Press coverage on the (possible) Wiley decision

Two recent stories about the AAA’s decision to drop the University of California Press for (possibly?) Wiley-Blackwell have been making the rounds in the blogosphere: one “piece on the Chronice of Higher Education”:
and “another, longer piece in Inside Higher Ed”:

The AAA’s response to requests for more information has been to not say anything at all other than the fact that they have no comment. I think that this is unfortunate. I get the feeling that the AAA has been an organization which dislikes conflict and does its best to avoid it by keeping things private and personal among decision makers, and I fear that all this coverage has just exacerbated the problem. Back in the day we used to call this ‘complementary schismogenesis’ — we get more and more insistent in our demands for transparency, and the AAA staff and leadership push more and more furniture in front of the door to keep us out. Since it looks like the AAA is not going to create its own blog any time soon, or develop a mailing list to update people regarding what is going on, I wonder if there is some way we could facilitate communication among section leaders or other interested parties to get people talking to one another?


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

6 thoughts on “Press coverage on the (possible) Wiley decision

  1. Many thanks for SM’s detailed coverage of this issue. Although I’m skeptical of the more utopian depictions of the economics of Open Access, given the (apparent) decision of the AAA to shift to a for-profit partner, I find myself asking the following question: Why would anyone agree to edit a journal for free or to review submissions for free when the organization that distributes the final product is committed to generating profits for its shareholders or owners? The whole idea of “service to the profession” begins to look like a clever form of economic exploitation.

    I realize that many other professional associations operate in this manner, but it has never made sense to me. Am I missing something here?

  2. I certainly don’t think you are missing much, although not all journals are edited for free– some, even in anthropology, do involve remuneration of sorts for the editors, though rarely for the reviewers. Part of the pending deal with Wiley no doubt includes detailed negotiations over revenue sharing. The problems that have recently plagued AAA sections with respect to Anthrosource concern precisely this point: nobody understands what the revenue sharing model is between UC Press, the AAA and the sections, which, with the exception of American Anthropologist, control all of the journals and manage their production up to the point where UCP must do something. One aspect of this model that has been clearly screwed up, as I have understood it, is that sections receive revenue based on membership– but since everyone must be a member of the AAA first (and therefore receive AA), and optioonally a section second, then AA gets the lion’s share of revenue and everybody else far less–even though it is safe to say that people are generally more interested in their section journals than in AA. Simply reversing this hierarchy (join a section first and the AAA second) would give the lie to AAA’s current form of unaccountable staff power.

    In any case, whatever negotiations are happening (and I have been told by insiders that the section chairs are being consulted), the revenue sharing model with Wiley-Blackwell is the crux of the issue for the AAA. All other issues, such as open access, self-archiving, or journal/section control over same are going to be secondary.

    The switch is obviously motivated by the belief on AAA’s part that Wiley will unleash an avalanche of cash, solving the problems that face it (like most other scholarly societies) as a result of having become addicted to generating revenue from publications. It’s addict behavior, and it can only end badly for anthropologists.

  3. The only payment for editors of which I’m aware is compensated released time from teaching, and even that is pretty rare. But in any case, I doubt that this offsets the time that editors typically devote to their craft.

    It seems like a for-profit business model in academic publishing simply adds another layer of cost to the transaction–justified, I presume, by claims of economies of scale, more robust marketing departments, etc. But it’s hard to see how something like AnthroSource can dramatically increase sales when its unit cost inevitably rises and libraries in general are entering into subscription-sharing consortia, etc., in response to unsustainable increases in the cost of subscriptions . . . Wouldn’t it make just as much sense to move in the other direction by seeking ways to lower production costs and overhead while increasing subscribership (one hopes, at a lower cost to each subscriber)?

    Since I’m not privy to the relevant information, I’m reluctant to offer a summary judgment. But I agree that there is little reason, based on what little information is available to AAA members thus far, to think this will end happily for anthropologists or the AAA.

  4. Thanks to Rex, Michael, and Chris for pushing the discussion forward. Sorry if I prove long winded again this time [if someone could teach me to use one of those cool smiles, I’d put one here]. My goal below is to try to address some of what is implied/queried in Michael and Chris’s comments.

    It might be useful (in the abstract, while we await news of the W-B+AAA terms) to start to disaggregate some of the possibilities hiding under the OA/non-OA binary. My understanding of the old UCP contract was they they were, under its terms, in a kind of subcontractor relationship with AAA. AAA was retaining control of the journals but asking UCP to undertake certain kinds of activities for AAA in return for set fees. This is not, I think, the nature of what is coming in the W-B deal and it was not, I suspect, what UCP was itself proposing. I anticipate that we will see a different model in which both more risk and more money making potential is shifted to the partner in exchange for less risk and promise of fixed revenues for AAA. Even more extreme (but in the realm of the real) is something like just selling the journals to a publisher in exchange for cash plus an agreement to supply the journals back to the society/association/etc. [for members, while the paper-era lasts] on some beneficial terms. As the W-B contract appears to be a new term-limited undertaking (and there would be real riots if it weren’t), I am certain (whatever reservations one might have) that no one has considered selling the whole (AAA, that is) publishing legacy for good.

    While the publishing program is expensive and getting more expensive quickly, the pain for sections (some more, some less) came especially when the costs were calculated separately from the income for AnthroSource. The income projections were not realized (for a long list of reasons–some more like human error, some more like natural disasters), while the costs, of course, were realized. There were different kinds of (interconnected) cost (pain) sharing formulas that resulted in different effects of different sections. Museum Anthropology, for instance, has a relatively deep backlog for a middle tier journal (30 years) but we’re a small section without a lot of cash. The formulas caused us to pay more than our scale alone would suggest. This became compounded when, at the start of my editorship, the section agreed to fund an editorial assistantship so that I could get the journal going up to full speed. (Universities increasingly do not want to pay for such in-kinds. Mine provided a fee waiver, insurance, etc. in exchange for the cash for a stipend. Arguing for such in-kind help, by the way, will not be any easier when the (co-)publisher is a large corporation that already gets a huge amount of cash from most American research universities.) In any event, CMA took on this new expense in the service of the journal but in doing so, it increased the amount it was assessed for the UCP/AS program because this increased the size of the overall budget and editorial budget was one scale metric used to determine costs to sections. Thus a section that spent its own money on editorial office costs would also have to spend more on the overall undertaking than a section whose journal was hosted at an institution that was picking up more of the tab. This is just a sample of the kind of dynamic that sections have been trying to figure out since last fall. CMA is not unique in its need to reverse engineer the system we’re been working in without fully understanding.

    [AS revenue allocations are not tied to section membership, they are built out of mix of factors intended to measure the quantitative and qualitative contribution of the journal in question to the overall AS effort. [ISI impact factor ranking (if any), pages in the system, usage, etc.] While the formulas were imperfect, the real problem was a lack of revenue…]

    In light of Michael’s quite reasonable observations on “service to the profession” I seemed to drive staff people at AAA crazy when I spoke of the sweat-equity that editors, peer-reviewers, and especially authors have invested/still invest in the process. The printer is paid, the postal service is paid, the typesetters in India are paid, the staff as UCP are paid (etc.). All no doubt work hard to do their jobs well for the good of the cause, but unlike the unpaid authors, editors, and peer-reviewers, few regularly stay up late into the night, after their day jobs, (or miss little league games) to insure that the journal gets out into the world in useful form. This dynamic–more and more people whose livelihoods derive from our publication efforts (on the one hand) and more and more “content providers” feeling voiceless and exploited (on the other hand)–is one source of the tension and, seemingly fear, that attaches to the discussion. (Note the necessity of unnamed sources in the IHE story! You’d think this was a Nixon-era conspiracy. I know that I was frightened at the prospects of being quoted in that story. So weird.)

    Here is a eye opening fact to end with. With the same in-kind contributions from Indiana University (plus the use of IU’s DSpace implementation, for digital archiving), it costs me less than a dime to publish any contribution (review, article, etc.) in Museum Anthropology Review, while just a book review in Museum Anthropology is, according to AAA staff calculations, a $300-$400 proposition. I’ll leave the other differences for another occasion.

    I hope other AAA editors find their way to the discussion.

  5. Maybe its time that folks broke away from the AAA. Its a dinosaur, and many anthropologists do not feel like their interests are represented by them anymore.

  6. Discussion of the AAA/W-B deal has quieted down here, probably due to the start of the academic year for many of those working in colleges and universities. I hope that the conversation resumes and continues. While I need to withdraw from the public discussion for a time, I can report that there is now an unprecedented level of engagement in the matter by many AAA editors. It also seems, from what I can tell, that conversation here, and in related venues, has had some positive effect, especially in relation to awareness of the need for greater transparency and communication.

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