AnthroSource drops UC Press for Wiley-Blackwell

While the news has not been made official yet, many of us have already heard unofficially that “AnthroSource is dropping its contract with University of California Press and moving to Wiley-Blackwell”: We don’t know much about the deal so far, but at this point a couple of obvious things jump out that are worth mentioning.

First, the University of California press was very author-friendly and interested in exploring new forms of digital scholarship, including ones that attempted to innovate traditional publishing business models. Wiley-Blackwell, on the other hand, is a newly-minted “merger of Wiley and Blackwell”: in which Wiley acquired Blackwell for 572 million pounds, and altogether the new company will publish “over one thousand journals”: Compared to the UC’s “relatively modest journals program”:, Wiley-Blackwell is clearly ‘big content’ with a capital ‘C’. Library groups “opposed the merger”: writing “letters to the Department of Justice”: and “European Commission”:

The original goal of AnthroSource was to do something new and innovative — to find a way to “transform a scholarly publishing program”: While everyone wanted the AAA’s publishing program to be sustainable they wanted to try new ways of achieving this goal, and this was a goal that the University of California Press was interested in exploring with us. The move to Wiley-Blackwell, then, signals that the AAA has given up this goal and decided instead to get into the business of digital publishing in a very traditional model. It marks, as one commenter put it in a private email, “This is not only a sad day for scholarly publishing, but a sad commentary on the state of scholarly publishing. By going with Wiley-Blackwell, AnthroSource is destined to be just another electronic journal package, and anthropological scholarship will be no more accessible than during the print era, locked behind closed silos.”

Overall, then, it appears that publishing in anthropology is polarizing into large organizations interested in enforcing scarcity in the digital space and smaller groups trying to find ways to allow scholarship to flourish under the new circumstances that it finds itself. It is a bit sad to find that, as the middle drops out of this field, the AAA has chosen to ally itself with Big Content in this regard.

The other major impact of this decision has to do with the internal structure of the AAA itself. The creation of AnthroSource problematized the relationship between individual sections (who actually produce journals), AAA leadership (who theoretically are supposed to be in charge) and AAA staff (who actually are in charge). This was natural — change means rethinking existing arrangements. The move to Wiley-Blackwell, however, might aggravate the tension between these three parties. In the past, political issues in the AAA and the AAA budget were (relatively) separate — issues of anthropological involvement in military intelligence, the ethics of Napoleon Chagnon’s fieldwork, and so forth were important issues that could be dealt with by the sections and leadership while the staff, essentially unsupervised, kept the budget limping along. The politics of publishing, on the other hand, connect anthropological ethics with our association’s budget in a way that inescapably focuses attention on the previously-unthematized role of staff in running the AAA. My fear is that section are, frankly, facing taxation without representation — their bottom line is being affected by decisions into which they have little input.

It will probably be some time before we see any concrete changes in AnthroSource based on this switch. But when we do some of the main issues to track will be:

*Will the AAA publishing program manage to break even? If so, at what price?

*What will happen with the current AAA author’s agreement? The AnthroSource Steering Committee worked hard to create an author’s agreement that preserved the author’s right to archive their work. If we see this agreement change, then I think we should all really start panicking.

*Will sections be able to participate in decisions that affect them? Will smaller journals continue to flourish?

As the AAAs in DC approach, we’ll be talking more about these issues. Personally, I am increasingly happy with the idea of avoiding publishing in AAA journals at all. If it were not for the realities of tenure and my attachment to all of the people in sections who are working so hard to keep their journals afloat and publishing high quality work, I’d be happy to opt out of any involvement in AAA journals whatsoever.


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

13 thoughts on “AnthroSource drops UC Press for Wiley-Blackwell

  1. Disgusting. It is shameful that our “professional society” is so out of it.

    Let go over to BioMed Central and start an open access anthropology journal.

  2. Well, if things turn out the way I think they will then I will probably think this decision was wrong — but that’s quite different from saying it’s ‘disgusting’. It may be that the sections, fearing for the bottom line, said “journal revenues are too important for us to experiment with” and went the conservative route of picking (what they thought of as a) sure revenue source. Which is not what I’d do, but is intelligible. Uhh…. I have a couple of strong intuitions about how this decision was made but… I think you’ll have to find me at the hotel bar at AAAs and ask me in person if you want to hear them… 🙂

  3. Rex,

    Thanks again for keeping us updated. I am interested in hearing more about the author’s agreement and archiving you reference. Can you either tell us more about it, or point us to an URL?


  4. It even caught journals out of the blue. No one seems to have talked to any editors I know of (small sample size… CA and AE). There are a lot of details just left up in the air that are vital to journals every day activity.

    While I don’t know a thing about Wiley-Blackwell, I’d not say that UCP has been entirely … helpful in making things easy for editors, so let’s not spin it: UCP=Angel and W-B=Demon. The situation is a bit more complex than that.


  5. I agree Casey — during my (brief) tenure on the AnthroSource Steering Committee I was critical of several aspects of the UCP myself so… there’s room to be critical of everyone! 🙂

    More seriously, though, the issue once again seems to be not the _what_ of the decision (that is to say, the relative merits of UCP versus Wiley-Blackwell) but the _how_ of the decision — who made it, how it was made, and who _should_ have made it. In saying this I’m repeating my criticism of AAA’s decision to oppose FRPAA — reasonable people may be able to disagree on the merits of one publisher over another, but the real issue is whether the AAA is making important decisions in the right way. I don’t know the answer to this question yet, but I’m not optimistic…

    Biella here is a sample of the typical AAA author’s agreement:

    Although AAA staff occasionally tries to hold this up as an example of their enlightenment, this very liberal agreement is really the result of a lot of hard work by the AnthroSource Steering Committee (and the UCP, who agreed to it!). I should also note that I didn’t serve on the committee when they pushed this through — they get the credit!

  6. According to the Blackwell site, and the standard agreements for all of their journals, authors have the right to self-archive the final submitted version (i.e. not the Blackwell pdf), both before and after acceptance. It’s not open access, because it is restricted in all kinds of ways, including forbidding commercial use, but it’s part of the way there.

    If Blackwell owns the journal, then this agreement is likely to apply in identical form… it would be highly unlikely that they would do something different for the AAA. If, however, the AAA owns the journal(s), then the association could determine more on its own. Did the AAA sell the journals to W-B or only contract with them? Do any of the sections own their journals? These are questions I don’t know the answer to, and finding out who owns what and who will decide in terms of the AAA is not going to be easy, if the past is any indication.

    It’s also not clear whether Wiley will change these agreements, since the merger is relatively recent.

    Blackwell also offer a standard “open access” pay-to-publish option, “For 2007, the Online Open fee is fixed at US$2600, 1950 Euros or £1300 (plus VAT where applicable).” While this is expensive, it is not out of the ordinary, and it is reassuring that the option is built into Blackwell’s model. It allows for full open access. Start writing that number into your grant proposal budgets now, or start lobbying your department chairs, deans and staff for the $$. Although it is called “author-pays” it is more reasonable to think of it as “institution pays.”

    Again, it’s not clear whether the sections or the AAA would have the right to determine whether to waive this fee or make some parts of the journal OA or shorten the embargo on self-archiving or what… all is mystery right now…

  7. I do not want to contest any less-than-ideal experiences that Casey or others have had with UCP, but from my perspective of an editor of a medium-sized AAA journal [=Museum Anthropology], the UCP Journals staff was a pleasure to work with. I took up the editorship at a difficult time and they did everything they could to make the work of getting it going proceed smoothly for me. While Susan Skomal and Alison Pryor, formerly of the AAA publications office, were also very helpful and supportive, they left soon after I began and most of my tenure as editor (late 2005-present) has unfolded during the public phase of the AAA publications crisis, a time in which the position of AAA staff director of the publications office has twice now been empty.

    I do not know in any detail how the discussions that let to this point were organized or implemented, but there was some involvement of the section assembly. I am aware of this because, at a single point in July, my views, based on our experience with UCP, were solicited by the President of the Council for Museum Anthropology. She was, at that moment it appears, participating in a discussion of the contract options then taking place among section presidents and other AAA officers. I conveyed enthusiasm for my dealings with the UCP production staff, dismay at the state of the AAA program and AnthroSource implementation, and endorsement for a UCP as a non-profit partner.

    I have many concerns, past and present. Beyond the business model issues and the ethics of access, there are the facts on the ground in AnthroSource. During his brief tenure (editors still have not been told of his departure, although it was evident, for instance, in the job ad that the AAA posted on its webpage) Jasper Simons conveyed surprise when I showed him how problematic the metadata is. [Look at the AS content for Museum Anthropology 29(1), where author bios have been treated as abstracts, for one specific example.] Repairing AS is going to be a complex, expensive job. Maybe W-B knows this and wants to fix it. I am not confident that the problems are recognized as such. In terms of social organization, AS was a puzzle to me. The editorial and production work that goes into a AAA journal is a pretty transparent process, one that is pretty readily understood and explained. (Any up and running editor could describe it.) To my surprise, there was a real gap between the making of journals and the making of AS. In contrast to the journal production process, the workflow and division of labor for AS is a black box. Content is poured in and it comes out, sometimes more, sometimes less, flawed. Some will blame UCP for its problems, but especially in light of my conversations with those involved and the lessons of the AnthroSource Steering Committee fiasco, I am led to believe that the problem begins (began), at least, on the AAA side. Once editors started getting them, the monthly AnthroSource project reports revealed an emphasis on (1) look and feel improvements, (2) wishful financial thinking, and (3) a reliance on consultants and tertiary contractors, but little attention to, or information on, questions of workflow or quality control. Perhaps some AAA members closer to the work of AS can offer explanations of process that I was never able to obtain.

    It is certainly true, as Casey’s comment suggests, that there is not much in the way of active communicative systems linking editors to the AAA and there are no current means by which editors communicate with one another on common concerns or solutions (or anything else). Such communication, as a grassroots effort, is still possible (I’d like to work with others on this), but it has not existed to this point. The way that editors interacted with one another and with UCP and AAA at the meetings has been problematic, although the structure that had been developed (by AAA, not UCP) made a certain sense. Each of the past two years (maybe earlier) editors met with UCP staff as part of tiered groups based on year of accession (or proposed accession) into AS. This (rather than some alternative, like an editor’s assembly) hampered communication and created awkward outcomes, as when natural peers couldn’t meet together for contingent reasons. It fostered a very one way, top down, information provision (versus discussion) sort of gathering, while hindering or blocking editorial collaboration or the open discussion of where things were going. Editors certainly have not been given much space to communicate as stakeholders and sweat-equity investors in the enterprise. (Of course, none of this would be possible without authors and peer-reviewers, a point that rarely gets made enough.)

    I totally agree that the current author agreement is a victory and that its fuller use by authors can be promoted as one step forward. Preventing its erosion in the upcoming shift in another key step. (Chris’s detective work (thanks) moves this effort forward.)

  8. Thanks for the post; this is indeed important news. I didn’t even know that Wiley bought Blackwell! Will the AS gradated subscription rate remain in place, or will W-B price it so that overseas institutions can’t afford to keep this valuable resource? I thought that the gradated subscription rate was an important part of AS’s service to the world.
    I think Rex’s issue points should be action points – will the AAA set up some kind of forum on this issue for the DC meeting?

  9. who cares? do just like me, grab a password, hack a database, and download all the articles from a journal. knowledge should be free!! Why paying to access articles when the journals/publishers get money and the authors nothing? who give a damn about paid publications? free open journals now!!! blame the academics for the status of anthropology journals and knowledge nowadays. Instead of publish in “big-publications-who-don’t-give-a-damn-about-the-students-and-the-public-who-don’t-have money to pay for articles-and-journals”, they should gather and choose open journals. think in a more altruistic form of knowledge in your science and not in old paradigms.

  10. It’s funny to listen to arguments about UCP being the “good guy” who was successfully publishing the AAA journals. It might be interesting to talk to insiders (i.e. AAA journal editors) of the smaller titles to see how successful things were really going. I’ve heard buzz for a while that many of the journals–and AnthroSource–were such money pits that they would have had to fold if the AAA didn’t act fast and make a change. I’m sure that we’d all like to believe that things were going smoothly and sustainably, but in reality, knowledge and publishing don’t come cheap, and the AAA had several ambitious projects without much experience in how they could support themselves. Perhaps W-B will be able to breathe new life into the dying journals; this probably won’t be a painless process, but we may have to put our idealism aside and think in reality about the lesser of several evils here if we are interested in keeping options open and publishing our articles in relevant publications.

    Furthermore, UCP may have had an author-friendly editorial office, but that doesn’t mean that W-B will be any different. From my own experience with Blackwell in the past, authors do have the right to archive their work and even publish it elsewhere, as long as the original source is given due recognition. Until I hear otherwise, I see no reason to assume that this policy would change because of the merger.

    I understand the fears here, but there is a lot of demonizing going on in this article, without anything to back it up, aside from hot-headed speculation.

  11. It won’t only be overseas institutions that will find it hard to afford these publications under the new dispensation. As sure as you can predict the date of the next total solar eclipse, you can predict that institutional subscription rates for these materials will increase markedly right away and continue to spiral upward every year thereafter. One of the most serious effects of the remorseless drift toward digitization and commercializaton of information is that research libraries have become the middle part of a sandwich. Prodded by users to acquire more and more expensive materials, faced with ever-increasing rates and lease-only arrangements, and faced as well with chronic underfunding by public universities that are underfunded themselves, research libraries are faced almost daily with hard choices in a zero-sum game with absolutely no end in sight.

    One result is that learned societies that sell their materials at no-profit or small-profit conditions are being driven from the marketplace, cast aside by libraries that have no choice in the matter, and left either to seek commercial “partners” (how engagingly euphemistic a word this is) or give up the ghost.

    Another concomitant result is that information will become more and more expensive and thus less and less accessible, not only to less fortunate institutions in less fortunate environments but for all of us. With publishers deciding on titles and even content in order to make keyword searching more ‘efficient’ authorial autonomy will be increasingly eroded. Predatory publishers like Wiley cum Blackwell promise greater access through greater exposure but in fact here is little evidence that this is happening since use data are often unreliable or unavailable.

    The present case is an absolute microcosm of this greater trend (the African Studies Association is toying with outsourcing its publications as well and I’m sure there are many others as well). What we are going to end up with is a elitist information economy quite out of character with the pious pronunciations we like to make about scholarly communication. It would be useful for someone in the know to profile the origins and progress of this particular case as a condign example.

  12. We could respond with a two tiered publishing strategy, as many alread do. Publish in the expensive journal for brownie points and then publish a article covering similar material in an Open Access for communication.

  13. Not that it makes much difference at this point, but I am curious as to why this whole thing was shrouded in a veil of secrecy in the first place. Did anyone see the original RFP that AAA put out? Why was Wiley-Blackwell selected? More importantly why wasn’t the membership kept informed of what was going on. If the Executive Board has that kind of power to keep such information from us teeming masses of anthropologists, what else is being kept from us. I usually expect AAA Newsletter to keep me well-informed of such matters, but they really let us down on this one.

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