putting forward a proposal at my college’s faculty meeting that we purchase an AnthroSource subscription for our university. For a university AnthroSource is a great deal, costing less than one tenth the price of some other leading social sciences databases. There is a lot to admire in what the AAA has done with AnthroSource, but it is time for them to stop opposing FRPAA, to stop spreading FUD about Open Access, and to start thinking seriously about alternatives to a business model based on restricting access to our work.

For more information visit the Open Access Anthropology website, blog, or discussion group.

(Thanks to for the links!)

10 thoughts on “AAA Open Access FUD

  1. Let’s hope the AAA membership reads this. Or, better yet, let’s hope anthropologist everywhere start discussing OA.
    After all, as we study human diversity, the output of our work should be widely available.

  2. I am glad to see that after a year of pressure we are finally getting some public information from AA staff. I think the fact that they finally are beginning to feel accountable to membership and the scholarly community more generally, although frankly I’d very much like someone to take a close look at those suspiciously balanced numbers and how they are generated.

    Peter Suber has already pointed out several of the problems with Davis’s argument so I won’t go over them here. There is, however, one thing that I found incredible: never once did Davis consider that possibility that the AAA’s budget impasse might be eased by lowering publication costs.

    Davis and I agree on one thing — open access is never going to be a realistic option if the AAA publication program keeps costs at this level. The proper solution to this problem is not to fret over revenue, but to run a tighter ship.

    How do we decrease costs? The AAA could adopt solutions from the open access and open source movement. Leadership could actually hold staff accountable and become actively involved in the decision making process of the AAA rather handing it off to people like Davis. And finally, the AAA could make gestures of good faith — like STOPPING THEIR OPPOSITION TO FRPAA — that would create an atmosphere which would attract innovators who will work on projects they love (always the easiest way to cut costs in high tech firms).

    Cutting costs, actual leadership, and courting strong human resources would all be key to creating a great publications program. But instead we have an institution where staff pronouncements go unquestioned by leadership and sections suffer. As I’ve said before and I’ll say again: with a business model like this, who needs enemies?

  3. Bill Davis runs the AAA. He’s done it for years and he’ll continue to do so for another decade or so. It’s his association and he’ll bloody well do whatever he pleases.

    When in 2004 the membership voted to either cancel the AAA annual meetings, or to hold them in San Jose, Bill Davis personally made sure that neither voted-approved option occured, and the meetings were wisked away to Georgia (a right to work state) where no one attended. Now Bill is going to tell us what we can and can’t do with the AAA’s publications because he *is* the AAA.

  4. Ditto. On the question of dues however, is $227 really a bankrupting amount? It doesn’t really seem *that* bad to me. Do we know how it compares to equivalent professional organizations?

  5. They SO don’t do media outreach – when I emailed them about a rash of articles with public figures carelessly claiming to be a fill-in-the-blank anthropologist (Marion Nestle, Paco Underhill, Clothard Lewhathisname) they told me to go write an oped. I was like, “isn’t that what I pay YOU for?”

    Thank god I’m dropping out. Like Cindy Sheehan, my futile protests are over….

  6. $227 is a lot when compared to other groups, but probably not a big deal for someone with a steady job. I pay $89 (the dues are sliding scale) to belong to the American Historical Association, and the articles in the association’s journal (American Historical Review) have been OA since last June.

  7. Every college/university with an anthropology department or program should have an anthrosource subscription – it is an invaluable tool for both teaching and research. That said, the bureaucracy surrounding it (mostly the publications side, not the anthrosource steering committee itself) is difficult to work with. I am a new editor of a small society peer-reviewed journal, and wanted to find out about how to get included in Anthrosource. After a number of emails, I finally got the word from Jasper Simons (director of publications) that they essentially don’t have the money/time to support a non-AAA journal — I wasn’t asking for support, just inclusion in the search (well, that would take somebody some time to set up). Producing journals do cost a lot — and the way to get around such costs is to use cheap and available technology. We can have limited print runs (for libraries, etc.); individuals can readily access journals electronically (and print them out if they don’t like reading on the screen). People up for tenure (since deans don’t seem to trust electronic media) can print out a camera-ready copy of electronic journals. I regularly toss the print editions of journals out in public spaces of the college, where students may casually pick it up to read. BTW, I would like to thank the SM crowd for helping me to find the Open Journal software that we will be using.

    Also, remember subscription rates to Anthrosource is graduated – institutions pay more than individuals, people/organizations from less developed countries pay less than Western ones, etc. I think our relatively high dues are being used to keep a Washington DC address (recently rennovated, correct?); let’s move AAA headquarters to Topeka, KS or Indianapolis, IN (the crossroads of America) where we can save on administrative costs!

  8. Fuji —
    I’d be inclined to see your experiences as an example of the lack of capacity of the staff, not the size of the bureaucracy, which is actually quite small given the difficulty you had getting in touch with them. Also, please note that it’s nor difficult to get a DC mailing address — all you need a post office box. The AAA headquarters are located in Arlington, not DC. Although we used to have some property in DC my understanding (which could very well be wrong) is that it was sold to prop up the AAA’s sagging bottom line.

    It is in the AAA’s best interests as both a business and an organization that as many journals be included in AnthroSource, and your inability to get your journal included is disappointing. I’m glad to hear that you’re using open source software and I look forward to reading your journal!

  9. Does anyone know who at the AAA is in charge of media outreach?

    I don’t know who it is, but it isn’t an anthropologist.

    My experience has been that they do very selective media outreach designed to reinforce popular notions of what anthropologists do, and whoever is in charge of AAA media outreach wants to downplay critical anthropological views. In this light, Anthrodiva’s comments make sense.

Comments are closed.